The Captaincy Conundrum

England’s test skipper Alastair Cook relinquished his role as the captain of the side and expressed his desire to continue playing purely as a batsman in the side. This call doesn’t come as a surprise especially looking at the past few test match results for England; they have won only three and drawn one in their last 11 test matches. Thus, there was pressure on the skipper and he decided that he has had enough of captaincy and it’s time that he passed on the baton. At 32, he still can contribute with the bat and in the form of inputs to the new captain (in all possibilities, Joe Root).

It is a well known fact that captaining a side isn’t something that any Tom, Dick and Harry can do! The pressures and expectations that come with the job are massive, and so is the respect and awe that the job commands. Cook did have some wonderful series wins under his belt like the two Ashes wins in 2013 and 2015, apart from wins in India (in 2012; it was a come from behind victory) and South Africa during his tenure. That he is the joint second most successful test captains for England, with 24 test wins, is a commendable thing, but not being able to convert those near-wins into victories for the side (most recent being the first test against India at Rajkot) is something that might have led Cook to step down, considering that he’s just 32.

Many players and former skippers have gone on record to say that captains do have a shelf life. That, combined with the ability to sustain pressure is what determines the longevity of a captain, apart from the results, of course. This is where a Greame Smith or a Ricky Ponting is different from Cook, who has lead in 59 matches. Smith has led South Africa in 109 matches, winning 53, while Ponting has led Australia in 77 matches winning 48; both being the most successful captains of their sides. But they could continue to lead their sides for so long because they could carry the burden of the sides and also because of a combination of favourable results plus a wonderful strong team.

The real test of a skipper is not when he is new to the role but when he’s been there for about 3-4 years, the reason being that after a point of time the methods and tricks used are sort of known to all and that is also the time when mental fatigue starts creeping in, which can begin to show in the captaincy. Players like Virat Kohli, Steve Smith and Kane Williamson are people who thrive under pressure, but it would be interesting to see where they stand as far as their leadership of the sides is considered in, say, two three years down the line.

It is well documented that a captain can only be as good as the team. But one has to accept the fact that the results of matches are influenced by the decisions taken by the skipper, be it in the field placements in a match or in the bowling changes. But cricket is such a tricky game, that today one can put in all the stats, carry out the analysis, come close to concluding something, and still be surprised by the outcome of the very next match!

All that the whole of England and Alastair Cook fans might be hoping is for him to come good with the bat, and play for long, as that would mean him breaking quite a few records and etching his name in the record books. The experience gained by leading a side is second to nothing, and the next England skipper (who would be the 80th) would do well to pick his brains to ease into the driver’s seat.

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