Although cricket is a team game, the role of captain is of key importance to the team doing well. Strong leadership can take a group of talented individuals and make them an unbeatable unit that will steam-roller anything in its path. It’s not easy but some players just have the authority, man-management skills and vision to pull it off.
Let’s take a look at ten of the greatest captains to have led Australia over the years:
10 Herbie Collins
We start our list off with one of the more colourful players to have worn the baggy green cap for Australia, Herbie Collins. A skilled all-rounder, his spin bowling and dynamic batting earned him a place in the national team before he made the step up to captain. Taking over in 1921, he was in charge for 11 Tests of which 5 were victories.
This included a 1-0 win against South Africa in his first series in charge and a superb 4-1 win against England in 1921/22. Eventually retiring in 1926, he left to set up in his new career as a bookmaker, due to his keen interest in gambling.
9 Lindsay Hassett
With superb footwork, great timing and a mastery of nearly every shot in the book, Hassett was a superb middle-order batsman for his country. When you consider his record as captain also then you realise he is one of the best players to have played for Australia ever.
Known as a very graceful ambassador for the sport, he also had a fun sense of humour and enjoyed playing practical jokes on team-mates such as smuggling a goat into their bedroom at night! He took over the captaincy in 1949 and got off to an amazing start with a 4-0 series win over South Africa. This was followed by a 4-1 win against England in 1950 and an impressive 4-0 win against the West Indies in 1951. With 14 of his 24 matches in charge won, he really stood out as a clever, strong captain.
8 Ian Chappell
One of the famous cricketing Chappell brothers, both whom captained their country, Ian was a great leader. Very direct and blunt in style, his will to win rubbed off on his team and his use of verbal intimidation on opponents was very effective. A great batter, too, he had a particularly sound defence that enabled him to stay at the crease and rack the runs up.
Although his manner often brought him into conflict with selectors and opposition, his players loved him as the success under his tenure shows. He had a sharp cricketing mind also and his tactical choices very often paid off. In all he captained the team in 30 matches for 15 victories.
7 Richie Benaud
One of cricket’s best loved characters, Richie Benaud went onto have a long career in commentary after he retired from playing. With his gentle Australian lilt, everyone enjoyed listening to his informed comments on the day’s play. Mainly a superb spin bowler, he was also a useful lower-order batsman who could be relied on for run if needed.
His record in charge of his national team was 28 matches played and 12 won. The majority of the rest were drawn so it still makes for pretty good reading. A 4-0 series win against England in 1958 and a 2-0 one against Pakistan in 1959 showed off his captaincy style and the way he would use his sharp cricketing mind to help his team to wins.
6 Bill Woodfull
Known for his caring attitude towards his players and being a sound, defensively minded batsman, Bill Woodfull was a fine captain. His benevolent attitude to the people he led made him very popular as did his cricketing knowledge. Famously in charge for the Bodyline Ashes series in 1932/33 when Australia came in for some very rough treatment from English bowlers, he led his country in a most dignified manner.
Woodfull took over from Jack Ryder in 1930 and inherited a very downtrodden Australian side. As such not much was expected when they travelled to England for the Ashes that year but amazingly they won, thanks in no small part to his leadership. A 1931/32 5-0 series whitewash against South Africa was another particular highlight for his team. In all, he was in charge for 25 matches and won 14 which is testament to just what a great skipper he was for his country.
5 Ricky Ponting
Another Aussie great from the modern age is Ricky Ponting. A shrewd and tough character, his batting was as good as his team management. Retiring with a Test batting average of 51.85, Ponting scored a massive amount of runs when at the crease for his country. He also continued the utter dominance of Australia that Steve Waugh had started and captained the side from 2004 until 2011.
Although some have criticised him for a lack of creativity out on the field in terms of tactics, the players who played under him seemed to love it. Ponting was one of those men who demanded respect when he spoke and got it because of what he had achieved. Probably his crowning glory was the 2006/07 5-0 Ashes series win against a very strong England team. With 77 Tests played and 48 won, he deserves his place on this list.
4 Sir Donald Bradman
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – when you talk about Australian cricket, this guy’s name will always come up somewhere! It’s totally understandable, though, as he was so damn good! A graceful, elegant batsman Sir Donald Bradman simply was one of the greatest players ever to have stepped out onto a cricket pitch.
Fittingly for such a talented player, he captained his country for a period in 1936 to 1948. It was a successful spell for Australian cricket with a 4-0 series win against India in 1947 and a 4-0 series win against England in 1948 being stand out moments. Although a reserved, withdrawn figure, he nonetheless commanded the respect he needed from players due to his sheer talent. His record of 24 games in charge and 15 wins is up there with the best.
3 Steve Waugh
A fantastically gifted player, Steve Waugh was a brilliant leader for Australia. What’s more surprising is that he was thought of as only moderately talented early in his career. Oh, how he proved them all wrong. Waugh was a superb, gritty batsman who clocked up a huge number of runs at Test level but was also an inspirational captain.
From the beginning of his tenure in 1999 through till the end in 2004, the Australian team experienced a golden period of success. Much was down to his great cricketing mind and leadership skills along with the team spirit he fostered in the Australian camp. A record of 57 Test matches played under him and 41 won show just how successful he was in charge.
2 Mark Taylor
Nicknamed ‘Tubby’, Mark Taylor succeeded Allan Border as captain when he stepped down in 1994. Holding this role until 1999, he proved an able and successful replacement for Border. As an opening batsman, he was already valuable to the team due to the amount of runs he scored, but as captain he really stood out. Indeed, many thought him light relief from Border who was stand-offish and downbeat in his manner. The more positive Taylor stepped into the role seamlessly and was well liked by all his players. At Test level, in particular, he was considered an imaginative and adventurous leader in his vision and field placings.
The most fitting indication of his legacy was that while Border stopped Australia losing, Taylor turned them into winners. The best example of this is that, with the exception of series against India and the West Indies, Taylor’s team won home and away Tests series against every team they played.
1 Allan Border
There was only ever really one name that was going in at number 1 and ‘AB’ was it! A rough, tough leader of men in the classic mould, it was Border who started the Australian team on their long period of cricket dominance. A gritty, wily batsman, Border still holds the record for number of consecutive Tests played at 153 in world cricket. This shows how valuable he was to the team, both as player and captain.
The series that most stands out is the 1989 Ashes against England. It was Border’s first major series as captain and as such you might have expected a few teething problems in the team. This was certainly not the case, however, as Australia destroyed England under his leadership. The aggressive edge he brought to the team worked wonders and set the tone going forward.
Border was in charge for 93 matches, of which 32 were won and 38 drawn. The stats, though, don’t show just how much his style and attitude helped transform Australian cricket for the better.
Australis has a proud heritage as a cricketing nation and the captains we have looked at above have carried this on through the years. Their iron will to win and great tactical acumen made them perfect choices for the role and as leaders of men. One thing was for sure – no-one fancied facing their Australian team when it came to town!
Image Credit: Archives New Zealand