Some Thoughts on Captains

First written around Christmas 2010.

Back in 1952, skippers were referred to as match managers. Their role was clearly defined: raise and captain the side (this does not seem clear as they think, as later the committee claimed to be the selectors); check ground reservation; confirm game and time with opponents; arrange umpire and scorer; arrive at home ground early to ensure pavilion unlocked, pitch prepared and stumps pitched; bring ball, score-book, bails and register of appearances; collect capping fees and hand them over to the Treasurer; enter up register of appearances and hand it over to the next match manager. This register gave everyone an equal chance to be selected and included a list of those who could be invited to play if they were short.

Note the following minute extracts:

Each side will be captained by a member of the committee – 21 November, 1951

If no volunteers have been found, the duty of arranging a scorer and umpires will fall on the match managers of the respective games – 15 January, 1952

Duties of match captains be typed out and pasted in the register – 12 February, 1952

The Chairman put forward the recommendation of the committee that in future two match captains should retire annually by rotation instead of all match captains retiring under the existing rules – 13 october, 1955

The shared captaincy, on the face of it, is common sense. It gives everyone the opportunity of being a skipper. New guys will bring new friends who might even be able to play cricket and who could eventually sign a note to their bank manager. It also shares the regular hassle of trying to get a full side, because, sadly, The Casuals did and still do play with nine or ten men. However, picking your friends or the odd ringer might displace and thereby disgruntle a less able regular. A 1952 rule for want of a better word, reads as follows, ‘In the event of too many applications being received (guys wanting to play on the Sunday), the committee will select a balanced side bearing in mind the number of appearances of applicants and the strength of the opposition’. A veiled complaint about captaincy appears in the 1959 minutes, ‘the committee agreed with a suggestion from JB Netherwood that no member should be consistently placed very low in the batting order with the possibility of missing a “knock” on several occasions’. It came up again in the 1976 minutes, ‘Match captains should not select teams. It is not in keeping with the aims of the club’. In 1976, ‘Mr Netherwood, who has already featured prominently in these minutes, was appointed team secretary to help match captains to coordinate sides by contacting regular players and encourage those who haven’t played for a bit’. It was and still is a bit of a merrygoround. Some weeks the side is short and anyone can play. Other weeks it isn’t and there will be disappointments. Choose who to blame; the skipper, the committee or Mr Netherwood.

Thus, an unseen consequence of shared captaincy is a divergence of purpose – not all of them sing to the same hymn tune, as outlined in Jim’s book by David Pedley, ‘Our founder, Phillip (Haigh), on returning from the war intended to resume his cricket career and, to this end, he joined a league club. However, after a short time he discovered that the discipline of league cricket was not for him and determined to found a cricket club in which the game is primarily for enjoyment.’ Jim Netherwood, in his book, describes himself, ‘As a keen but most unaccomplished cricketer, where else could one have joined a club where one was picked to play for availability rather than capability’. Tim Beaumont, chair in 1996, was quoted as saying, ‘We have no doubt that many cricketers, tired of league cricket when it becomes too dour and cut throat would relish the chance to play in a more relaxed atmosphere’. Even more succinct, the chairman in 2004, Greg Smith, explained the club’s purpose to me as, ‘The Casuals were set up specifically to give hopeless cricketers a game.’

Whilst getting a full team has been a perennial problem, the standard of the said team was never queried until the following committee meeting: The fixture secretary reported that his task this year had been harder then ever before. Opponents had been critical of our standard of play. He suggested that, in an effort to change the situation, match captains should insist on improved standards – 7 March, 1990. Skippers seem to be between a rock and a hard place.

Home captains have had comments made about their selection and their less than charitable approach to untalented players, but a hanging never resulted. However, even a very friendly cricket team has standards ‘below which one mustn’t go’. Two skippers were disciplined, not for riding roughshod over matters cricketing, but for behaviour contrary to The Casuals’ accepted norms. In 1986, following an extraordinary committee meeting, one skipper was sent a letter containing the following, ‘It was decided to inform you that your services as a match captain for this season, and for the moment, for future seasons are no longer required’. The exact offence is unclear. Another skipper in 1989 received a letter with the following, ‘if you are anxious to continue as match captain, marked improvement in your present lax attitude will have to be made – nobody in the club want The Casuals to become a laughing stock’. The crimes were spelt out in detail. They all occurred prior to the match in question and involved punctuality and courtesy towards the opposition. These were in the days of strong leadership from the Chairman.

Confusion about selection has always occurred. Confusion as to who really was the skipper was new to Greg Smith, writing during the early 2000s, ‘Clearly selection had once again been the subject of (mis)communication during the week and the following set of circumstances explains why being a Captain of the Casuals is so much more testing than being the Captain of England. Duncan was the nominated Match Captain but had done a swap with Sam Wilkinson, who arrived at the ground en-route to play golf at Troon having persuaded Will to skipper the side on the field! Will was quite relaxed about this as Sam told him that there would be 12 players turning up and his only decision was who to leave out. Will – an experienced Casuals skipper – should have known better. All was revealed of course when, 30 overs into our innings we still only had 10 men and your correspondent (who had planned on a quiet late afternoon snooze in the warm sunshine) was persuaded that he should stop his umpiring stint and get changed to play. By comparison all Michael Vaughan has to do is decide which end Harmison bowls from. How hard can that be?’

It shouldn’t have to be this hard. We met Tom Kemp, the Penguins’ Chairman at the launch of Gentlemen, Gypsies Jesters in July 2013. They dispensed with match managers a while ago. They found one or two committed people were all that was needed. Guys who could be contacted and who in turn would ring round to make up the numbers for the following week. Tom kept a diary of excuses. We were in a group of four at the time, and one guy, from Moose CC, Tunbridge Wells, told us that one of his team cried off because he’d set himself on fire. That set us all wondering about the fine line between a reason and an excuse.

At a Spring committee meeting during the noughties, a new captain asked for guidance as to his duties. The answer is more irreverent than the founders’ task list, but not that far from reality. They were summarised by Bill, the secretary at the time and skipper, as follows:

Sunday before game: collect player availability, hand out bribes – hard work.

Monday: pick dream team from extensive membership – good.

Tuesday: discover contact numbers in ‘The Book’ are flawed – bad.

Wednesday: contact available players. Half of them remember family commitments, golf fixtures, holidays in Bridlington etc – dreadful.

Thursday: team reaches eight, all batsmen, no wicket keeper, no ground – depressing.

Friday: flurry of activity, 13 players, five opening bowlers. Go out for a restorative gallon of ale. Dream of thrashing Caythorpe by 132 runs (Crossland 12 overs, 7 mdns, 6 for 12, Wilson – 0 not out off 23 overs) – jubilation.

Saturday: late spate of weak excuses. Windale’s knee injury flares. Jim Harris’s wife drafted in (better than him anyway). Eight opening bowlers and three wicket keepers – tolerable. Beaumont confirms availability to umpire – bloody dreadful. Opposition captain rings to ask if we minded their South African professional having a run out – check helmet and box availability.

Sunday: last sandwich completed, early signs of carpal tunnel syndrome in buttering hand – grim. Match starts, Casuals field first. Druids 255 for 3 at tea, opening bowlers performed magnificently. Monsoon opens over Woodsome Park, retired to Shoulder of Mutton for restorative tonics and reminiscences – excellent.

I phoned Bill once. I’d been contacted by an opposition secretary about cancelling a game, ‘Bill, about that fixture, any idea who the secretary is?’

‘No idea, Dave, I’m walking down Kilrush High Street,’

‘Oh where’s that?’

‘Ireland. I’m at the concertina festival. Phone Rupert, he’s the captain.’ He disconnected, leaving me a tad bemused. Fancy him keeping his phone switched on?

Originally, captains and officers of the committee were expected to retire every two years or so. My Machiavellian streak thought this may have been a device from business practice to prevent a small group or individual from having too much power. But then the minutes from those early days record that officers of the committee were encouraged to stay on. If it worked, why change? Then, like today, anyone could attend the committee meetings. The minute suggest that officers and captains were elected on the night. Now, and probably back then, they are nominated, proposed and elected over the phone during the week prior to the meeting by a current incumbent anxious to move on.

Coming up to date – July 2013.

There has been a lot of frustration since 2010 or so at the perceived lack of interest in keeping  a gentlemen’s team going in the Holme Valley. The skippers take the flak, but really it’s more about the individual Casuals themselves. Guys have to sign up to an idea. It’s no longer about textile directors. It’s not cricket as an expression of rational recreation. It’s not the golden age of wonderful strokeplay and talented amateurs. It’s a bit of all those things, but it’s mostly playing purely for the joy of the game, regardless of ability. Yes, different committee men and captains have interpreted these ideas differently, but we’ve always returned to the basic purpose outlined by the four founder 1952 members. This has now gone.

The latest incarnation of the Casuals have two skippers who are willing to lead the team on the day. When they got involved with recruitment, both found that the remaining Casuals from the previous incarnation were no longer available. Two cancellations resulted. We have now adopted the Tom Kemp approach, primarily relying on junior club cricketers from Thongsbridge.

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