After Australia’s unceremonious departure from the Champions Trophy in England, Darren Lehmann was forced to defend the team’s decision to bat out of sorts all-rounder Moises Henriques at No.4 in the face of better judgment.
“You take advice from everyone and you make the call, and the skipper was quite keen for [Henriques] to bar at four. He looked good, he just probably didn’t capitalise,” Lehmann said.
This quickly caught the ire of Victorian cricket legend Darren Berry, who was quick to criticise the decision last Thursday on Victorian radio station, SEN.
“I read Darren Lehmann’s comments and he pretty much said that Steve Smith wanted Henriques in the team and he backed him to bat at number four,” the 47 year old said.
“Smith is getting his way and I don’t think it was the right call. Henriques is not the answer to bat at number four. He’s a good cricketer and if he’s in the team he bats at six as an all-rounder.”
Berry has previously been critical of this supposed approach of the Australian selectors allowing Smith the last say on selection, arcing up about Chadd Sayers missing out for Smith’s state mate Jackson Bird in the last day-night test.
“Sayers should’ve played. My information was that he was in the team. The captain may have intervened and said, ‘I want Bird ahead of Sayers’, and that’s the way it went.”
Berry, however, is noted to also be a former head Ccach of Sayers whilst with the South Australian Cricket Association, but his words still hold firm, and reignite the debate on just how much influence the captain should have over selection.
“The selectors pick the squad and then on the day, the travelling selector, along with the Head Coach, decide on the team, and then the captain picks the batting order. That is my understanding of the Australian process,” Berry added.
He should know. The man affectionately known as ‘Chuck’ toured with the Aussie Test side in 1997 for The Ashes, replacing the injured Adam Gilchrist as the team’s second-string wicket keeper.
However, Berry was unable to make his debut, and never featured in the Australian squad again, despite 153 first class matches.
Wrapping up what we know about the captain’s involvement in selection was what was decided following the ‘Argus review’ post the 2010-11 Ashes series.
One of the endorsements made was that the captain be made a selector, which was enforced until Michael Clarke later refused, and supposedly, it is no longer a practice that is upheld.
However, selector Mark Waugh admitted the captain had a big influence over the side last year, stating “I have only been a selector for a couple of years, but I assure you the captain has a big say in the team.”
Take that to mean what you will. But with our evidence laid out, its time to investigate the question posed in the article’s title; how much influence should a captain have in selection?
Many people paint the picture of the captain as the halfway man between player and coach; he is a little bit of one, a little bit of the other.
Playing to this description, as the leader of men on the field that he is, how can a captain possibly lead a team featuring a man or two of whose selection he does not endorse?
Of course, every player in the XI may be playing alongside a player whom they do not agree should be there, but their job is just to play. The captain’s is to lead also.
But if this is the case, then the captain may as well just be the sole selector of the squad, period. This does not hold up, even in the face of the recognition that a cricket captain perhaps owns more duty than any other sporting captain.
As Berry points to in his understanding of the hierarchy of the Aussie cricket team, the selectors pick the squad, the Chairman of Selectors and Head Coach pick the match day XI, and the captain picks the batting order.
Ideally, this is a pretty strong hierarchical order; to start, multiple men put together a consensus squad of the best players in the country.
On the day, after dwelling on their own view of the players’ performance during matches and training, Trevor Hohns and Darren Lehmann put together their playing xi, as the two men regarded to be most important to team selection.
The captain, recognised as the on field coach of his players, may then alter the batting lineup as he sees fit, given the conditions and situations presented to him on the day.
The strength of this model is that it offers clear organisational structure. Everyone is clear on where they stand in the order of cricket operations, and there is no confusing of roles.
If a player is wondering why he has been left out of the side, he knows just who to ask. Gone are the awkward conversations of a player approaching their captain, asking him, and being palmed off with denial.
However, what this model misses out on is the unique input a captain can convey, and the special links he has to both the players and coaches.
After all, the captain is a member of the team. He is with the players every day, even occasionally after hours. No one knows his teammates better than he does, their commitment to the team, and their commitment to themselves.
If the captain is a selector, there is a clear go between for the squad members to the coaches. The captain is never put in the awkward position of saying, “I didn’t agree either mate. I think the coach and selectors are jokers.”
However, this equally be used for evil, even if there is none intended, as Berry pointed to.
The captain knows his own state and club players far better than he does those from other states. There may be deep seeded inherent bias, even if the captain is not aware, towards his players.
This is a minefield of considerations. There are plenty of good reasons to have a captain as selector, and plenty of good reasons not to.
Ultimately, I think it should be left up to each captain himself to decide whether or not he possesses the mindset required to be both. Michael Clarke did not think he did, and relinquished the role.
What do you think? Should the captain be a selector? Or is there just too much danger involved?