What Captains Learn from Great Skippers | Cricket coaching, fitness and tips

What Captains Learn from Great Skippers

Have you ever asked for captaincy feedback?

Those who are brave enough often pick up great insights that help shape their future and more effective leadership approaches.


I have had the pleasure of working with some of the best captains in world cricket during my coaching career. There is no single style or approach that is better or worse than any other. All three captains below are different yet hugely successful.

Can you learn from them?

Visionary Vaughan

I have had the pleasure of spending the last week with Michael Vaughan, the 2005 Ashes winning captain. Vaughany has a forward thinking brain, he is often planning the next move - or even the one after that - as he stands in the field. Maybe this was why he was no Jonty Rhodes!

The next bowling change, the next innovative field placement always trying to stay one step ahead of the opposition and even his own players. Risk taking was very much part of Vaughan's method. He would prefer to take a risk and get it wrong than take the safe option. He was never reckless but would always be thinking outside the box.

Remember his field placing to Matt Hayden in 2005?

A guy standing in his eyeline, right next to the cut strip, playing with Hayden's ego and mind, challenging him to hit the ball past or through the man. Matthew Hoggard unpicked the huge left hander's wicket on a couple of occasions as a result of this tactic.

Vaughan liked a maverick in his team: Our three were Freddie Flintoff, Kevin Pietersen and Steve Harmison. All were capable of incredible things if given the license and freedom to express themselves. Vaughan gave them that and the rest is history.

Do you have an out of the box, futuristic leadership style? Is this the hallmark of your own teams leader?

Architect Strauss

"It's all about the team. We must work hard, together"

Straussy - Ashes-winning England captain - is one of the best blokes out there. His values jump out with every word and action. He lives and breathes togetherness and takes his cohesive team towards an aspirational goal.

Strauss identified his targets for his team at the outset of his reign.

"To become number one Test team in the world"

Strauss worked with his players and staff to take England to supreme levels of fitness.

He bought the "Moneyball" approach from baseball into cricket and encouraged the team to work together to reach these goals. Straussy has a great sense of where the culture and environment is at any given time and didn't tolerate those who don't buy into the team philosophy.He was less comfortable with mavericks and his team selections reflected this. Mavericks were viewed as unnecessary distractions; very different to Vaughan's approach.

Strauss was less effective at reading a game of cricket than his predecessor. Initially this impacted upon his decision making. We lost a Test Series in the West Indies because he was cautious when deciding on the appropriate time to declare. We drew matches in Antigua and Trinidad because we didn't have enough time to bowl the Windies out.

However, Strauss learnt from this and used others in his team to give him more innovative ideas. Stuart Broad, in particular, became the go to man for "out the box" ideas with bowling changes, lines of attacks and field settings.

Strauss has great levels of self awareness and became a double Ashes-winning captain as a result.

Leader Smith

Graeme Smith is the the best leader of people I have worked with. Again, not a significant risk taker or innovator like Vaughan but the man that all team mates would follow into any battle. He had a way of reading a situation, feeling it and then making a decision based on his gut feel.

He took the sting out of a tense situation with a funny line and upped the pressure on his team when he felt that they were not backing themselves at a key time. We worked as a good cop/bad cop combination throughout our time together with Somerset. Sometimes it was me delivering the softer message and other times Graeme took on that role with me sweeping in behind.

We never talked about who would do what, we just reacted off of each other intuitively and always in a connected fashion.

All captains have to lead from the front but Smith was the best at this in my book. He was the guy who would absorb the pressure of a situation and deliver a performance which would define a game. One performance that fills me with joy came in the 2005 T20 final against a Lancashire team featuring legends such as Anderson, Flintoff, Law, Loye, Hegg, Cork, Chapell, Symonds and Keedy. Decent team that!

We needed someone to stand up. It was obvious who would be that man: 64 not out to take our unfancied and inexperienced team to a title.

The same guy broke my heart and finished Vaughan's captaincy career at Edgbaston in 2008. On a strip that was breaking up I knew that the only man who stood between England and victory was Graeme. He scored 154 not out to chase down 283 in the 4th innings.

Which style fits you or your captain the best?

Naturally, there are many leadership styles yet these three guys were all hugely successful and the best that I have worked with to date.

If you're interested in captaincy then all three legendary skippers have written books. They are insightful.

Give them a read, you will definitely learn something that can help you to become a world class leader.

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I'm not sure you've understood the point about "Moneyball". It's not just about understanding stats, but about understanding them well enough to be able to place a value on them and to gain an advantage on competitors for the same talent by identifying where particular traits are over- or under-valued and then getting a financial advantage from those areas. It isn't something that can be compared to cricket, and particularly to international cricket, because teams aren't vying for the same players or having to decide which ones they believe have under-valued traits that mean that they can hire them at below-market value.

If you're merely talking about the emphasis on "Sabermetrics" then I think this should be made much clearer. Moneyball was about much more than Sabermetrics. Billy Beane actually embraced mavericks where he could get them on the cheap.