Sunday, May 30, 2010

Why Captaincy is Redundant

It's scandalous to suggest that captaincy doesn't count for much but it's getting increasingly difficult for me to believe otherwise. I'm tired of seeing captains set template fields and make a cosmetic change every now and then. Commentators cry themselves hoarse every time batsmen edge one down to third man for a boundary. Captains try to plug the gap by taking a fielder out from the covers and putting him in the slip cordon. When was the last time you saw a captain leaving mid on open in a test to encourage the batsman to drive?

The next time you watch a test just compare the number of balls hit to mid on to those hit through the covers or edged behind square. It's amazing that captains continue to ignore this disparity. I've talked to a few cricket followers about this and the standard excuse is the bowler can't afford to drift even slightly as the batsman can easily punch it straight. In that case, why have a fine leg or a square leg? Why not put a deep square leg and a very straight midwicket? The fielder at deep square leg would also be useful as a catcher for the surprise bouncer. The bowler would have to drift way down leg in order to concede a boundary in this case. I think it's worth taking out a fielder from the on side and putting him on third man. Batsmen edge a lot more balls down there than they glance to fine leg.

Another aspect of captaincy I am sick of is the use of the nightwatchman.  As a batsman, I've always wanted to bat as much as I could. I understand some batsmen are more jittery than others and don't want to go out to bat with a handful of overs left, but IT IS THEIR JOB. Bowlers should simply refuse to be sacrificial lambs when asked to go out as nightwatchmen. They're not as well-equipped as their batsmen to see off the last few overs and also run the risk of copping a blow that might prevent them from bowling. But more importantly, the opposition bowlers see a great chance of picking up a wicket. If that happens, the batsman coming in next would be under even greater pressure.

I've seen it happen way too many times, more often than nightwatchmen adding nuisance value to the opposition. Yesterday was a case in point. Bangladesh had done really well to surpass England's total after following on. They lost their fourth wicket with a lead of 98 and just 4 overs left in the day. The captain was slated to come in next but instead sent in Shahadat Hossain. Hossain is a slogger at the best of times and the last person you'd expect to hold up an end. Sure enough, he was back in the pavilion after facing just 4 deliveries and not getting off the mark. Shakib walked in at 5 down with just one more run added to the total and 3.3 overs to negotiate. In sending Hossain before him, not only did Bangladesh lose a wicket. They also lost a batsman who could have added 15-20 runs at the back of the innings.

This isn't just the case with Bangladesh. Just about every team is guilty of such passive cricket. Strauss lost the Wisden Trophy in the Caribbean last year after two late declarations. Dhoni drew a test against New Zealand he had no business not winning after his side had dominated all five days. Ponting has been averse to enforcing the follow on ever since the Eden Gardens test, although it has to be said that he was more aggressive during the Australian summer.

I don't know how aggressive captains were before I started watching cricket about 20 years ago. One could argue they've been more adventurous by pointing to the number of successful run chases in recent times, but it could very well be a result of flatter pitches and decline in the quality of bowlers. To me, captains are robbing us of a more cerebral aspect of the game by not having the will to redefine the way cricket is played.

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