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Cricket Australia’s two vice-captain policy, productive or not? 

There are debates raging on about the need of a vice-captain in a cricket team and most teams have swayed cleared of this by not appointing one at all. Australia, tainted, looking to repair the damage and seeking some solace from the hard states of their fans, have gone overboard and named two of them for the series against Pakistan in UAE. Yes, that’s right. Two vice-captains in a team!

The choice might hit you as absurd, and could prompt a sarcastic response, something quite a few websites have run in the recent days, with coach Justin Langer’s predilection for the Marsh brothers being the butt of several jokes. Mitchell Marsh and Josh Hazlewood were the two named to stand as deputies to Tim Paine, the leader in Australia’s time of strife.

“Josh and Mitch display great leadership qualities, and we were extremely impressed by their passion and energy to help guide Australian cricket into this exciting new era. Our vision is to create great cricketers and great people, and we are extremely fortunate to have such terrific young men charged with responsibility of upholding the high standards and values we and Australian cricket fans expect of their Test team,” Trevor Hohns, selection chairman had said.

While it is easy to make a joke out of Australia’s queer policy, the policy needs to probably be viewed in different light.

After the sandpaper gate saga, the Aussies have hit an unprecedented low with their most experienced players, their captain and vice-captain respectively, being banned for a year. The aftermath of this is yet to sink in for the Aussie fans, and the first and foremost thing in the mind of Cricket Australia is to bring back faith in the eyes of the public and cultivate a new team culture.  

It is pretty obvious that a team does not need two vice-captains. But by giving Marsh and Hazlewood, Australia have given the youngsters a sense of ownership to this team looking to lift itself up from the abyss. Tim Paine is fresh to captaincy too and with a tough tour of UAE setting him off, he needs as much support as he can get.

In dividing his responsibility, not just within closed doors, but by publically announcing the names, CA have ensured that they form a core leadership group, one which will hopefully be known for better things than their predecessors.

The choices aren’t random either. Langer had a novel idea, one which was perhaps derived from other sports, but to fit it to suit Australian cricket was quintessential. Unlike football, in cricket a captain plays a bigger role controlling each and every move in the field. While a vice-captain is almost always an onlooker, it is only because a captain, along with a couple of senior hands, is more often than not thought to be enough to take decisions.

While this happens all the time in cricket, the central figures in such on-field team discussions are usually the captain, bowler and a couple of experienced players. Australia have just given a tag to these additional figures in the side who are respected by other team players. On the one hand, it provides Paine with some much-needed support and reduces his workload. On the other, it gives the team and the younger ones especially, a sense of belonging and ownership.

A third, well thought of, after effect of this is how the two are from different departments in the side.

“We also feel the new model provides great balance. There is a strong and even representation of both the batting and bowling groups, which is important when making decisions which are in the best interest of the team. The demands on the modern cricketer were also factors we took into account, including the amount of cricket they play in a season, to what happens in the event a member of the leadership group is missing through injury’” Hohns said.

While this might seem inconsequential, having a representative for the bowlers is sometimes essential, even advantageous. Most captains are batsmen in cricket and while on the one hand this stems from their ability to dictate things from close quarters, it is also a setback in some situations, like a  follow-on or bat again decision, where the bowlers are the right ones to call the shots. As Hohns conveyed, there is an even representation in both groups with this decision.

While there is a lot of whataboutery in this and positives, if any, are all speculatory, does it really harm Australian cricket? With Hazlewood conceding that he aims to be one of those vice-captains who does not aim to lead the side one day, Mitchell Marsh and him are unlikely to be in a rat race for the lead role. Such a scenario being ruled out means there is little to no negatives from this decision, even if no positives emerge. So who is it really hurting? It might be a shot in the dark by Langer and the board, but not a bad one at that despite what it is being made out to be.

 

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