A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.
John C. Maxwell
When the going gets tough, Australian skipper gets going
Three and a half years ago, at Cape Town, in the third Test against South Africa, Australian captain Michael Clarke responded the queries about his form in the most emphatic fashion with a magnificent 161 against a fast and furious Proteas attack. The series was locked 1-1 and when Clarke came out to bat, Australia desperately needed their captain to shine and erase the memories of Steyn’s fiery spell in the second Test. Clarke did what the doctors ordered.
Then in 2005, at Manchester, Ricky Ponting was fighting it out against a rejuvenated English unit who threatened the number one side in the world at that time. The series was hanging in the balance and England were all set to take a lead in the third. But Ponting played one of the best captain’s knocks in the history of Ashes and denied England of a victory. Of course, the gallant resistance of Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath in the final overs could not be undermined.
Rewind to 1975 and Clive Lloyd’s fast men was in no mood to show any sympathy towards Greg Chappell who inherited the captaincy from his brother Ian Chappell. It was his first series as captain and in the first Test at Brisbane, Greg unleashed his true self by smashing hundreds in both innings against Andy Roberts, Michael Holding and Lance Gibbs. Australia drew first blood against Lloyd’s men and that hundred set the tone for rest of the series. West Indies left Australian shore bruised and battered.
Allan Border, Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh and even Adam Gilchrist responded in tough circumstances while leading the team. It has always been the nature of Australian captains to deliver the best when the going gets tough and certainly, Steve Smith, the present captain of Australia, would respond towards adversity like his past masters. On the third day of first Test at Brisbane, when the going got tough, Smith got going.
Captaincy, the Australian way
The Australian way of captaincy is unique. An Australian captain must be a lateral thinker and must have the stomach to walk on water and make his men do the same. He must be adventurous and of course, he must not think about losing but think of how to win from any situation.
According to Ian Chappell a captain, “must earn it in three categories: as a player, as a human being and finally as a leader. If a captain achieves those aims and complements them with a good knowledge of the game which he applies with common sense and a dash of daring, and he’s endowed with a reasonable share of luck, he’s on the way to a rating of excellent. If he also has very good players around him, then there’s no stopping the guy”.
He also said, “Having agreed there are a variety of ways for a skipper to get the best out of a team, there is one sure way: make the cricket interesting. A captain shouldn’t fear losing, but he should hate losing. There’s a big difference. The former will be a defensive captain, the latter aggressive. Why? Because in the first case the captain will do everything in his power to avoid defeat, including manoeuvring into a position from which he can’t lose before he goes for the win. The second type will go flat out for victory from ball one and only opt for the draw when all hope of winning is lost”.
Character is very important to become a leader and his ability to lead by an example must play a vital role in lifting the confidence of the team. If you are not leading by an example, then you cannot be called an Australian skipper in the true sense of term.
Leading from the front at The Gabba
Steve Smith’s captaincy is not as proactive as Michael Clarke, Allan Border or Chappell brothers. At times I tend to get annoyed with him when he starts to think like an orthodox skipper and waits for the things to happen which is quite un-Australian. Then last year, when he failed to respond boldly at Sri Lanka and got dismissed in an amateurish way, I wondered, is Smith tough enough to conquer adverse circumstances? After the defeat against South Africa, my thinking about Smith, the captain, started to become permanent. He is not a typical Australian captain.
Steve Smith responded well against Pakistan, but it was a gift from Misbah-ul-Haq’s pragmatic approach rather than Smith’s impact as the captain and at the start of 2017, in India, Smith did give us the impression, he is changing as a captain and under tough circumstances, he has learned to manage his innings.
In the first session of third day, Australia lost three wickets in a quick succession. Shaun Marsh, Tim Paine and Mitchell Starc walked for the pavilion leaving the hosts tottering at 209 for 7. They were still trailing by 93 runs and the way James Anderson and Stuart Broad were bowling it seemed, England would start their second innings with a healthy lead.
But one man denied to give up easily and it was the captain of Australia Steve Smith. Having learned from the past mistakes and having acquired the ability to read the situation of a Test match over the years, Smith believed, if he could occupy the crease more and exhibit composure, there would be a possibility of taking upper hand against the visitors.
Joe Root tried to attack Smith but he curbed his urge to counterattack and continued to leave the balls outside off which posed a threat from the back of a length. He invested his scoring chances more on loose deliveries and frustrated the captain, fielders and bowlers who were forced to run out of ideas as the time progressed. In modern day cricket, the critics highlight the importance of scoring quickly even in test matches only to glorify Twenty20 format, but Smith made them realise, scoring at a slow rate in Test cricket is as valuable as gold no matter in which era you play.
Had Smith counterattacked, the situation would have been worse and the kind of field Root set, it required the assistance of a smart thinker who would only occupy the crease and win each moment with sheer grit. At the end of the day, it was Smith’s patience which won the day for Australia. It was an absolute masterclass from Smith, similar to the one which he played against India on a testing Ranchi track a couple months back.
Captaincy has brought the best out Smith’s batting as ESPNcricinfo suggest, “Since he took over the leadership in December 2014, Smith has the most centuries among all captains in Tests. Virat Kohli is second with 11; no other captain has more than five. Smith’s average of 61.23 is also the second highest for any captain to have led in a minimum of 10 matches. Only Bradman has a higher average with 101.51”.
He faced 261 balls to reach his 21st Test ton, the slowest Ashes century for Australia since 1993 when David Boon took 284 balls to score a hundred at Lord’s. A slow knock, but when you think about the impact of such knocks, you are forced to think how tough Test cricket is and how tough scoring runs are in a five-day match.
Smith led from the front. His presence at the crease made all of us think, when the going gets tough, an Australian captain does get going. Today Smith got going and whenever an Australian captain scored a hundred at The Gabba, Australia hardly lost a Test. Only time will tell how impactful Smith’s knock would be in the remaining two days.