Tuesday, 25 October 2016

How to be a vice-captain

Brad Haddin in Cricinfo

Wind the clock back to March 2013. I'm boarding a flight home from India with Michael Clarke. He's out of the final Test of that series in Delhi with a back flare-up, while I'm travelling home after being the injury replacement for Matthew Wade in Mohali.

Plenty has gone on in the preceding week or so, the "homework"-related suspensions of Shane Watson, Mitchell Johnson, Usman Khawaja and James Pattinson in particular. So we take the opportunity to speak pretty openly about how the team is functioning, and how unhappy everyone is with the way the Indian tour has panned out, in the way some players have been treated and the mood around the team.

For one thing, expectations of behaviour seem to be driven by management rather than players, and that's something that needs to change.

Mickey Arthur is yet to be replaced by Darren Lehmann, but it's an important conversation in terms of how Michael thinks the team should operate in the coming months. It helps too that having been away from the team for a while, I can see things from an angle Michael isn't seeing. One change in the interim is the much more experienced side chosen for the Ashes tour that follows.

While I did not officially hold the title at the time, that's a good example of how a deputy should operate. Vice-captaincy is a low-profile job that's not fully understood by many, but it is vital to helping get a successful team moving in the right direction together. One bedrock of the gig is to have a deputy committed to that role, rather than thinking about being captain himself. That was certainly the case with me.

The other foundation of the job is a relationship with the captain that allows you to speak frankly with him about where the team is going - in private rather than in front of the team. Keeping an ear to the ground and communicating with other players and then relaying that to the leader when necessary. Having gone back a long way with Michael, we had that sort of dynamic.

These conversations should be honest enough to be able to say, "I don't think this is working, and this is how the group is feeling", or "I think you might have missed this". These aren't always the easiest conversations, but they have to happen from a place of mutual respect. The captain can either take note or disregard it, but the main thing is that he knows how things are tracking when he does make his final call on a given issue. That doesn't happen without a healthy relationship between captain and deputy.

Overall, the role of the vice-captain is to complement what the captain does. Your job is to make sure the younger guys are feeling a part of the team and that they understand the standards that you want to set in the group and that your behaviour is not to be compromised.

You pick up on the little things around the team, like being punctual, wearing the right uniforms and treating people inside and outside the team with respect, and have a quiet word to guys here and there if they need a reminder. That then flows into attention to detail in the middle.

Michael was a very good tactical captain who was always in control on the field. My job, relative to him - and similarly for other senior players - was to make sure the mood of the team was right, and to set standards for the younger guys to follow; to be sure they knew what it meant to be an Australian cricketer. The vice-captain should be the guy to drive that.
Once we got to England in 2013, I took it upon myself to spend time with each player to talk about the brand of cricket we wanted to play and also to make sure guys were talking and reflecting on the game and each other, whether we'd had a good day or a bad day.

We did that after a close loss in the first Test at Trent Bridge and that was a good moment - we weren't retreating into ourselves in defeat. Once again, that flowed well into the success we had later, because guys were talking and enjoying each other's good days, having commiserated through the bad ones.

For a long time in cricket, I think that sort of thing happened pretty organically. But in an era when the game is so professionalised and guys are jetting around playing T20 tournaments when not with Australia or even their domestic teams, it takes thoughtful effort to make sure it still happens. If anything, vice-captaincy has grown in importance for that reason.

I mentioned earlier that one key to the job is not wanting the captaincy.
If you look back through the recent history of Australian cricket, the examples are plentiful. Geoff Marsh was a terrific lieutenant to Allan Border, Ian Healy to Mark Taylor, and Adam Gilchrist to Ricky Ponting.

Once we got to England in 2013, I took it upon myself to spend time with each player to talk about the brand of cricket we wanted to play

They are three contrasting characters, but what they had in common was no great desire to be captain. I saw Gilly's work up close as a junior member of the squad, and he was a terrific link man between the leadership and the team. As fellow glovemen, I also saw how the role behind the stumps gave you a great perspective to support the captain.

There have been other times, of course, when the vice-captain is the heir-apparent. That was the case for Taylor, when he was deputy to AB, for Steve Waugh, when he replaced Heals as vice-captain to Taylor, and for Michael, when he was appointed deputy to Ricky after Gilly retired. All those guys will tell you that it put them in awkward positions at times, not knowing whether to intervene in things or not, whether on or off the field.

Similarly, Watson had a difficult time as Michael's deputy because they did not have the same open relationship to discuss things that I was fortunate enough to have. That's something for Cricket Australia to keep in mind whenever it makes these appointments.

Right now, Steven Smith has an able deputy in David Warner. To me, this relationship should work because, like Michael and I, these two have known each other for years. Davey is growing into the role at present, evolving from his former "attack dog" persona into someone more measured. If he ever wants a reminder of how vice-captaincy should or shouldn't work, he needs only to think back to a year like 2013 and the team's contrasting fortunes.

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