I have heard the famous cliché that captains are born leaders. There maybe an iota of truth here, but it is not as simple as that. Like in most quotes, the single sentence has a separate paragraph to explain the depth of that statement. I believe that a captain is as good as his team.
The best example around to illustrate this view in the present time, is Ricky Ponting. His performance as captain is under question by the Australian fans and even from cricket lovers elsewhere. Yet, Ricky Ponting was the epitome of a modern day captain a few years ago, when he led the Aussies to march over all else. Yes, a captain in my book is as good as his team.
I am not quite certain if born leaders can be good captains as far as cricket is concerned. They certainly can be picked early and groomed. It is possible to identify a future captain by the manner in which he behaves. This could, of course, be the qualities that are inherent in him or early signs that he could, with proper grooming, acquire such. He must be someone who would command respect and of course have cricket sense. I am in this instance, writing about someone who would captain a national team.
In recent times we talk of Arjuna, Aravinda, Sanath and Duleep Mendis. I wouldn’t dare to compare. But each time we focus on captaincy, Arjuna’s name comes up. He was there at the right time, but more importantly he used that time to change things around with his team for the better. He will always be remembered for that. He had the backing of all concerned.
Take the Murali issue in Australia for example. No one would get away with such today. Could you imagine that happening on a cricket field today? I think not. He seized the moment at that time and the rest is recorded history. Would cricket lovers have seen a world record holder from Sri Lanka, if not for Arjuna’s control in Australia during that tour? I think not. But, more importantly, another Arjuna too is not possible for a long time to come. With match referees et al it’s not possible to stretch the laws to the wire anymore. Yet, Arjuna commanded respect at home and even abroad, though grudgingly at first. He was special and he stood tall. Steadfast in his views, Arjuna leap-frogged Sri Lanka cricket to be on par with the rest. I think he was the consummate politician on the cricket arena. The manner in which he took care of the deprived cricketers from the hinterland by even opening his doors to give them a place to stay are yet recalled.
One must not hasten to compare but evaluate captains against the era they played. I think Aravinda was great as a captain for one day internationals and T20s. Perhaps not for tests. He was a great player and he expected his mates too to perform like him; he was in a hurry. Sanath was a democrat as captain. He wanted most of his team to agree with his decisions. Yet, his record as captain depicts that it worked. It was nearly as good as Arjuna’s. He too had the support of his team.
A captain has to be groomed. Yes and he should not be changed at a whim and a fancy. He should be given the opportunity to blossom but not wither. It was Steve Waugh who said that Ricky Ponting is good as a captain for four to five years. He stayed on beyond and the results show that Steve was right.