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Captain and Coach - Suresh Menon Column
by Suresh Menon
Jan 15, 2009
By Suresh Menon

Alone among international sports, cricket believes that the captain is king. Davis Cup tennis has non-playing captains, soccer (to a large degree) has playing non-captains, and individual sport has non-captaining players. The Pietersen-Moores double whammy has brought the captain-coach relationship into focus again.

Should Andrew Strauss and his team do well in the West Indies, England might suddenly discover that both captain and coach are over-rated in a cricket team. After all, any international team must, logically, have at least three or four senior players fully capable of leading the side.

If a captain is very good tactically and in his man management, then there is no need for a coach except, as Shane Warne said, to ensure that everybody gets to the ground on time.. Conversely if a coach decides everything - usually through force of personality or by pulling rank as a respected ex-player - then the captain's job is reduced to making pretty speeches. In recent years, captains have taken the blame for poor performances and coaches the credit for good ones.

Bishan Bedi once asked the Australian coach John Buchanan, "How much have you made the Australian team and how much has the Australian team made you?" Australia were winners, with or without Buchanan.

When John Wright was India's coach, he earned plaudits for the team's successes. His technique was simple - keep out of the way and let the captain do what he wants. Unable or unwilling to play a similar role, his successor Greg Chappell went the other extreme. The consequences were dire.

When Bedi was first appointed coach of the Indian team two decades ago, his spin colleague S Venkatraghavan said, "This is either the greatest stroke of genius or the worst appointment in Indian cricket." He wasn't being ingenuous. Bedi, he knew, was a man of strong opinions who liked to share those opinions. While there was a great relationship with skipper Mohammed Azharuddin in his first series in New Zealand, by the time the team came to England for the next, the honeymoon was over, and Bedi was criticizing his captain publicly.

Coaches who have not played international cricket are often insulated from the biases that affect players; they see the game from a more objective perspective. But they are up against the fallacy of experience. This states that a Test player knows more about Test cricket than someone who hasn’t played at that level. Some talk of ten years' experience when actually it is one year’s experience repeated ten times.

In any relationship where the coach has not played Test cricket, therefore, the captain is likely to be calling the shots. On the other hand, as coach, a Kapil Dev or a Sunil Gavaskar has far greater influence over young captains who probably grew up reading about their exploits on the field.

In the English team, not everybody supported Pietersen after he went public with his grouses against Moores. Clearly it was not a case of black and white, even making allowance for the fact that some players might have seen in this a happy opportunity to stick the knife into the captain.

Cricket boards tend to couple an inexperienced captain with an experienced coach (Azharuddin-Bedi), but do not take the extra step to ensure that top bowlers or batsmen are given a coach they can work with when they are named captain. Relationships seldom break down over tactics - egos are usually the stumbling blocks. When the Board, the captain and the coach all display an unholy keenness to show who is the boss, we get a mess.
More Views by Suresh Menon
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