Picking at the seam: Born leader owes it all to positive thought

MAN IN THE MIDDLE James Whitaker (Leicestershire)
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The Independent Online
The interests of positive cricket should be well served this season by a bumper crop of new captains around the county circuit, each eager to prove equal to the challenge.

Leicestershire's James Whitaker is one of eight sporting fresh stripes in a promotion some see as long overdue. It is a job the Yorkshire-born batsman, capped once by England, turned down six years ago - but it is with no reluctance that he takes it on now.

"I got the chance to lead the side temporarily at the end of the 1993 season when Nigel [Briers] was injured. For a number of reasons, my own game was suffering at the time. I was still trying to overcome the fears raised by a head injury in 1992 and I was also struggling to analyse why I was not getting any runs.

"When I took over the captaincy, I suddenly thought 'I've just got to get out there and play'. I stopped analysing and I stopped wondering about whether the ball was going to hit me on the head. I started to play well again."

The highlight, not surprisingly, was a Championship victory over Yorkshire, in which he also ended a two-year stretch without a first-class century. With that, he was bitten by the bug.

Despite his roots in Skipton, where his family built a thriving business from his great aunt's chocolate recipes, Whitaker has spent his entire cricket career in Leicestershire, having been installed by his father at Uppingham School.

Once established at Grace Road, he rarely thought of leaving, although his leadership potential has attracted both Somerset and Yorkshire in the last couple of years. That Leicestershire, having resisted all attempts to prise him away, would turn to him once Nigel Briers decided to step down seemed never in doubt.

Not that, at 34, he sees the job merely as a reward for loyalty. Far from it. As much as anything, it appeals to his fascination with cricket's mind games.

"I've read a lot about the psychological side of captaincy and talked to a lot of players," he said. "It excites me to have the challenge of trying to get better performances out of people, which I think you can do if you create the right environment for them to shine."