Captaincy a tough nut to crack for KP

The debate about the England cricket captaincy highlights the problems of good succession planning...

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The England and Wales Cricket Board confirmed today that star batsman Kevin Pietersen has been appointed captain of England’s Test and one-day cricket teams, following Michael Vaughan’s surprise resignation in the aftermath of a series defeat by South Africa. On the face of it, this might seem to have nothing to do with corporate life – but in fact the elevation of Pietersen contains lessons that many in UK plc should find enlightening...

First and foremost, Vaughan’s sudden resignation exposed the absence of suitable alternatives. As Marks & Spencer shareholders will tell you, this is an issue that regularly rears its head in any organisation where there is a strong and dominant leader. And as the man who has captained England to more Test wins than anyone else (including the famous Ashes victory of 2005), and a batsman once ranked as the world’s best, Vaughan’s credentials have long gone unchallenged.

But despite Vaughan’s admission yesterday that he’d been thinking about quitting for months, the selectors have apparently made no effort to groom a successor. Even when Vaughan went off the field in the last match – surely an ideal opportunity to hand over the baton – Andrew Strauss (who covered for Vaughan successfully in 2006) took over the captaincy, not Pietersen. Paul Collingwood, who took over as one-day captain last year, ruled himself out of the picture by 'coincidentally' quitting at the same time as Vaughan. Instead, the selectors have chosen an inexperienced candidate: Pietersen has only captained England once, in a one-day game when Collingwood was suspended (which he lost).

They’ve also made their task harder (or easier, depending on which way you look at it) by deciding to have one captain for both forms of the game – since Pietersen is one of the few players guaranteed selection, this pretty much guaranteed him the job. But other international teams have different captains for different forms of the game: in any organisation, if there’s no outstanding replacement candidate, surely selection boards need to be a bit more flexible and imaginative with their appointments?

And that brings us to the last point: Pietersen is probably England’s best player (hence why he gets in every side), but is it always wise to give your top performer the top job? For one thing, the qualities that make him a great batsman – self-confidence bordering on arrogance, for instance – might not make him a great captain. For another, the extra pressure and responsibility could diminish his own ability to deliver. If you’ve ever promoted your best salesperson to a sales manager role, you’ll be familiar with the dilemma.

On the other hand, perhaps captaincy will make him an even better player (as it has with Australia’s captain, for example). And if nothing else, perhaps our best chance of beating South Africa is by putting a South African in charge...


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