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Sports

Australia’s system produces good captains, but you can’t say the same

by Ian Chappell

The subject of captaincy has provoked some vociferous discussion lately, with the daring deeds of England captain Ben Stokes, and manoeuvring in Australia following the announcement that Aaron Finch had retired from ODIs.

Finch’s retirement was lamented in many circles. This is understandable because he is a good white-ball captain. However, his replacement ought also to be an experienced player with strong leadership qualities. The Australian system for producing leaders, while diluted, is still the best of an increasingly cluttered set.

Finch’s retirement needs careful handling, otherwise it could be construed that no other Australian captain would have performed as well. That is an incorrect assumption; there were a number of viable options.

Then there’s the much publicised episode of David Warner requesting the case for his leadership be reassessed by a different management group at Cricket Australia. That raises the obvious question: why, following the original ball-tampering incident at Newlands in 2018 did Warner receive a more stringent punishment in respect to captaincy than the captain at the time, Steve Smith?

They both committed a serious crime at Newlands, but Smith’s as a captain in saying “I don’t want to know” was a greater infraction than Warner’s. If Warner had been alone in hatching the plot – which is not proven – then it was Smith’s job as captain to know about it and put an end to it. Either way they should have received an identical suspension and the fact that they didn’t raises serious questions about whether there was prejudice towards Warner. And surely, no one believes that only three players – the banned trio of Smith, Warner and Cameron Bancroft – were the only ones involved in the plot?

While Warner has created an intriguing situation with his assertive request, he shouldn’t be appointed captain of an Australia side. The captaincy should always be awarded to a player who still has some prime years remaining. A captain must have in his armoury the ability to regularly lead by example on the field. Warner, with his aggressive approach, would have been a good on-field leader but sadly his best now only appears occasionally and it’s time to appoint a younger captain.

In the case of Stokes, the job was his if he desired a leadership role. While Joe Root is a top-class batter, he was no captain, and in hindsight, should not have been appointed. If Root was the best choice at the time of his elevation – there was a list of potential captains – then the English system is not producing enough true international leaders.

Now England have the right captain in place, it becomes a matter of choosing the best combination to win in the prevailing conditions. It’s not surprising that their results have greatly improved following their disastrous tour of Australia. Their recent games have been in the more comfortable environment of home, and they replaced Root’s dubious leadership with the enterprising captaincy of charismatic allrounder Stokes.

England were certainly unlucky in Australia because they were deprived of some first-choice fast bowlers through injury. However, it’s patently clear that selecting the ageing Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad in the same team anywhere but in England is a mistake. It’s acceptable, but not ideal, to select a right-arm seam attack in England because it can suit the pitch and surrounding conditions. However, that doesn’t work on Australia’s bouncy pitches, where you need variety and the genuine pace of a Jofra Archer and a Mark Wood to have a chance of victory.

Spin bowling is another major headache for England. Jack Leach or Moeen Ali aren’t the right bowlers to succeed against teams like Australia. England tend to choose a holding spinner, whereas what they really need is a potential wicket-taking one. Ideally they need a spin bowler like Graeme Swann, who could handle either role because he was a top-class operator.Apart from Stokes, Test captaincy in England is currently a lottery because of the lack of candidates. However, the Australian system still generally produces acceptable leaders, with Pat Cummins being the prime exhibit in the case of outstanding captains.

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