How imaginative captains lift the game

2008-10-14 00:00

THE second round of SuperSport series matches provided one result and two very different draws. The Eagles suffered a crushing blow at the hands of the Warriors after they were bowled out for a mere 28 runs in their first innings.

A sporting declaration and competitive run rates saw the Cape Cobras and Titans duel end in a thrilling draw. The third game between the Dolphins and the Lions was nothing more than batting practice and a dead-boring draw.

On a batsmen-friendly wicket, the Dolphins batted first and posted 459, which they achieved with a healthy run rate of 3.37. The Lions then responded well, declaring 80 runs behind.

Neil McKenzie’s declaration signalled his intentions to Ahmed Amla that the Lions were prepared to make a game of it by having a target set which they would chase down.

The Dolphins proceeded to set the Lions an impossible target of 346 to get in about 60 overs.

After 41 overs, the game was called off with the Lions on 121 and the game a dull draw.

It’s possible to blame the pitch for being too flat, but I believe that captaincy was a more important factor.

Having played much of my cricket in the United Kingdom on some very small and batsmen-friendly pitches, I have learnt the pivotal role that captains play in achieving results when big totals are on the board. There were many occasions when the captains would meet up after the first innings and negotiate targets to be set for the final innings. In extreme cases, this could even involve non-bowlers bowling so that the opposition could score quick runs and a declaration could be made to ensure a result. In most cases, games ended in results often going down to the wire and seldom did they peter out into tame and pointless draws.

Had the Dolphins batted faster in the second innings, they could have dangled a carrot for the Lions to have a go with enough overs to make a game of it.

The format of first-class and Test cricket provides captains with the opportunities to make crucial decisions, which determine the outcome of the game.

Captaining limited-overs cricket is very different, and with the strong emphasis placed on this format at school level, it is tough for captains to develop the skills and experience required in the longer format of the game. Our national team is a case in point, where the selectors are struggling to find a replacement for injured captain Graeme Smith. They have selected Johan Botha as vice-captain, but he is inexperienced at international level and his place is hardly secure in the side.

The first Test match between India and Australia at Bangalore also saw big totals, but one always felt the game was going somewhere. Ponting knew that if he let Sehwag get away, the Test match would be over, and he faced question marks over his spinners — White and Clarke — as to whether they would be able to finish off the Test match for him. In the end, the experienced Indian middle-order batsmen survived and the Test was drawn, but it was riveting to watch.

The tactics employed by cricket captains add such an important dimension to the game and add intrigue and excitement to its longer format, which has taken a back seat in the face of limited overs and the 20/20 format.

It is vital to encourage captains at domestic level in this country and to develop their skills so that we can avoid situations where teams are using first-class matches as batting practice and playing mainly for their averages.

• Neil Johnson, a former Natal and Zimbabwe all-rounder, lives and coaches in Pietermaritzburg.

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