Understanding the Role of the Captain
I can’t think of any other sport where the captain of the team plays such an important role as in cricket. In sports like soccer and rugby the game is so fast-paced that the on-pitch captain has little time to breathe, never mind alter team tactics. In fact, in these quick-fire sports captains are often reduced to the role of cheerleader, imploring team-mates to stick it to the opposition. But the game of cricket is fundamentally different.
A game is made up of hundreds – sometimes thousands – of set pieces, occurring every time the bowler delivers a ball to the batsman. These set pieces take only a few seconds to execute and then the batsmen, bowlers, and fielders take 30, 40, even 50 seconds to prepare for the next delivery. In addition, matches are stopped for lunch and tea. In short, cricket captains have an inordinate amount of time on their hands to think about and change team tactics.
Selecting the Right Team
Games of cricket can almost be lost before play even starts if the make-up of the team is wrong. When selecting a team you’re looking for a mixture of talents. You should have enough batsmen to score runs and bowlers capable of dismissing the opposition. The ideal make-up of an 11-player cricket team is usually five or six batsmen and four or five bowlers as well as a wicket-keeper.
When it comes to the team’s specialist batsmen a captain wants two players who are adept at playing the new ball. These players are called opening batsmen and they need to be good at playing defensive shots. Then the captain looks for players who are more adept at playing attacking shots but can defend if needed. These players are called middle order batsmen or stroke makers. Refer to Chapter 5, on batting, for more on the different types of batsmen.
Calling Heads or Tails . . . the Toss of the Coin
Shortly before a cricket match starts the captains of both teams walk together to the wicket. The captain of the team playing at home tosses a coin in the air, and while the coin is in flight the captain of the team playing away from home calls ‘heads’ or ‘tails’. If the away captain calls correctly then he has the choice of batting or fielding first. On the other hand, if the away captain calls incorrectly then the home captain gets the choice.
Whether a coin lands heads or tails is pure luck, of course, but the choice of whether to bat or field first is a big test of the captain’s acumen. The captain’s decision on whether to bat or bowl first has a lot to do with his assessment of the state of the pitch, and the weather conditions. If the pitch or the weather looks like it will favour pace and swing bowling then the captain winning the toss is likely to choose to bowl first.
Captaining the Team in the Field
When the team is in the field the captain is out there calling the shots. Good captains earn the respect of their team-mates and their decisions are followed to the letter. Cricket is a complex game and the captain’s role is to be in the firing line making the tough calls; never more so than when the team is fielding.
These rules restrict the fielding captains to keeping nine fielders – including the bowler and wicket-keeper – within a 30 yard circle of the batsmen for a specified number of overs. The number of overs for which the restriction applies depends on the competition, but generally varies between 6 and 20 overs. The circle is marked by white markers or a whitewashed line on the pitch.