Captaincy, as Richie Benaud once said, “is ninety percent luck and 10 percent skill, but just don’t try it without the ten percent”. In an era where the captaincy brain drain is felt more keenly than most both at a domestic and international level, this past week has shown that Benaud’s sentiments still remain true today.
Firstly in the Caribbean there was Michael Clarke’s bold declaration for Australia against the West Indies, setting Darren Sammy’s team a target of 215 to win with little more than 60 overs, was a carrot worth dangling with rain in the air and a fragile batting line-up to prey upon. In the end rain curtailed the contest, but it was Clarke’s declaration which gave us one in the first place.
It was a bold move, especially given the history of West Indian sides chasing against Australian ones in the past decade, but was a fitting symbol of Clarke’s captaincy which has not so much defied expectations as completely redefined them. About 18 months ago Clarke was losing popularity polls to Marcus North and Cameron White (look what’s happened to those two) in the race to succeed Ricky Ponting but it’s hard to imagine anyone else being as comfortable in the role as Clarke has.
He has carved out his own niche as a captain. His bold and daring field placing suggest that his friendship with Shane Warne has rubbed off on him, and unlike many of his peers he seeks to take wickets first and foremost rather than opt for containment – ask yourself how many international captains would have set such a daring target? While the leadership has elevated his batting to a new level – he averages 58 with the bat, as a cricketer it has made him complete. In an era where few dare, Clarke does.
Yet while Clarke’s sparky contribution suggested a captain at the peak of his powers tactically, it was the contribution of one of the more underrated cricketers of this era which was a true embodiment of one of those other qualities befitting the finest captains – the ability to lead by example. While Chris Read and Clarke may make unlikely kinfolk, they share one thing in common: captaincy appears to have brought the best out of both of them.
Read’s abilities are well known and brought with them England recognition, but there was always a questionmark about his capacity to cope mentally with the rigours of international cricket (normally voiced by Duncan Fletcher) which dogged his quest for a regular spot as England wicket keeper. Yet if there were any doubts about Read’s capacity to perform under pressure, his performances as Nottinghamshire captain ought to have alleviated them – not least his latest effort against Somerset.
Read’s reign has not just been wildly successful both in terms of silverware and accolades – County Championship and Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 2010 – but like Clarke it has raised his game to another level as he frequently plays the role of finisher or saviour depending on circumstances. Yet for all the previous efforts, he will be hard pressed to play a more impressive lone hand for the rest of his career.
While his much vaunted top order fell to a series of injudicious strokes, it was left to Read to save the day and after striding out at 5-34 he scored a magnificent 104* in a total of 162 where only one other batsman on his team reached double figures. But for that effort, Nottinghamshire could have crumbled and ultimately it allowed them to escape with a draw on the final day, which was scant reward for Read’s efforts, which even the great cricketing leaders-by-example like Graeme Smith or Ricky Ponting would have been proud of.
And perhaps that is what both he and Clarke have shown this week. That there are two sides to captaincy – a tactical side and a temperamental side which both have a role in their ability to lead, but according to Benaud that’s 10% of it, the rest is luck. Fortunately for both, luck, or the capacity to make their own luck is something they appear to have in spades with bat or brain – a lesson for all captains perhaps.