On those rare occasions when we’re not watching cricket, among the most popular options for the 51allout television is The Discovery Channel. There are several reasons for this, such as the appeal of Ghost Lab, Ultimate Car Buildoff and Lobster Wars, but by far the biggest is the presence of Mythbusters. If you’ve never seen Mythbusters then you’re missing out – it’s great. The general gist of it is that two blokes muck about with guns and explosives, generally blowing shit up in the name of science. As if that isn’t brilliant enough, they both have amazing facial hair, plus one of their assistants is a redhead who makes us all tingly in our special areas.
Of course, as with all these things, we reckon we could do it better, even though our only experience with explosives ended with an elongated spell of community service. Our particular myth to bust today is around being captain of an international Test side. Legend has it that being captain is so all consuming that a player’s form inevitably slumps until the point that eventually being relieved of the (metaphorical) armband comes as a sweet release. But is that actually true? Or is it just the sort of crap peddled by pundits whose idea of research is a few beers at the nineteenth hole while pretending to be brand ambassadors for the sort of betting sites that regularly renege on promises to send us free stuff?
To start with we took all the captains that we could actually be bothered to research and looked at three basic numbers: their batting average as captain, as non-captain and in total. And then we plotted them all together on a chart. There are two reasons for doing this. Firstly, charts are cool. Secondly, it allows us to look at the spread of the results and draw some conclusions about the different players.
From here we can put the different players into three buckets. There are those for whom captaincy makes little difference (and hence all three markers are very close together), those for whom captaincy seems to have inspired them (the blue marker being at the top) and those who seem to have been inhibited by it (the red marker at the top).
Among those who have seen little difference are Alastair Cook, Andrew Strauss, Nasser Hussain, Alec Stewart, Ricky Ponting, Steve Waugh and Ross Taylor. If we could pick one word to describe them all it would be sensible. Or possibly reliable. Or maybe unflappable. It’d certainly end with -ble, either way.
The group of those inspired to perform at a higher level when put in charge consists of Mike Atherton, Graham Gooch, Michael Clarke, MS Dhoni, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Misbah-ul-Haq, Dan Vettori and Chris Gayle. To us this seemed like a much more exciting selection of leaders, the sort to lead by deed rather than off the pitch. Gooch’s record is particularly remarkable, averaging nearly 60 as captain, despite playing in a generally dreadful side (with him winning just 10 of his 34 matches). Having said that, he does seem to have had a fair few issues in passing on his experience, causing James to basically threaten to fight him a few weeks back.
There are actually only two examples in our sample of players seemingly being inhibited by being captain – Michael Vaughan and Graeme Smith – and both of those are heavily caveatted. In Vaughan’s case we reckon the fact that his knee was held together with sellotape was a fairly significant factor in his decline, while Smith played just eight games before taking over the top job seemingly forevermore.
So that’s the myth of captaincy affecting batting form well and truly busted. So now, do we just roll the credits and retire to the pub to play with our moustaches? While that would be tempting, we like to go to that extra step and look at what’s really going on with captaincy. Hence we’ll have a look at what we’ll call…
While most honeymoons probably consist of ever-decreasing amounts of sexual congress in some far off land, ours is that vague period after taking over as captain when everything seems perfect. For the sake of argument, we’ve taken ten innings for each captain, long enough for the initial excitement to have been replaced by the relentless horror of having to talk to Mark Nicolas all the bloody time. If we plot the batting average for a captain’s first ten innings (after being appointed captain – we’ve taken out ‘stand in’ roles, such as Cook in Bangladesh and Michael Clarke in the final Test of the 2010/11 Ashes, back when England were good) against his total as captain we’ll have another chart (and remember: charts are cool), one that looks rather like this:
Of our 19 captains, 11 have a clear uplift in performance during that honeymoon period. Seven of them have a clear drop in performance, with Steve Waugh’s record staying almost identical, the stubborn bastard that he is. Interestingly enough, all the England captains bar Vaughan and Gooch have a big increase. While this sounds like a good thing, there’s a downside in that as things gradually return to ‘normal’ over a longer period of time, it actually looks like a decline. It’s this ‘decline’ that is really the source of the myth, particularly when it’s been applied to the England captains of more recent times.