Thursday, December 24, 2020

Can Captain Quinny cope


There has only been one man in major international cricket history to lead a side in all formats while keeping wicket for them for any serious length of time: Mahendra Singh Dhoni. But while Dhoni had a heavy load, one which he carried like a prized weightlifter, Quinton de Kock may have an even heavier cross to bear. de Kock is the best player on South Africa's national team. It honestly doesn't matter which format we are talking about, he reigns supreme in all formats. This gift is undoubtedly at least part of the reason he was selected as the captain of the national team in all three formats. But will it turn out to be a curse?

To ask him to carry the load with the bat, as the lynchpin of a fragile batting line-up. Then in the field as both wicket-keeper and captain. Finally in the media, as the face of the team may be a bridge too far for a man whose last trip as the captain of a national team saw him clash with his under-19 coach, Ray Jennings, and eventually lose his job.

The move to have your best player be your captain is in some ways a very recent one. South Africa for example, had never done it. Australia was the only country that seemed to consistently find success in leaving all leadership queries at the feet of their best player. Donald BradmanAllan BorderSteve WaughRicky PontingMichael Clarke, and most recently, Steve Smith represent the best players in the teams they presided over. By contrast, considering their careers coincided with Jacques Kallis', Hansie Cronje, Shaun Pollock, and Graeme Smith were never in danger of being seen as the best players in the South African national team. A quick look at the modern game reveals an overwhelming majority of captains worldwide doubling up as the most valuable players in the team. This switch has likely been a result of two separate but equally crucial developments in the game: 

1 - The more holistic view nations have regarding on-field decisions, with all teams now having selectors, coaches, and even backroom staff all being able to chip in with their input to team selections, as well as team tactics. Gone are the days of Clive Lloyd finding the best bowlers in the Caribbean Isles on his own. Cricket boards have someone to do that now.
2 - The idea that carrying a captain who may not be one of the best XI players in your country is an inefficient team selection. 

Ironically, Australia seems to have zigged when the rest of the world zagged. This is ironic because Australia was the one who zagged when the cricket world zigged. There is an argument to be made that Tim Paine isn't even the best wicket-keeper in Australia, let alone their best player. But T-Paine only plays one format, one where leadership aside, his contributions to overall success is at best replacement-value. South Africa is going to need more than just replacement-value from de Kock. They are going to need star-level performance. It remains to be seen whether the boy from King Edward's shoulders will be strong enough to carry load Dhoni's did. 

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