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Challenges of the elite Captain in cricket: there is no hiding place

England Cricket Team winning The Ashes in 2015

THE England cricket team will this week begin the 70th Ashes series against Australia: Joe Root, their new captain, will be leading the side for the first time in a Test match overseas. During such a high profile series it is highly likely that Root will come under intense pressure in his new position as captain.

How do elite captains, who find themselves suddenly juggling two roles, handle such stress? Research undertaken by sport psychology lecturers from the University of Chichester's Institute of Sport have identified a number of key stressors faced by captains of cricket teams.

The investigation was an extensive examination of the autobiographies of past captains such as Atherton, Stewart, Hussain and Ponting. Dr Matt Smith, below, read 12 autobiographies of captains and extracted stories which provide a real insight into the role of the captain and the difficulties they face.

He explains: “I am a cricket fan so it was a fascinating project for me to explore in depth what international captains go through. We decided to focus on captains in the last 25 years and, in total, read 12 books, including five about former England captains, Atherton, Stewart, Hussain, Vaughan, and Strauss, and four from former Australian captains, Taylor, Waugh, Ponting, and Clarke."

Dr Matt Smith

What became clear, according to Dr Smith, was that the key stressor faced by the men was the sheer complexity of managing the dual role of leading the side, combined with the demands of playing the game themselves.

Many of the demands came on overseas tours with intense media scrutiny providing an uneasy and unpredictable backdrop. They spoke of the difficulties of having to deal with incidences of player misbehaviour, cases where players were sent home, had their antics televised or had to deal with unexpected personal events.

Handling with players’ bad behaviour presents a unique challenge for captains because they also have to manage the repercussions of such incidents, and mitigate the damage they cause to a team’s reputation.

They also wrote about the challenge in providing emotional support to teammates abroad on an international tour when the players experience problems outside of cricket, such as depression, a family illness, or potentially career-threatening injuries.

Dr Smith adds: “Overall the demand for a captain to provide the necessary support network to players, whilst still maintaining focus on their own form, appears very difficult.”

England captain Joe Roots

Team captains also have to deal with obtrusive and sometimes hostile media scrutiny, and can be subject to criticism by respected journalists, many of who are admired ex-players. Another emotionally difficult situation is having to tell a player they will be dropped from the side.

The Institute of Sport lecturer summarises: “It is important that an awareness is created about the stressors captains face, for coaches to understand how they might support the captain and for players to understand the pressures their captain is under."

Read more about Dr Smith and his research, There’s No Place to Hide, at eprints.chi.ac.uk/2834. Alternatively, for more about the Institute of Sport at the University of Chichester go to www.chi.ac.uk/sport.

Photo credit MCC - www.lords.org