Thursday, January 19, 2012

Future Australian Captains: let’s not have any.

1 Corinthians 13:9. For we know partially and we prophesy partially...

And we never bloody learn, apparently. For goodness’ sake, one Test ago we (meaning The Press and a few bloggers) were agonising over whether Clarke’s appointment as Future Australian Captain (FAC) made him unpopular and  whether or not he is now popular enough to have a bandwagon. If he does, 329 runs and beating India will get a lot of people on it.

For the last six? seven? or so* years, Clarke has had to work in the blinding intensity of the public focus that came with that early anointing. Despite all the afore-mentioned angst, it has taken mere days for David Warner to emerge as the next FAC, helped along by Mickey Arthur. Do they not have the Future Saffer Captain issue in SA, or is Arthur already peddling the official CA let’s-anoint-someone-who-does-well-in-the-focus-groups? The perception of favour didn’t help Clarke on the field or in the press, whatever it did for his bank account, and it may well have hindered him in both.  My favourite theory as to why Clarke was hard to connect to, coming across in press conferences as bland and party-line, is that he was well aware of the damage that could be done to chances at captaincy with a stray comment or controversy.

The perception is that Clarke has had a number of controversies, but once you eliminate the FAC status, speculation about form slumps, and stories that do or don’t match his allegedly-bogan background (they usually involve money and subtle snobbery, reverse or otherwise), you’re left with a relationship that went wrong (he who is without sin, etc) and a fight with Simon Katich which he didn’t start. Katich, let’s remember, left a burgeoning cricket career in WA to further his own chances, so he’s not exactly the shining cricket purist himself.**  Clarke hasn’t (that we know of) been in fights in nightclubs, talked to bookies, had dodgy drug test results or in fact done anything except perhaps be a bit too controlled in press conferences and too much / not enough of a bogan to fit stereotypes. I was actually rather relieved when he took a bit of personal leave because it showed that he was, in fact, human.

We don’t know, and never will, what harm Clarke’s status did to any other potential FACs in the team.  For all Steve (we are not worthy) Waugh’s team had a miraculous collection of talent, it also had a number of blokes he could turn to in the field for thoughts on the game and its state at any given time.  How many of the next generation never bothered to develop the mythical and terribly clichéd cricket brain because they never expected to be captain, with the golden boy constantly in front of them?  How much of Katich’s angst came from that frustration?

Look, I don’t love Clarke.   I was pretty cynical about his declaration at 329, thinking he must have known that would play as humility. He has since said that wasn’t the case, and he was focussed on winning, so we’ll go with that. To be fair, no good captain would put their own milestones ahead of the team’s, and, love him or no, I do think he is a good captain. I can’t quite decide whether the changes in opinion come from a greater freedom to be himself, an improved PR firm (no streaks in the hair, I note, and Channel 9 playing Western Sydney backyard cricket footage), some stunning cricket, or all of the above.

Passing the FAC mantle on to David Warner, though, is not good for Warner, the team, or the next generation of cricketers. Surely they should all aim for captaincy, at least at first, and think they have a chance? Why saddle a talent like Warner with all that expectation and extra focus? Does he not have enough to do, working out how to be a T20 star and a Test opener? Why make him also work out, all at once, how to: 

  • comment on the current captain’s form in press conferences, 
  • balance relationships in all of his dressing-rooms, 
  • deal with people calling for his head at the slightest slump in form, 
  • shut off the glare of the spotlight, and the positive and negative things that go with it, 
  • enjoy the fruits of his success without being called a tosser
  • respond gracefully when the person who called you a tosser calls you insecure for wanting respect,  
  • and, somewhere in there, have a life? 

He'd learn those things eventually anyway, being an Australian cricketer, a Test opener and playing in the IPL. Shouldn’t we be rewarding his talent with room and respect and space to grow?  We have Warney to satisfy our national quota of cricket stories in the social pages, not to mention some fresh international imports thanks to the BBL - how about we just let Warner be Warner, and worry about who will be captain next when we actually need one?

* vagueness due to Wikipedia blackout, cricinfo not having FAC appointment as one of its stats

** YES I’m still bitter.  

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