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Bring on the Thinking Caps

Australia's legendary captain gives the World Cup skippers the once over
There has been an explosion in support staff for international cricket teams since the first World Cup in 1975, but one thing hasn't changed-the captain must run the show. If the captain isn't running a cricket team then the side is in trouble and needs a new leader. When South African captain Hansie Cronje inserted an ear piece to be in constant touch with coach Bob Woolmer, the skipper made a gross error of judgement. If a captain has to take instructions from off the field then he's being reactive rather than proactive and that is not the way to beat teams of equal or greater ability.

The ideal captains are innovative and ahead of the game and the 1996 tournament saw two of the best, Arjuna Ranatunga and Mark Taylor, meet head on in the final. The 2007 tournament will feature a good group of captains, with the standouts being Brian Lara of the West Indies, England's Michael Vaughan, Australia's Ricky Ponting, Sri Lanka's Mahela Jayawardene and the Kiwi Stephen Fleming. The tempo of the game has changed dramatically, beginning in 1996 and the successful captains in 2007 will be the ones who best curtail rampant batsmen spurred on by shorter boundaries and Twenty20 experience, plus the addition of two powerplays to the playing conditions.

To combat the threat of rampant batsmen during the field restriction periods, a captain has to be imaginative and brave; a predictable skipper is in trouble. The best time to enact the powerplays is when the opposition is struggling for runs or has just lost a wicket.

Nevertheless, having the courage to use field restrictions as a tease to buy a wicket can be crucial and only brave captains will attempt this trapeze walk without a safety net.

Lara is one who has shown a desire to experiment and his success in the last two Champions Trophy tournaments makes him one of the better captains. He has a varied attack and uses it wisely and the West Indies could be hard to beat under their own conditions.

Vaughan's captaincy relies on calm but firm control and a tactical awareness that breeds confidence in his teammates. If he can remain fit and the bowlers, in addition to Andrew Flintoff and Monty Panesar, respond well to his leadership, then England could surprise by reaching the World Cup semi-finals.

Ponting is a conservative skipper who relies on his players doing their job but every now and then he'll think "outside the box". He sets high standards with both his batting and fielding and is very much an inspirational leader. Australia is a better side with him in charge but he still needs to find a bowling combination to "finish off" an innings and a spinner to take wickets regularly following the powerplays. With these obstacles and a diminished aura to overcome, if Australia wins a third successive World Cup, it will be Ponting's greatest achievement as a limited overs captain.

Fleming is a good captain-tactically aware and a capable player-but too often his side finds a way to fall just short. Self-belief is an important ingredient in winning major titles and New Zealand will be hoping they have overcome this weakness with three resounding victories over Australia. If Shane Bond and Jacob Oram stay fit, then New Zealand is a dangerous side, as their top order batting has improved and they have variety in attack.

Jayawardene is an imaginative, proactive leader and until recently the extra responsibility boosted his batting. His horror run with the bat has impacted on Sri Lanka's results and highlights just how much they rely on scores from the skipper, plus Kumar Sangakkara and Sanath Jayasuriya. If Jayawardene regains touch in the World Cup and the pitches are slow and low then Sri Lanka will be a handful.



Largely conservative but often is able to produce an "outside the box" decision.


Intelligent and a quality performer but unlikely to surprise with a daring move.


Loves a chirp but is of most use to his side when he is scoring runs.

BRIAN LARA/West Indies

Has shown an inclination to experiment and uses his varied attack wisely and imaginatively.

Whilst these are the five standout captains, the leaders of the other three major sides have their points of merit. Rahul Dravid is a solid captain whose consistent batting performances inspire his teammates but he's unlikely to surprise an opponent with a daring move. His innovation is likely to come via a radical batting order but even these have diminished with the return to an experienced line-up. Dravid is an intelligent cricketer and if he's more innovative with his bowlers and his aging fielding side doesn't implode, a repeat of the "1983 surprise" is not beyond India.

Sometimes Graeme Smith has too much to say and on the tour of Australia he couldn't back it up with his bat. His recent renaissance with the bat has corresponded with a run of victories and South Africa is a much stronger side when he's scoring heavily. Smith relies on a pace-oriented attack stifling scoring but, being a rather one dimensional side, South Africa has failed to reach a final at the World Cup. If the pitches are slow and low they'll suffer the same fate in 2007 but if there's some pace and bounce around, then South Africa has a chance to reach their first final.

Inzamam-ul-Haq is the ideal man to lead the skilled rabble that is Pakistan. While mayhem surrounds him, Inzamam just chews his gum and then nonchalantly raises an arm to adjust the field. He is no Mohammad Ali Jinnah when it comes to tactics and he's off the field way too often but his players respect him and that makes up for a lot of deficiencies. With their best pace attack and some runs out of the top order, Pakistan would take some stopping. However, the chances of injury or some form of scandal causing an implosion are too high to expect their best side on the field and Pakistan can only hope to play spoiler. The team with the best captain may not necessarily win the World Cup. However, the side that lifts the trophy will do so because an in-form attack and top-class bowlers can make any skipper look good.


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