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Captaincy playbook: ‘Careful captaincy’ made the difference for great West Indies sides

The West Indies has had a phenomenal number of exceptional cricketers in its history. The captains have been mostly middling. I restricted the playbooks to those of Frank Worrell, Richie Benaud and Mike Brearley simply because they were known as thinking men—able in both the technical and ‘man-management’ aspects of the game.

They are all from a different era; but human nature remains essentially the same and this is at the heart of what I have been trying to get at these past few weeks. Culturally, the West Indies teams of today are not very different from their ancestors. As I watch more cricket, it becomes easier to see the similarities.

Photo: The great West Indies team of the 1980s, captained by Clive Lloyd, train before a Test match in England.
(via ESPN)

I came across this observation by CLR James from a talk he gave in 1963. It strengthened my feeling that we haven’t changed, and it reinforced my belief that this discourse is relevant and instructive for a future direction—not only in cricket. James made some brilliant points about the individualistic flair of West Indies players.

“This originality, the distinctive creative style which makes them so effective when a difficult situation is met, can go to pieces entirely. It can repeatedly show itself, show fine form and yet lose match after match. It has to be held in check, disciplined and, where it goes wrong, brought back by some very careful captaincy.

“And this time they had that captain in Frank Worrell. Frank Worrell has said, ‘I don’t lecture them, I tell them what is wrong, if anything is wrong. I tell them what is right and leave it to them.’ He has great confidence in them and they in him.”

Careful captaincy.

They say that excellence seems effortless—so fine is its execution. This is what those captains brought. Could they have developed the skills they needed without experience, thoughtfulness and guidance?

Photo: West Indies cricket legend Sir Frank Worrell.
(via ESPN)

Brearley described coaching as a combination of mentoring, mental toughening and facilitation—alongside training and so on. In this neck of the woods, I don’t imagine that the connection is made between a nurturing approach and mental toughness; it has not been part of the culture—and it would require a fine degree of maturity to try to instil it into an environment defined by machismo.

This is a space where a delicate touch is interpreted as weakness; a space where people are not encouraged to talk about their feelings. Communication skills are poor, and people resort to angry and sometimes violent outbursts when they can no longer hold their feelings within. Here, compassion is compressed.

If you can reach into the mind, you are more likely to be able to help someone develop the capacity to deal with their personal issues—and to build that mental toughness.

It is about finding some point of balance.

But a leader has to have sufficient emotional intelligence; not just technical ability.

Here’s a look at some figures that might tell a story. When Frank Worrell was made captain, he was 36. Brearley was 35. Benaud was 28.

Photo: West Indies legend Sir Clive Lloyd lifts the 1975 Cricket World Cup trophy at Lord’s in London.

Back home: Clive Lloyd was 30, Viv Richards was 32, Brian Lara was 29, Daren Sammy was 27. They had all been around for long enough to have put in those ten thousand hours.

Each had different approaches, but each brought something and was able to spread their own gospel. When Jason Holder was made captain of the ODI team in 2014, he was 23, and at 24 he was the Test captain.

He couldn’t bring anything to leadership because he was now learning what it entailed. Was he exposed to any management training? What coaching did he have?

Benaud described Worrell as a father figure to the team, suggesting that this was the approach they needed.

“When they are captained otherwise they tend to move back to the excitable individual state of years gone past and there is less responsibility in their cricket.”

He referred to the tense moments of the tied Test and how Worrell kept ‘telling his men to concentrate and relax’.

“He concentrated on building up a team performance rather than one from a series of outstanding individuals, though he wanted the individual efforts also. How well he handled the whole thing was shown later in the tour when, under a variety of pressures, the West Indies never collapsed as has been their habit.”

Photo: Iconic West Indies cricketers Sir Frank Worrell (left) and Sir Everton Weekes stride out to the middle.
(Copyright Getty)

Horses for courses. Viv Richards preaches this. You have to know the horses and you have to know the courses before you can select the most appropriate combination.

Can anyone from within Cricket West Indies look at the current squads across the spectrum and assess the individual characteristics of the players? How do their strengths and weaknesses work for them as a team?

Worrell, Benaud and Brearley were exceptional leaders and that is why I wanted to put some of their ideas into our current space. They were not just fine cricketers; they were thoughtful men.

It would be unreasonable to expect such characters to come along often—they wouldn’t be exceptional if they did—but there is always something to learn, isn’t there?

To go back to Brearley: “You can’t transform mediocre players into great players but you can transform them into good ones. Which makes a difference.”

Photo: Iconic West Indies crickets (from left) Joel Garner, Viv Richards and Michael Holding reminisce about the Kerry Packer days.
(Copyright Phil Hillyard/Daily Telegraph)

We can at least think about it.

Editor’s Note: This column is the fifth and final part of a series on cricket captaincy that was first published in the Trinidad Express newspaper.

About Vaneisa Baksh

Vaneisa Baksh
Vaneisa Baksh is a columnist with the Trinidad Express, an editor and a cricket historian. She is currently working on a biography of Sir Frank Worrell.

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3 comments

  1. Earl Best

    Just before lunch on the first day of the Second Test, David “Bumbles” Lloyd had this to say about the current West Indies Test captain, Jason Holder.

    “Wonderful cricketer and great leader.”

    One man’s opinion but that should give VB pause…

  2. Earl Best

    (Continued) Getting the best out of the men for whom you are responsible is leadership, as per the old analogy about the conductor and the orchestra. Not for nothing did Learie Constantine tell CLR James in the late 1950s that the West Indies need “a black man to LEAD them.”

    For me, captaincy is about cricketing decisions: what to do after winning the toss, which bowler to bring on when, whether or not to stick with the original batting order, at what moment to declare, how and when to adjust the field when things are not going well, what advice you offer to your players at critical moments of the game, etc, etc.

    So although the series provides lots of interesting and important insights in, are we any wiser about what kind of captains Benaud, Brearley and Worrell were? Where do we see the leadership assets that are herein so clearly delineated being translated into on-the-field success? Where does the captaincy acumen shine through?

    Nit-picking? Bear with me. For almost five years now, all of us have seen—and continue to see—Jason Holder strut his stuff at the helm of the WI Test team. Many of us have been lucky enough to see Courtney Walsh and Brian Lara at work on and off the field in the Nineties and the Oughts and a few of us have as well been blessed enough to see Garfield Sobers in the late Sixties and early Seventies. Good captain, not-so-good leader? Good leader, not-so-good captain? Good captain and good leader? Not-so-good captain, not-so-good leader?

    Or is there no distinction to be made between the quality of the leadership and the quality of the captaincy in any of those four cases?

    I know my answers.

    Yours?

  3. Earl Best

    In the July 14 edition of “The many shades of Marlon Samuels,” The Cricket Monthly’s Matt Roller writes this:

    “The plain truth is that not many of us get to know our cricketing heroes. We form ideas as to what they might be like, and admire certain things about them, but we judge them as players more than we do as people.”

    How very accurate! And it would, I think, be useful to apply that claim to Ms Baksh’s five-part Captaincy Playbook series.

    “A leader has to have sufficient emotional intelligence,” she writes in yesterday’s final chapter, “not just technical ability.”

    “Worrell, Benaud and Brearley were exceptional leaders (…),” she adds. “They were not just fine cricketers; they were thoughtful men.”

    In the series, the EI evidence abounds. But where, pray, is the living evidence of technical ability?

    Maybe Ms Baksh is saving the juicier cricketing stuff for her forthcoming biography but I find it conspicuous by its absence here. So I have found the series interesting and eminently readable but I am of the firm view that its title is a misnomer. She has written about captains, not about captaincy—unless one makes ‘captaincy’ and ‘leadership’ synonymous. In my view, the latter emerges when a searchlight is shone more on events beyond the boundary whereas the former’s natural province is essentially within the boundary.