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The Ten

The Ten: Unpopular captains – From Bradman to Boycott

by Owen Riley 6 minute read

From Douglas Jardine to Brian Lara, Owen Riley picks out 10 unpopular captains – whose approach to leadership caused recriminations and revolts.

First published in 2015

10. Jardine’s on toast

Reviled in Australian quarters as the ambassador of bodyline, that feeling extended to members of Douglas Jardine’s own playing staff who took umbrage at his arrogance and unsportsmanlike behaviour. Gubby Allen, who refused to employ the bodyline strategy during the 1932/33 Ashes, remarked: “Jardine is loathed more than any German who ever fought in any war… sometimes I feel I should like to kill him.” Another teammate, the Nawab of Pataudi, said of Jardine: “I have been told he has his good points. After three months, I am yet to see them.”

9. Not a Lara laughs

West Indian great, architect of momentous innings, owner of the game’s most dashing cover-drive, Brian Lara’s efforts with the willow need no introduction. Yet he encountered choppy waters as skipper of the West Indies. Ex-captain Richie Richardson called Lara’s leadership “uninspiring and at times incomprehensible” while former all-rounder Hendy Bryan went further, saying: “I know that a number of the team don’t like Lara, they’re scared of him.” Aussie captain Steve Waugh described his Windies counterpart as, “charming, vulnerable, endearing, moody, impossible to work out, and endlessly fascinating.” Waugh’s words are indicative of a complex character, easily misunderstood and perhaps not a natural leader.

8. Meanie Miandad

A ferocious competitor with an immaculately preened tache, not to mention Pakistan’s leading runscorer in Tests until Younis Khan passed him last month, Javed Miandad’s combative approach to leadership wasn’t everyone’s cup of chai (tea). Two player revolts marred Miandad’s spells as captain. Appointed at 22, his tenure soon caused rifts and he was forced to lead out a cobbled-together second XI against Sri Lanka when the majority of the first team refused to play under his command. A decade on, another mutiny, and this time Miandad pointed the finger at Imran Khan as chief agitator. Convinced Imran was attempting to undermine his captaincy, Miandad said: “I don’t know what Imran’s motives were. Perhaps he felt an undisturbed Miandad captaincy would overshadow his legacy.”

7. Big Mac

“My God, look what they’ve sent me,” said England captain Archie MacLaren on first glance at the team assembled to face Australia at Old Trafford in 1902. Unsurprisingly, MacLaren upset plenty of his players with his haughtiness and presiding over four Ashes defeats did little to boost his popularity. “An overbearing bully, brusque, brutish, prejudiced and pig-headed,” said cricket historian Arunabha Sengupta. “His tactics hovered between brilliance and blunder. His demanding autocratic nature and obstinacy outweighed the merits by far.”

6. No fun Don

“The Bradman Appreciation Society held its meetings in a telephone kiosk,” quipped Australian leggie Bill ‘Tiger’ O’Reilly. Don Bradman may have been the greatest batsman ever to walk the planet, and captain of one of the game’s most successful sides, but his puritanical approach clashed with several of his more fun-loving teammates. As World War II raged, Bradman was spared a call to arms, a fact that did not escape his peers. Later, Australia’s talismanic all-rounder Keith Miller, who served as a Royal Australian Air Force pilot in the war, complained when Bradman demanded he bowl faster at Bill Edrich, a friend from the RAF. “The last thing he wants after five years’ war is to be flattened by a cricket ball,” said Miller, “so I eased up. Bradman said: ‘Don’t slow down, bowl quicker’. That remark put me off Test cricket.”

5. Wally no mates

Like many on this list, Wally Hammond’s cricketing ability was infinitely superior to his leadership skills. Living in Bradman’s formidable shadow may account for the England great’s sullen demeanour. He was a reticent and introverted character, as Len Hutton would attest. On a long car journey across Australia during the 1946/47 Ashes, Wally’s chat was drier than the Outback. Hutton reported that the only words his captain uttered to him for the entirety of the 700-mile drive were: “Look out for a garage, we need some petrol.” Hammond retired from Test cricket a few months later after captaining England to a 3-0 series defeat.

4. Lamb to the slaughter

Graham Yallop was the first batsman to don a helmet in international cricket – perhaps he had an inkling of the barrage that was about to come his way. Elevated to the captaincy for the 1978/79 Ashes after Australia’s star names defected to World Series Cricket, Yallop – who had just a handful of Test caps to his name – was unprepared and unsupported. His bold 6-0 prediction ahead of the series didn’t help his cause, as Brearley’s England romped to a 5-1 win. Rodney Hogg and Gary Cosier shared a particular disdain for Yallop. Cosier pronounced: “Well, f*** me, if they want me to help Graham they could have made me captain. I could have been a better captain than Graham Yallop.”

The vitriol extended to the field when Hogg told Cosier to ask Yallop for a leg-gully. Cosier replied: “You ask him.” Hogg fired back: “I’m not talking to that p***k. You ask him!” Yallop later recounted his captaincy nightmare in Lambs to the Slaughter.

3. Lil’ Kim

While Yallop wasn’t winning any popularity contests, the award for Australia’s most disliked captain must surely go to Kim Hughes. The cherubic strokemaker’s reign was always destined for failure by virtue of the fact that several of his teammates couldn’t stand to see him in the job. Furious that his mate Rod Marsh had been overlooked for the captaincy, Dennis Lillee routinely peppered Hughes with bouncers in the nets. One such bumper smashed Hughes on the arm and left him requiring an X-ray. When a beamer then narrowly missed its intended target, Lillee uttered a “Sorry”.

“Oh, that’s OK,” Hughes responded. “Sorry I didn’t f**kin’ hit ya,” Lillee snarled back. Hughes wasn’t much safer on the square. Annoyed by Hughes’ reluctance to set the field as he wanted, Rodney Hogg launched a haymaker at Hughes. In the end, Australia’s big beasts got their man, Hughes making a teary-eyed farewell after miserable spells in charge that yielded four wins from 28 Tests.

2. Beef with Boycs

When your players have become so disenchanted with you that they’re not only willing you to get out but actually making it happen, that’s when you know you’ve ‘lost the changing room’. Frustrated by Geoffrey Boycott’s pedestrian approach to setting up a declaration on England’s tour of New Zealand in 1978, his deputy Bob Willis promoted Ian Botham to No.4 to ‘move the game on’. “Run the bugger out,” Willis is reported to have said. Botham duly obliged, calling for a non-existent single that left Boycott stranded. An exasperated Boycs asked Botham what he’d done. “I’ve run you out, you ****,” replied the ever eloquent Beefy.

1. Vizzy, his head is spinning

After manipulating himself into the role of captain for India’s 1936 tour of England, the previously uncapped but hugely wealthy and influential Maharajkumar of Vizianagram soon found himself under pressure due to his frankly appalling performances. Playing as a non-bowling No.9, he managed 33 runs in six innings and came under fire from senior players. He responded by sending home star all-rounder Lala Amarnath for ill discipline and was said to have offered Mushtaq Ali a gold watch to run out Vijay Merchant, another dissenter. Vizzy was lambasted on his return to India and never played Test cricket again.

First published in 2015

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