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Why Masakadza was wrong choice for captaincy

Hamilton Masakadza was on song on the recent Bangladesh tour, but is prone to loss of form.

01/02/2016 00:00:00
by Enock Muchinjo
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HEARTY congratulations to Hamilton Masakadza on being appointed Zimbabwe cricket captain, a job he always felt he thoroughly deserved. 

Nonetheless, if you ask me about my views on that decision, I will stick my neck out and say Masakadza was definitely not the right choice.

Why load a player who is already 32, whose international career has been a little bumpy and who has recently only rediscovered his form after being dropped from the team due to lack of runs?

At the moment, Masakadza is a batsman in good nick. He had a decent outing in the 3-2 ODI defeat to Afghanistan in the UAE, and his 93 not-out to level the Twenty20 series against Bangladesh were abundant proof of the class we all know he possess when in full, glorious flow – but then class he hasn’t always demonstrated when it really matters and stakes are high.

Throw in his world record for the most runs scored in a T20 bilateral series, a total of 222 runs across four games on that Bangladesh tour, and few can argue that Masakadza is a cricketer made of the right stuff.

But let’s not get carried away.  We are still talking here of the same man who, from time to time, is not only prone to poor form, but has also left selectors with no choice but to exclude him from the World Cup squad – twice.

I don’t know how long Masakadza is going to be round. But for the remainder of his international career, I would have just let him enjoy his newly found form, concentrate on his individual game and work on him to be a good, match-winning player for the team – without the added responsibility of directing team tactics and leading the side.

For continuity’s sake, I would have gone for a younger, promising captain who would form the long-term future of Zimbabwean cricket, someone expected to be around for a very long time, someone who would continue to grow and demonstrate leadership. That captain, of course, would need to have people around him to help and guide him.

South Africa did that with a 22-year-old Graeme Smith more than a decade ago, and the team reaped the rewards of the board’s shrewd foresight. Smith went on to become one of his country’s greatest captains of all time, and Test cricket’s most successful skipper.

In Zimbabwe, Tatenda Taibu had similar traits. Anointed Zimbabwe’s captain at the age of 21, endorsed and highly recommended by such senior players as Andy Flower and Guy Whittall, Taibu had a very good cricketing brain and had the makings of a very good leader over many years had his international career not suffered unfortunate interruption due to boardroom politics.


Lack of natural leadership qualities

Leadership comes naturally. It’s a set of in-born skills.

A key attribute of leadership is commanding respect. Masakadza does not command a fair amount of respect within the team beyond being a capable player.

It’s not personal; just that the way people respond to their leaders is also natural. It’s chemistry.

Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be chemistry between Masakadza and the young members of the team as was the case, say, in most recent times, when Tatenda Taibu and Brendan Taylor were given the captaincy. 

This privileged piece of information about Masakadza and team relations is a pretty sad revelation of a chap who not only depicts a smiling, happy cricketer – but is also a remarkably down-to-earth and approachable individual, always ready to be stopped in the street to talk about cricket and life’s more pressing matters.

But captaincy is not always about the guy with the easiest smile. Some of the most successful international captains in the history of the game – Allan Border, Mike Atherton, Graeme Smith to name but a few – were some of the grumpiest fellas around.

Taylor’s big shoes

Hamilton Masakadza will have to live with being compared to Brendan Taylor (right)


When Brendan Taylor was appointed Zimbabwe’s captain in 2011, he was the team’s star player. But he had a well-known penchant for a good time, drink and life on the fast lane. His natural leadership qualities, though, lay beneath that reputation, and they were recognised and respected in team circles.

Indeed, these qualities emerged in full force after Taylor was made captain.

Crucially, captaincy spurred on Taylor, something some of the world’s leading players have struggled with. As Zimbabwe’s skipper, Taylor’s personal game was never affected by the extra responsibility of leading the side. He continued to carry the team on his shoulders and flourished both as the team’s talisman and captain.

As vice-captain under Taylor, Masakadza watched his skipper thrive in the role while at the same time leading by example with performance.

Masakadza takes over the captaincy against the same background as Taylor; as the current star of the team, the form man, and the player fans look up to.

But can he inherit the qualities of Taylor and lead from the front as captain and kingpin? His tendency of being a passenger will require a dramatic overhaul.

After Elton Chigumbura, Zimbabwe can ill-afford another captain they will have to drop at some stage.

Poor record as stand-in captain

Masakadza is not new to captaincy, albeit in an acting capacity. I’m not sure if the board looked at his record in those games when considering him for the role on fulltime basis.

In nine ODIs Masakadza skippered, between 2008 and 2015, Zimbabwe lost all but one, a non-result against Pakistan in Lahore last year.  Masakadza’s personal performances in those eight games were not flattering either.

His highest scores from those games are 84 and 34, against Bangladesh in Dhaka in 2009, but both were in defeat.

In Test cricket, Masakadza has previously captained Zimbabwe in just one.

Leading the side in the first Test match against Pakistan in Harare in 2013, Zimbabwe lost heavily by 221 runs, with the stand-in skipper recording low scores of one and 19 in the two innings.

Regular captain Brendan Taylor, who sat out the first Test to celebrate the birth of his son, returned to guide the side to a historic series-leveling win in the second match. And without the weight of captaincy, Masakadza emerged from his shell, finding form with well-played innings of 75 and 44.

And then in the two Twenty20 internationals Masakadza held the forte, Zimbabwe lost one and won the other.

Statistics don’t lie.

What were the alternatives?

Limited, to be honest.

There was no natural choice for the job. And Zimbabwe Cricket must accept the flak for failing to groom a worthy successor.

Around the 90s, Mluleki Nkala was being groomed to become Zimbabwe’s first black captain while still in school.  That Tatenda Taibu was able to overtake Nkala in the queue and instead become the one to achieve that milestone was only result of a well-functioning system that churned out good leaders in numbers and spoilt the board for choice.

That said, appointing cricket captains calls for bold decisions at times.

Sikandar Raza was a favourite of many to land the captaincy, but poor form aside, one cannot entirely dismiss the possibility that being only a naturalised Zimbabwean, and considering the current vibe inside ZC, the decision to overlook the Pakistan-born player was ultimately political.

Paceman Tinashe Panyangara has commendably assumed the responsibility of senior bowler in the team since his international comeback in 2011, often playing a key supporting role to younger bowlers who seem have so much respect for him – the same kind of effect pace bowlers Shaun Pollock and Heath Streak had on the team when they captained South Africa and Zimbabwe respectively.

Another option was Sean Williams. He was an Under-19 World Cup captain and he appears like someone who can settle into a leadership role.

I’m aware the board also toyed around with the idea of appointing the impressive leg-spinner Graeme Cremer, but decided to make him vice-captain behind what they thought was a safer bet.

What of the youth brigade? Richmond Mutumbami, with a modest ODI average of 22.12 from 28 games, has shown good composure and a cool head in his short international career. The wicketkeeper-batsman has played six Tests, he is three years older and has played seven more ODIs than the West Indian Jason Holder at the time of his appointment aged 23 and with no Test experience.

One of these men was a gamble worth taking.

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