Captaincy… oppa Clarkan style!

Two events in recent cricketing history compel me to draw their parallels to typical corporate circumstances.

One was the re-emergence of Dhoni as India’s blue-eyed captain, the Midas of the Men in Blue whose faith in his players are being seen as prophetic with each passing day of the tour.

The other – perhaps more in the limelight for all the wrong reasons – the Australian captain Michael Clarke’s tribulations on and off the field.

Personally, I have to admit that for the first time since the 1996 World Cup finals, I find myself willing to root for an Australian team (in their next challenge – the Ashes – and not for the current series!) And much of that has to do with Clarke’s conduct on and off the field – a true example of the ‘Halo’ effect, perhaps. He’s a refreshing change from those who excused excessive aggression (and spitting into one’s hands) as a symbol of Aussie-ism, from those who would rather blame themselves or the pitch than the fact that they were as clueless in India as our team has been on their pitches. And of course, there’s the small fact that he didn’t ‘Mankad’ Dhawan’s debut – a rare display of sportsmanship from a team that has long excused its absence without any shame.

And to top it off, he’s actually handled the ‘HomeworkGate’ saga pretty… neatly.
Assuming, of course, that he was as sure about the decision as his coach Mickey Arthur, Clarke deserves to be patted on the back for arresting the slide in discipline. Whether it is 3 points or 30, irrespective of whether the coach needed it in Powerpoint, toilet paper or a ballet with Watson leading the pirouettes, there is nothing ambiguous about the fact that every member of the team was asked to ponder over their role in the larger scheme of things – and if anyone objects, it should be to the fact that the coach had to hand this out as an assignment, instead of the ‘boys’ dwelling on it 24×7 themselves, as they should have been at this juncture of a tour that is going very badly for them.
That the four failed to hand in such an assignment therefore smacks of an abject disregard of their responsibilities towards the team, and an attitude that is dismissive of their captain’s/coach’s inputs. None of the four are kids, each having spent close to a decade in the much-vaunted Australian sporting setup, and must surely have been indoctrinated on what it means to be part of a team. To excuse poor attitude citing personal excellence in other areas is a mistake that Ponting committed with Symonds – Clarke, at least, has sent out the right message not only to his current team-mates, but also to any other hopeful waiting for a chance at national duty.
Maybe I am imagining it, but the Australian players have shown much more application, put a heavier price on their wicket, for the first time in the series – despite Clarke’s stumping off the first ball he faced. Perhaps that rush of blood itself was occasioned by the brickbats he was receiving from myopic former players who did not realize that they had always been kept in line off the glare of the media. People like Damien Martyn, who remains in my memory for claiming a bump-catch off Dravid and then arguing with Venkatraghavan (and going off scot-free in the days before BCCI started ‘to flex its muscles’) and Warne, whose uncertain (in)discipline was definitely one of the reasons he’d never asked to take the toss for the Green Caps, are not really the best advocates for knowing what’s best for the team in the long run. Barring his one magical season during the inaugural IPL, Warne’s never really been able to prove that his management style rocks. Clarke may still have to bat again in Mohali, and it will be easier for him to play knowing that he has nothing to answer for.
Clarke aside, it is an encouraging sign that there are finally other players putting up their hands to be counted. Cowan, Starc and Smith have helped Australia claim some legitimacy from this test and at lease ensure that India will have to approach Day 4 as an ODI to force a result in the rain-curtailed third test. To extend the popular joke these days, these three must have definitely done their ‘homework.’
It’s also an interesting question from a management’s perspective – does the punishment fit the crime? In these days of zero-tolerance corporates and a looming/existing/emerging recession, one would be accurate in supposing that similar conduct in a professional organization would see you bouncing on your backside on the street faster than Clarke’s latest innings (for posterity’s sake, recording it here – st Dhoni b Jadeja 0(1) – third test @ Mohali) – and no one would have blinked. If this had happened in Australia, Glenn Maxwell might have at least escaped the ignominy of being the only member dropped, and that too when you had Phil Hughes (67 balls, 2 runs, 5 dismissals) as one of the chosen 11 – at least Clarke could have called on further resources from the Sheffield games, or at the very least, persuaded Punter Ponting for one more hurrah.
Which brings us back to the question – what’s next for Clarke? As a batsman, he has nothing to prove; as a captain, however, he needs to prove a point. Not to the media, or to the rest of his country, but to the four ‘boys’ who have been sent a message. That they need the team more than the team needs them.