Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Shocking Comeback to Overcome SMCC

The Art of c(r)aptaincy by Mike Brearley Dan Forman

Streatham and Marlborough Sunday 2nd XI 189 all out
Mandarins 190-7, win by 3 wickets

Sunday 11 August 2019

Prove your credentials

Modest as he may be, it had been drawn to your correspondent’s attention (albeit by himself) that he had won three games out of three as Mandarins captain this season (albeit having had a 100% losing record in every other game he had skippered in previous years). So I was challenged by my ever-supportive teammates to put this record to the test once more and take the reins for the second Ashes test at Lord’s this week our game against the SMCC Sunday 2nd XI.

...Is made much easier when you only have 10  Mandarins available and two of them are your own kids. No knife-edged decisions about whether to go with that second spinner or the extra batting here. Just pick who you’ve got and see who else you can find on Facebook. Ed Smith wouldn’t need his Cambridge education or six-figure salary for that. Forman, Forman, Forman, Tunbridge, Baker, Manian, Wilmot, Mckeon and Plahe it is, with local ringer Andrew Ryan helpfully answering the call to make up the numbers.

Communication, communication, communication
What do you mean that that’s still only 10? That couldn’t have happened under my watch. Early, regular and consistent communication with your team is absolutely central to my captaincy philosophy. It’s simply not possible that I might have omitted to confirm with Sam Cook that he was selected and was still desperately trying to get hold of him from the field as the first innings got underway.

Win the toss and read the pitch 
Captaincy is 90% luck and 10% skill but don’t try it without that 10%, said Richie Benaud. I would add that it is also not worth trying it without the 90% bit either. So winning the toss was a bonus, as was the fact that the oppo helpfully had 12 players and were happy to lend one (debutant Alex Proctor who later became the latest Mandarin to take a wicket with his first ever ball for the club) to take us back to 11 (even more useful to have a full complement in the field when you choose to bowl first on a green and damp-looking surface that turns out to actually play quite well).

Justify your own place
It’s all very well being the shrewdest mind since Keith Fletcher last set foot on a cricket field or the most innovative tactician since bodyline, but what do you actually contribute in runs or wickets? Just about enough to justify selection in a team of nine in my case. One wicket for 31 runs from eight overs was the very definition of respectable without being spectacular and marginally kept the wolves of my teammates from the door of demanding I be dropped.

Invest in youth
Other than the most effective field settings since Michael Vaughan placed Gary Pratt at extra cover, the main thing I bring to the party is two sons who can run, bowl and catch. Harry (8-1-31-4 and more of whom later) had their 1 and 3 batsmen within a couple of overs, while Stan got rid of their best bat for 70, sprinting in from long on and diving forwards just as the game was starting to get away from us, for the first of three excellent catches.

Take the tough decisions
While one would never want to induce the kind of meltdown that a certain skipper prompted from another member of his slow bowlers’ union at Mickleham last month, sometimes you have to put friendships aside in the interests of the team and make the big calls, even when Chris Baker has just bowled a wicket maiden but you have also already promised Arvind the next over from that end. It is in the swirling cauldron of such pressure that captaincy reputations are won or lost, literally placed in the hands of a man who you thought was about to bowl his new brand of off-spin with the wind in his favour but… turns out to have reverted to his old seam-up style which you didn’t think was what you were bringing on at all. Obviously I knew what I was doing all along though as Arvind then produced a very tidy three-wicket spell, Harry came back for a couple more to mop up the tail and what had threatened to be a 200+ chase off our 40 overs became a still tricky but much more manageable target of 190.

Man(ian) management
Motivating his star all-rounder was probably Mike Brearly’s greatest gift to English cricket and mine to the Mandarins turns out to be the same. It seems that the key to unlocking the secrets of Arvind’s success is ripping into him on the field for failing to walk in, keeping his hands in his pockets and dropping the simplest of dolly catches. It is true the words ‘f***ing’ and ‘disgrace’ may have passed my lips but that was purely for the purpose of firing him up and giving him a point to prove. The idea that I in any way lost my composure throughout any of this is a scurrilous rumour being put about by Graeme’s friends in the press who think he would do a better job as captain than me because he went to the right kind of school.

Sit back, enjoy the show and give the appearance of being relaxed…
...even as your carefully constructed (‘sort it out among yourselves while I enjoy more of this delicious chicken at tea’) top order fails to fire. Fear not, as I have artfully placed some more power in the lower middle order (‘oh that didn’t last very long, I haven’t even started, let alone finished, my beer and now I’ve got to pad up’). Solution: put an immense amount of faith in a 14-year-old to stay with Arvind for most of the 100 runs still required rather than leaving that beer undrunk and taking the responsibility to do the job yourself with only three wickets in hand. 

And after a while the appearance of being relaxed became actually being relaxed, so much so that number 11 Stan took his pads off with a few overs to go (I wish I’d thought of that way of showing confidence in my batsmen from the boundary, the talented bloody youngster will make a better captain than me too at this rate). Arvind was chanceless and utterly in the zone for his unbeaten 53, working the singles while waiting for the bad ball to put away. Harry was equally majestic for his 45*, with shots all around the ground, including his signature back over the bowler’s head drive and one shuffle down the crease and cream through the covers for three that was so good that Jonathan delayed his departure for dinner for to see more. Both made their Mandarins top scores but the match situation and the style of it made it a partnership that mere statistics could never do justice to, turning the seemingly impossible into a cake-walk to the target with nine balls to spare.

Celebrate success
Which left just enough time to laud our heroes and enjoy our success in the bar (an important part of any winning team culture in case anyone has read this far and is still actually after any captaincy advice). And as if this whole expertly conceived plan wasn’t already perfect enough, it then started to bucket with rain. As I was saying, don’t try doing it without the 90% luck.

Dan Forman

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