The top skippers in the IPL were able to dispel anxiety, writes Peter Roebuck

Captains have had a bigger than expected role in IPL.

Supposedly it was merely a matter of tossing a coin, wishing the bowlers well, telling the fieldsmen to scatter and instructing the batsmen to score at ten an over without getting out. Supposedly the players were going to wander around wearing gaga grins.

Instead the cricket has been surprisingly subtle, in a madcap way, and the captains have been almost as influential as a sculptor at clay.

As much can be discerned from the identity of the teams that entered the semifinals. Have not Shane Warne, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Dhoni and Virender Sehwag been the most impressive skippers? Sachin Tendulkar’s name could be added.

Tendulkar missed the first part of the competition, inherited a losing side and still came within a whisker of reaching the later stages. Towards the end Mumbai were the hottest team around.

Of course cricket teams and ships have always been run by captains. Bob Woolmer once tried to increase the role of the coach by asking Hansie Cronje to wear a radio receiver on the field but it was all too confusing and compromising.

Constancy is a must

Constancy is needed or else the team will lose direction. Whereas other sportsmen focus on preparation, cricket teams spend a long time on the field. A team without a proper captain is doomed.

Not that these four fellows have much in common except force of personality. Books have been written on the topic of cricket captaincy but there is no blueprint. It is not the style that counts, it is the skill.

Warne reads the game superbly, Yuvraj combines élan and humour, Sehwag has reason in madness and Dhoni conveys pragmatism and charisma. Contrastingly the defeated captains, Rahul Dravid, Adam Gilchrist, Sourav Ganguly and V.V.S. Laxman, did not impose themselves to the same extent.

Obviously manpower also mattered. Some of these gentlemen must have sympathised with the 19th century England captain who looked around the room and gasped “My God, look what they’ve given me this time.”!

Able to adapt and adjust

It has not been so much about captaincy as leadership. Certainly tactics matter somewhat in these condensed capers as bowlers are juggled and astute fields placed. Moreover a captain must be able to adjust to the rapid ebbs and flows of the exchanges.

Nor can time be wasted on reflection. T20 requires men of action not philosophers. But the brevity of the game limits the tactical range. Mistakes need not be fatal. Sehwag did not always use his attack wisely but his desire and authority never faltered and his men responded to him.

But in IPL the captain’s role was crucial off the field. By the end of the league section every team had a serviceable strategy. The top teams stood out because they were able to play their best cricket from the outset. In the few days available to them, the leading captains were able to dispel anxiety, build harmony and develop a coherent plan. It was a considerable achievement.

Show judgement

Captains also needed to show judgement. Most helped to choose the overseas players. Graeme Smith, Sohail Tanvir, Glenn McGrath, Sean Marsh and Shane Watson were amongst the most inspired nominations. All reached the last four. Their captains can take a bow. Heck, enough bricks are thrown.

Sound man management was also vital. Most teams had to absorb numerous changes of personnel without losing momentum. IPL captaincy was not a cinch. Far more than anticipated, it provided a lesson in leadership.

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