Cricketing Leadership, Then and Now. Another lesson for Cape Town?

Sometimes, if we were short, we'd ask the groundsman's son to play for us.

There was a time when a team turned up for a match, gathered in the pavilion or in Arthur’s shed for a cup of instant coffee, a fag and some early morning banter.  The literary gentlemen might scan the racing pages and one or two might prefer silence to company, though they were always suspected.  Sometimes, if we were short, we might even ask the groundsman’s son to bat for us.

The captain will have greeted his opposite number, indicated the location of the ‘away’ dressing room and suggested his team might find a brew or a coffee in the shed while the two of them wandered out to look at the wicket.  The peculiarities of the boundary were pointed out and the perennial times for intervals agreed.  The captain will have already talked over with Arthur the decision of what to do if the toss was won, though the decision was his and his alone.

“Bat, sir, if I were you.” 

The smarter opposition captain would have had a word with Arthur before making his presence at the ground formerly known.

“Bat, sir, if I were you and Ol’ Bess, my heavy roller.”

By now the batsmen were giving each other what are now called ‘throw downs’ and were then ‘a few sighters’.

The bowlers would have another fag and look wryly at their boots thinking hopefully ‘Not yet. Skipper may win t’toss for once’ – bowlers either coming from t’North or feigning such ancestry.  Batsmen came from the South except one of the openers.

On an obliging door frame in the dressing room the captain pinned up a batting list.  But this would not be required for a while because he had indeed lost the toss.

The old ‘earner’ would ring. And the captain would lead his men onto the field; one or two sprinting by him as they made their way to the wicket.  Immediately a charm offensive would open up with the umpires.  Batsmen chatting to the square leg umpire in the hope that a later decision might go their way; bowlers grooming the umpire at their preferred end.

Most would already be thinking of lunch as the first delivery of that shiny new cherry struck the pitch with an all revealing ‘thup’, the sound of runs to come, and each fielder groaned out against their individual stiffness as they relaxed their crouch and resumed their normal stance.

How wonderfully uncomplicated.  No team meeting.  No team talk. No huddle.  No plan of attack.  No psychology.  No dietary concern.  No jogging.  No stretching.  No pre-match games – even though a few of the younger and leaner fellows flicked (no spinning) a rugby ball as they walked from the car park to dressing room and from the dressing room to the physical and social familiarity of Arthur’s shed. 

No coach, let alone manager.  Just a good captain or a sod depending on where he batted you, asked you in the field, told you to bowl and drank that night.

The first ‘team talk’ Third Man can remember be subjected to came from C.R.M. Atkinson .  Playing against a representative XI of awesome quality who had just scored more than a par score in their first innings he entered the dressing room and told us that we were better than the opposition and could easily match their score.

Not one of Third Man’s ‘colleagues’ believed him and we were summarily bowled out.  The representative XI fancying some batting practice decided not to enforce the follow on.

Colin Atkinson padded up front row left for Somerset in 1961 - about to partner Bill Alley?

Third Man cannot remember how we did against them in their ‘second dig’,  but the score we were set in the final innings was large but not as large as their first innings performance might have presaged.  Nor can Third Man remember whether C.R.M.A. spoke to us before our innings began.  Probably he did.

I suspect he looked each of us in the eye and said in that mixed way of ‘I am imparting information and orders’ that sports achievers have about them and which in mental form resemble their own natural gifts of tort skin and toned musculature.

Howsoever, out we went, saw off the new ball, built individual innings and partnerships, (though these were experiences to enjoy rather than entities to be aimed for, as they are now) over came the guile of their spinners and all but won.

This experience stayed in the mind, where of course such things belong, because they deal with the concept of mind over matter. 

The trick of believing is an important one.  Achievers have this.  Leaders have the ability to induce it in others (and perhaps to remove it from the minds of opponents).

So could it be, after all, that:

Team sport is the pursuit of a shared vision.

The vision has to be jointly conceived, articulated and agreed.

The achievability of the vision has to be believed.

Roles have to be defined, communicated, accepted and practiced.

Management is about the creation of a culture of responsibility for individual parts of the vision and of delight in the success of each and everyone.

Responsibility can be accepted only when delegation is given, understood, desired and rewarded.

Communication is received and acted upon when the communicator is respected.

Communication from someone who is feared is not properly understood nor ever wholly accepted.

Management is not leadership until it is respected.

Third Man never got a chance to thank C.R.M.A. for a slow-fused lesson in life, although on the Saturday of the 2005 Lord’s Test he by chance happened to sit next to someone who turned out to be Colin’s son, and the thanks were passed on intergenerationally with an even slower fuse.


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