The right cricket captain

2011-06-08 00:00

ALONG with having the best coach and players, South Africa's cricket hopes for the next five to 10 years depend more on having the right captain than anything else, so important is the value of great leadership.

Tony Greig wasn't the world's best all-rounder when he was made England's captain, but he had what it took as a successful leader. Nelson Mandela may not have been the best politician in the African National Congress in 1994, but he was the reconciling leader we most needed.

What does cricketing leadership require if the Proteas are to play to their huge potential? Obviously it needs somebody who is a good enough player to be in the team. It is the next three qualities that distinguish a true cricketing leader: superior tactical intelligence, moral depth and multiplier leadership skills.

You don't have to be a genius to understand that a top-class leader in any field must be a really good thinker. In cricket — Test cricket above all — this is probably more important than in any other sport because the game takes so much longer and is exceptionally intricate. Intelligent tactics are worth their weight in gold here. There was a classic example involving Kiwi batsman Jesse Ryder in the recent ICC World Cup in India, whose long innings against us was a key factor in our defeat that day and an early trip home.

With his sluggish footwork, the way to get Ryder out was to exploit his lack of footwork by bringing on the spinner who turns the ball most. For the Proteas that meant leg-spinner Imran Tahir, but skipper Graeme Smith relied on other bowlers, and Ryder made an invaluable 83. Not so the Sri Lankans, as I recall, who gave the ball very quickly to Muttiah Muralitharan, and Ryder was soon out.

Moral integrity means more than not taking bribes to fix matches. It means earning and keeping the deep respect and commitment of team-mates, which is vital for a winning captain. What earns such respect? Top-class skills with bat, ball and in fielding earn a player admiration, but it is qualities like integrity, a strong sense of duty, honesty, moral courage, fairness of mind and action, and deep concern for your players, both individually and as a team, that win and keep their respect. Those qualities raise their game.

What gives a captain moral integrity? It can be deep religious conviction like that of Hashim Amla, but religious faith is not always a mark of ethical strength. A surer sign of it is a record of active concern for others, generosity of spirit and, of course, honesty and devotion to duty.

The third requirement for sustained success in a captain is what business leadership writer Christine Leonardi calls multiplier ability. Writing in the magazine Entrepreneur in February 2011, she distinguishes between multipliers, who create value in those they lead, and diminishers, who reduce it. This can happen in many ways but one is especially relevant to a team sport like cricket. As Leonardi puts it, multipliers tend "to develop, explore, challenge, consult and support people", whereas diminishers tend "to use, blame, tell, dictate and control people".

Since the heart of ethics is active concern for the good of those you affect, it is clear that multiplier leadership will be at its best in a captain of real moral integrity. Without that kind of intelligent, ethically responsible leadership, the Proteas could well continue to falter at the fina­l hurdle.

• Professor Martin Prozesky is an independent ethics consultant and writer operating under the banner of Compass Ethics, and a long-term cricket lover.

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