A club captain’s tale: Luke Sellers

A month into the new season and 23 different players have already represented the first team at my club. That stat is both a sign of strength in depth and a source of huge frustration.

Work, school, birthdays, christenings, rugby tours, online county cricket commentary (yes really!), revision, illness and reasons unknown: you name it, we’ve had it so far this year.

And while I understand that every player misses the odd game, this season things have been, at best, a test of patience.

The first XI should be the pinnacle of any club, the team that set the standards both on and off the field. Yet at the moment the message being sent out is that playing for our first team isn’t that important.

Like a ‘devout’ Christian who only goes to church twice a year, many players are happy to state their commitment without backing it up with action. It seems cricket is their top priority, just as long as there is nothing better going on. And the attitude to training is even worse.

The knock-on effect is more than just a headache for the beleaguered selection committee on a Wednesday night. The decision of a first team player to pick a party over an important game affects 44 blokes across the four teams we field every Saturday.

The results are also clear for all to see on the field of play. The first XI has enjoyed a mixed start to the season with two decent victories interspersed with a couple of comprehensive defeats. The inconsistency, lack of discipline and togetherness in all three areas of the game is symptomatic of a side that has not trained or played enough cricket together.

Pick any great team, from any sport, in any era and list their strengths. I would be willing to bet that in every case the words commitment, team spirit and dedication would feature highly. And these things are not simply a by-product of success that happen by accident. In theory they can be trained and developed just like a solid forward defensive or a well-concealed slower ball.

Over the last few years I have tried bringing the side together to come up with lists of key values and phrases that our team should embody, drafted a selection policy that has been forwarded to the whole club and spent more time on the end of a phone than a News of the World investigative journalist, but all to no avail.

This leads me to the conclusion that what is wrong is not so much the commitment of the individuals but the unrealistic expectations of myself and other captains around the country.

Perhaps it is unreasonable in the hectic modern world we live in to ask people to give up one evening and one day a week to the fun but ultimately meaningless pursuit of amateur sport.

Whether this is true or not, one thing that will not change is my refusal to give into this world-weary view. If we start believing that sport doesn’t actually matter then we lose the whole raison d’etre for playing at all.

And despite my frustration, there are a number of players at the club who provide grounds for a more optimistic outlook.

In the second team two players worked double shifts and weekends throughout the winter in order to get their summer Saturdays off. And a fellow first teamer, who has recently fathered his second child, has booked Mondays off work to ensure he can still play cricket and have a ‘weekend’ with the family.

You can offer me all the talent in the world but it is these individuals that you want in your team when the going gets tough. Yet for all the high regard they are held in throughout the club, the fear persists that these kind of cricketers are a dying breed.

*Luke Sellers plays Minor Counties cricket and is captain of a league club. Let him know your views or experiences by commenting here or by following @Luke_Sellers on Twitter.

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4 Responses to A club captain’s tale: Luke Sellers

  1. It seems that it is a particularly English trait too. My experience of Australian club cricketers is far removed – twice a week training or you don’t play.

    Perhaps culturally we still hang on to the Corinthian ideal that you turn up and play and what happens, happens. I totally disagree. Last week out team training had 3 senior players out of a possible 30 odd. On Saturday our first team had a spectacular batting collapse. I can’t see how that is a coincidence. If you practice you get better, if you don’t practice you get worse!

  2. Mally says:

    Luke – could not agree more. It’s the flaky players who let you down and have no idea or don’t care how it affects the rest of the club. Speaking as a former 3rd XI captain who regularly had 2 or more players taken from the side on Friday night/Saturday morning/10 mins before start of play, I can empathise. Our best excuse for a player to cry off a game was that he was having a tattoo done on the Saturday morning…unbelievable.

  3. The Professor says:

    Luke – forgot to tell you I’m saw my astrologist this morning and she advised me against a trip on any B Road this weekend – that rules me out of tonights game – Sorry its late notice but I saw all the others call off and I’m guessing thats ok with you

    See you later Skipper !!!!

  4. Matt says:

    I captain a village Sunday team and this is my third year of captaincy at this particular club. One thing which has struck me over the years is how much hassle and work is involved in helping to run a team and how many things you really have to think about if you take it all seriously. There’s always a whole host of issues to take into account (team selection and getting people to nets amongst them).

    It is proving to be an almost impossible task to keep everyone happy and I’m including, league officials, umpires, players (in or out of the team), spectators, parents and club officials.

    Two seasons ago, the worst game involved almost a team mutiny and a few players refusing to speak to me after we lost. Last season, I had to deal with sulky teenagers and a parent having a face-to-face with me because I’d ‘dropped’ his son from the team (was rotating the juniors at the time) and yesterday, I had another new experience – dealing with spectators (ours and theirs) arguing outside the pavilion about the derogatory sledging made by the opposition whilst we were batting. Even their scorer was complaining to me at one point after our spectators started re-sledging from the sidelines!

    I was reading an autobiography by a famous international cricketer in the library a few weeks back (I think it might have been Michael Vaughan’s book) and took the following notes on what qualities you need to be a good captain:

    * you need to treat your team like an orchestra where everyone has an instrument and plays a part
    * you need to lead by example and play an instrument well yourself (batting or bowling typically)
    * develop a participative style of management where players are encouraged to contribute and listened to
    * allow for junior development
    * be a coach, and also knowledgeable when it comes to scoring and umpiring
    * have sound tactical knowledge
    * show maturity on and off the pitch
    * help to move your club forward
    * be an ambassador for the game and your club

    A Captain’s responsibilites:
    1. team selection
    2. toss
    3. batting order
    4. field placement
    5. use of bowlers
    6. discipline

    Qualities required:
    * leadership
    * organisation
    * motivation
    * toughness
    * tactical awareness
    * passion and energy
    * counselling
    * management
    * discipline
    * trust

    I refer to this list after every game and review what went well/went badly and how I could have changed things or handled things better. It helps – a little! Maybe I’ll just keep notes of these experiences and write a sitcom for ITV in a few years time.