Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Rikki goes as skipper

Maybe not a big surprise, but I had a feeling something may happen.

Clarke said at the start of the season that he retained England ambitions and hoped to use the captaincy as a springboard to that. It hasn't worked out for the guy and there are various reasons for that.

They say that moving house, having a baby and starting a new job are, outside bereavement, the most stressful things that can happen to someone. Clarke has had all three in the last few months and has been responsible for the rest of the squad. Its a hard call and no shame to him that it has not worked out. Of course, he has been well paid for the privilege but its a shame for him that it has not gone better.

He's not the first to find captaincy a problem of course. Ian Botham never hacked it as England captain, although in his case the mitigating factor was that he spent most of his tenure playing against the Caribbean howitzers of that era and was on a hiding to nothing. Bob Taylor was one of our all-time greats but couldn't keep up his impeccably high standard behind the stumps and handle the rest of the captaincy issues. He only lasted half a season and once relieved of responsibility soon regained his former standard.

Kevin Pietersen may or may not go down in history as a great England captain, but what he has done in his first Test as skipper is to show that the role doesn't faze him - as if anyone really thought it would. His aura of confidence (arrogance?) may convey itself to his side but importantly his century has bought him time, something that Rikki was never able to do.

Apart from a solid pre-season tour and a brilliant knock against Warwickshire at Derby, his 4-day performances have been punctuated with brief cameos and irresponsible shots. Clarke is like many other gifted stroke players. When it comes off, they are burdened with the label "genius". When it results in an early dismissal they are called "irresponsible". Think Michael Slater. Slats came to us as one of the great opening batsmen in the world game and is even now regarded as the man who revolutionised Test match batting. What did we see at Derby? Cameo 20's and 30's, a very occasional century and a county spell that was ultimately unfulfilled.

The "conspiracy" and "spin" devotees are now suggesting that Clarke will go at season-end. They may be right for all I know, but if the club say they will support him and help him to realise his ambitions then one has to believe that for now. The bottom line is that he has another year on his contract, which one assumes is fairly lucrative (even allowing for losing something for no longer being skipper) and after the season that he has had I find it hard to think someone will come in and offer him a megabucks deal to leave and for us to tear up that remaining year.

The captaincy now reverts to Chris Rogers to the end of the season and after that it is anyone's guess. It will remain a strong bargaining tool for a player coming in but suggestions of offering it to the likes of Jim Allenby are silly. Someone has to have shown something to suggest captaincy material, not just have a couple of good seasons behind them. I like Jim Allenby and have written recently that I'd like to see him at Derbyshire, but captain? Purleeese....

Michael Di Venuto? I wouldn't be unhappy with that but think he signed a three-year deal with Durham at the start of this year. The romantic in me would like to think he would return to the scene of former glories, but the realist asks why the heck he would leave one of the country's top two sides to come back to us.

For what its worth, I'd see the captaincy as being a bargaining tool for an overseas player. Maybe Chris Rogers, but there are other options. Matt Hayden is one, but he could be in line for one last Ashes hurrah and has been a little injury prone of late.

Ian Harvey might have his fans, but I suspect that the bridges are sadly burnt there and that Morris is unlikely to bring in someone who was a rival for his role as coach a year back.

Cameron White, who I suggested the other night on here for the overseas role would again fit the bill. Victorian captain since 2003-4, and highly rated skipper of Somerset in 2006, he is, at 25 a seasoned and highly talented player, but possibly not quite good enough to make the Ashes tour.
One would expect Hayden, Ponting, Symonds, both Husseys, Watson, Katich, Clarke and Marsh to be ahead of him in the pecking order, but that should not detract from the fact he is a very fine player. Remember his unbeaten 260 against us for Somerset, essentially on one leg? He also made brilliant 20/20 centuries and bowls useful leggies.

The problem would be that he could not, or would not presumably sign up until the Ashes party was announced. If I had John Morris' job, I would certainly be enquiring about the possibilities and making a provisional offer. I'd pay good money to watch that fella.

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