Bangalore: With the World Cup a few days away the searching thoughts on most people's minds would be, "Who do you suppose will win, you can't write this team off, in One-day cricket anything can happen, you can never tell with Pakistan, West Indies too are looking good this time, New Zealand was an exception; India is going to be a different proposition in SA, New Zealand and England seem to be the dark horses and so on."
The robust debate goes on not withstanding the two hotly billed teams in Australia and co-hosts South Africa. As the rest chew over the various prepositions, I would like to touch upon a subject that in no way is 'honkingly' big but pretty relevant to the fall of events at the 2003 World Cup. It's about the man at the helm. The issue of captaincy or the role of a captain is an often-discussed subject. The overriding thought when it comes to captaincy is that 'a captain is as good as his team'. While it holds an element of truth, in my opinion, it is not necessarily the case. I more subscribe to Imran's theory that "a pack of sheep led by a lion will conquer a pack of lions led by a sheep'.
A captain plays a vital role both on and off the field. He, first, will have to do a lot of groundwork with his team (off the field) before he can bring his team members on to the field of play. I have often heard that at this level (international) the players need to know what is needed of them. They should be professional enough and should not expect the captain to tell them everything; which in my opinion is off target. Yes, they better know what is required at the international level, if not let them ship out. But one must realise that not all team members will be in the same mental frame of mind and I believe it is the captain's job to get his unit's mind-set on track. Mind you it is not easily done; it takes time, nevertheless it has to be attempted. If he has to start from the basics (in some cases) let him do so but he needs to see to it that all his boys are in tune with the game.
All this needs the captain to be a good judge of the game so that it can then be rubbed off on to his teammates. Half the work is done if the team is well oiled when it descends on the field of play. When on the field there are so many moments where what the captain thinks and does, has a huge bearing on the game. Not everything can be got right all the time but if you have got stuff as a captain you will make things happen most of the time. Your ability to judge the nature (pitch and atmospheric conditions) and pace of the game and make adjustments accordingly, to have a good idea of the stock available on hand and plot likewise, are just a few things that make a difference on the field. Not to mention your ability to lead from the front (individual performance). The art of captaincy is a volume by itself so I will not go indepth, but a captain's input does have a telling impact on the game. It is true that sometimes because of the wealth of talent at hand the captain's job is that much more easier but I refuse to buy the idea that the captain is there only for the toss and press conferences - that he is only as good as his team.
Talking of which, this World Cup may not only hinge on the firing of the 'stars' but may also depend on intellectual elegance. So I feel it is not a done thing that Australia (especially with the absence of Steve Waugh - an astute captain) is set to lift the Cup. If Pollock, Ganguly, Hussain, Fleming excel at their trade it could be a level playing field. Imran's, Ranatunga's and Waugh's inspirational captaincy did play a big role in their side's triumph in 1992, 96 and 99 (respectively), so it could turn out to be in this World Cup too.