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Best and Worst: Captaincy ruses – From ‘Border control’ to Langer falling victim to funk

Captaincy ruses
Jo Harman by Jo Harman 4 minute read

Masterplans and flawed schemes – Jo Harman lists down the best and worst captaincy ruses in issue 14 of Wisden Cricket Monthly.


Border control

So determined was Allan Border to keep the full extent of his spin prodigy’s talents under wraps that he insisted Shane Warne bowl nothing but leg-breaks in Australia’s warm-up fixtures ahead of the 1993 Ashes. After taking some tap in the tour opener against Worcestershire (G. Hick: 187), Warne was fearful of losing his spot to Tim May for the first Test at Old Trafford until Border told the youngster the night before the match he was ready for him to “unleash” his full repertoire. Warne finished the series with 34 wickets and would never be a secret again.

Brearley out of the box

Sharp as a tack and a natural innovator, Mike Brearley exploited a flaw in the fielding regulations during a 1980 ODI against Australia by stationing all his players, including keeper David Bairstow, on the boundary during the death overs. It led to a change in the rules soon after. Brearley pushed the boundaries while captaining Middlesex too, once placing a helmet at short mid-wicket to try and lure the batsman to play across the line to Phil Edmonds’ left-arm spin and collect the five penalty runs he would receive for hitting the lid.

Donald’s lame ducks

With half an hour before stumps on day two of the 1937 Melbourne Ashes Test, and a wet pitch to contend with, Don Bradman opted to reverse his batting order, sending in tailenders Bill O’Reilly and Chuck Fleetwood-Smith to open the innings, who lasted one and seven balls respectively and scored a combined total of zero runs. The plan worked though, as Bradman and the rest of the top order remained in the hutch until close and made hay when the sun came out on day three; the skipper, who hit 270, sharing a stand of 346 with Jack Fingleton to set up a crushing victory which changed the course of the series – Australia fighting back from 2-0 down to win 3-2.


Langer falls victim to funk

Elite declaration? Not so much. After his Somerset side slumped to 50-8 in a 2007 Championship encounter against Middlesex, Justin Langer decided to pull the plug on the innings, hoping to make the most of seam-friendly conditions and denying their opponents a final bowling point. “It was quite a brave decision that Justin took,” said Brian Rose, Somerset’s director of cricket. The Aussie’s funky captaincy didn’t pay off though, as Middlesex openers Nick Compton and Billy Godleman put on 97, passing Somerset’s total in 17 overs en route to an eventual seven-wicket win.

Faf ploy backfires

Another unconventional declaration, another cunning plan that went awry. In fairness, Faf du Plessis’ logic was sound, declaring South Africa’s first innings of the 2016 Adelaide Test nine wickets down, knowing that David Warner wouldn’t be able to open the batting because he’d taken time off the field to receive treatment. “I heard he had six minutes left before he could bat again so I thought, ‘Let’s have a crack’,” said the Proteas captain. But he hadn’t accounted for auxiliary opener Usman Khawaja playing the innings of his career to date, blocking out the pink ball under lights before batting through the entirety of day two, eventually being dismissed for 145 after nearly eight hours at the crease. Australia won the Test by seven wickets to end a run of five consecutive losses.

Vance goes the distance

Wellington needed to win their final game of the 1989/90 season to ensure they lifted New Zealand’s domestic first-class trophy. Victory looked unlikely with two wickets required in the last two overs and Canterbury’s penultimate pair Lee Germon and Roger Ford content to defend, 95 runs from victory, so Wellington skipper Erv McSweeney dangled the carrot and instructed veteran batsman Bert Vance to bowl no-ball after no-ball as the batsmen launched him to and over the boundary past motionless fielders. “Bert overdid it somewhat,” recalled coach John Morrison after Vance conceded a world-record 77 runs from the over. The farce didn’t end there. The scorers had failed to keep up and no one knew how many runs were required from the last delivery, meaning that Ford blocked it out with just one needed for victory. It turned out McSweeney needn’t have bothered with his run-leaking caper as results elsewhere meant Wellington won the title anyway.

First published in Issue 14 of Wisden Cricket Monthly

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