Captaining your club is easy. Just ask Alex Bowden.
There are rational, well thought-out decisions that reap dividends and then there are hunches: nobody is impressed by the former. What people truly respect is mysticism.
Anyone can bring on an off-spinner to bowl at an incoming left-hander, but not everyone can randomly select a part-time bowler at an unexpected moment and have it result in a wicket.
Okay, so 99 times out of 100 the bowler in question concedes eight and doesn’t get a second over, but one per cent of the time a wicket falls, leaving everyone to coo over the astonishing accuracy of the captain’s hunch. He just knew that Joe McSpamhands would make the breakthrough with a wide long-hop. He’s so in tune with the cosmos.
Logic doesn’t make you stand out as a captain because every captain should be logical. To really show your worth, you need to have hunches and in order to test those hunches, you will need to make any number of illogical decisions. One of them will work. Probably.
Never ever move a fielder to where the ball’s just gone
Ball following is perhaps the greatest captaincy crime there is. It is actually far, far better to never plug an obvious gap and concede a whole slew of boundaries than to move a fielder in response to the ball having gone there. This is why you rarely see a third-man these days.
If you’re really concerned about how many runs you’re conceding in a particular area, you need to distract people before taking action. Deliberately concede a few runs elsewhere and while everyone’s busy moaning about that, you can move your fielder to plug the gap you’re truly bothered about.
In this way, nobody will notice that you’re being reactive rather than proactive. Furthermore, if you’ve carried out the misdirection correctly, you might even be able to give the impression that you’ve moved the fielder as a result of a hunch, meaning people will fall over themselves to applaud you should the ball actually go there.
Have a good team
In the eyes of everyone at the club it is always, always possible to win so if the team isn’t winning, there has to be a reason other than that the opposition are simply better at cricket. People are generally liable to conclude that the problem is captaincy, so protect yourself from this by the simple expedient of having a brilliant team.
Those long spells when your military-medium bowlers are doing nothing with the ball? Your fault. Spin bowler serving up non-spinning full tosses? Your fault. When your obdurate opener grinds to a standstill, allowing the opposition to attack with impunity? Your fault. When your middle-order stylist edges a cover-drive, played on the up, at a ball delivered in the direction of third slip? Your fault.
Most of all, when everyone panics and there’s a massive collapse, you have to take responsibility for that too because you failed to calm everyone down by delivering a right royal bollocking. All of these problems simply melt away if you are in charge of a really good team.
Try and avoid having strings to your bow
Multi-dimensional cricketers are all the rage, but the more a captain can do, the more he can be criticised.
You’re going to have to bat and captain at the very least, so that’s two ways in which you can fail. Try and do anything else on top of that and you are pretty much guaranteed to attract chatter about how captaincy is negatively affecting your ability to take wickets, take catches or take two sugars in your tea.
Don’t open the batting either because ‘leading by example’ means that whatever you do, everyone else will replicate. A poor score as opener guarantees a batting collapse, whereas a poor score from number six can only ever impact on the lower-order and tail.
Oh, but don’t shirk responsibility. You can’t lead by example from No.6, for example. You want to be somewhere more influential… like opening.
Get your bowlers on at the right times
That developing young spinner needs to be handled with kid gloves. Be sensitive and recognise that he might not be full of confidence. If you bring him on when a wicket’s just fallen, you can perhaps ensure that the batsmen don’t get after him, which may help him settle.
However, on no account should you release the pressure when a new batsman’s just come in, so maybe rely on your trusty opening bowler instead.
Your trusty opening bowler has of course already bowled a 10-over spell and needs a rest, so don’t overbowl him. But don’t release the pressure by bowling someone else either.
Share the workload between all your bowlers, except for those who are going for runs, and always bring on your best bowler after a break in play, when there’s just been a wicket or when there hasn’t been a wicket and you really need one.
Win the toss
Winning the toss is perhaps the greatest skill a captain can have. After all, you’re judged on results and sometimes the outcome of the toss will have a huge impact on whether your team goes on to win or lose. It’s just that no-one ever remembers the coin arcing through the air. All they remember is the collapse a few hours later when you’ve had to bat first on a pitch that’s as a green as a lawn bowls surface.
A lot of captains make the mistake of practising their calling, believing that if they perfect this aspect of their game, all will be well. This is, of course, ridiculous. As any individual with half a brain will tell you, you don’t always get to call. A smart captain will therefore also spend long hours practising the art of passively watching a coin fly through the air while someone else calls heads or tails.
Alex Bowden blogs at King Cricket