Cricket: How to be a real captain: It's unlikely that Graham Gooch has to ring around his friends, desperately trying to persuade one of them to play

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The Independent Online
THERE'S been much talk of the importance of captaincy in cricket circles recently. Javed Miandad, the former firebrand and panto villain, is said to have 'matured' into his role as national skipper and lovable elder statesman. And Graham Gooch, though sadly blessed with a bowling attack for the third Test which is slightly less penetrative than that of an injury- hit Sri Lanka B team, has also received much acclaim for his leadership qualities, and has even written a book about them entitled Captaincy.

Pah. What do they know?

It's out here, in the vicious and violent world of Real Cricket, that a captain really earns his spurs. As regular skipper of the Captain Scott Invitation XI's Sunday side, I have to deal with problems that Gooch and Miandad can scarcely have dreamt of. After all, anyone can go a post match press conference and say 'The lads done terrific', or, if you're Mike Gatting, 'The lads done terrific, they've given 210 per cent'. But when did Mike Brearley ever have to collect tea money? When did Imran Khan ever have to go to the opposition's skipper and say, 'Er, I'm sorry, but we seem to have an extra man by mistake. Would it be all right to play 12-a-side?'

Of course, professional captains don't have it totally easy. They have to keep all their players motivated, and performing to their full potential. They have to be inventive and courageous in the field. They have to play brilliantly at all times. And if they lose, they carry the can. If they keep on losing. they can be fired. No one can fire me or the Saturday team's captain. I'm the signatory to the team's bank account, and he has all the kit.

None the less, it's unlikely that Graham Gooch has to ring around all his friends on the morning before a game, desperately trying to persuade one of them to play because Graeme Hick has been told by his wife that he has to put some shelves up. Running a travelling team like ours is infinitely more onerous than merely winning Test matches. Gooch picks each of his team to do a job. All of our lot, though, are volunteers, which may explain why they all want to bat No 6 and bowl first change, downhill and with the wind.

Tactical acumen is also a problem. Although much praised by victorious opposition sides for my 'esoteric' field placings, I would be the last to admit that I am the most skilled fielding captain in the game. But then Gooch or Miandad has almost certainly never had to deal with Stonedrift.

This phenomenon, named after someone called Stone, who practised it better than anyone, describes the way some fielders drift inexorably out of position within seconds of being placed there. Sometimes they move closer to someone else to have a chat. Or perhaps there is a left-hander in and they can't quite remember where to go. But, whichever the case, the ball invariably goes where they were first put and, when you tell them to move back, they look utterly dumbfounded, as though it's all your fault. Sarcasm is the only possible response to this, unless you happen to have a high-speed rifle on you.

And when did Gooch ever have to ask anyone to umpire? 'But I don't know the rules,' whines the opening bowler who earlier had been appealing for lbws every ball. 'Got to make a quick phone-call,' cries someone else, sprinting to his car. Other team members have hidden in the lavatory, or behind nearby bushes.

One thing a professional captain would recognise, though, is the sledging - though with one important difference. In Test cricket, players sledge their opponents. In Captain Scott cricket, they sledge their team-mates. 'Get on with it]' they shout, after a forward defensive. 'Howzat]' come the cries from the boundary as soon as a pad is hit. One unusually excitable umpire has even been known to give someone out after such an appeal.

Still, there are compensations. The totally random bowling change that suddenly yields four wickets. The amazing slip catch when you've only put him there because he's the worst fielder in the side. And that greatest of all cricketing pleasures, the lower-order batsman who suddenly goes mad and scores loads of runs. Especially if that lower-order batsman happens to be me.

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