Saturday 26 May 2012

Captain Sammy

I believe that Darren Sammy could be the best captain in world cricket.

I don't believe, however that he is yet.

As far as I can see there are three things that are required to be a good captain. The first thing is someone who can bring out the best in his players. The bowlers will bowl better and the batsmen bat better with a good captain who is setting good batting/bowling plans. The second thing is good decisions as to when to change his bowlers and when to declare. A captain that does this well can create extra pressure for his opponents and really make a difference to the flow of the match. The third thing that a captain needs to do is set good fields. This is an incredibly difficult art as there are a number of things to think about.

I believe that this is the area that Sammy needs to work on.

Over the time that he has been captain, he has managed to get most of his bowlers bowling better and his batsmen batting better.

Of the 6 batsmen who played a significant number of innings both with and without Sammy as captain, 4 have averaged better under his captaincy. Most of them quite significantly better.

Of the 8 bowlers who bowled both with and without Sammy as captain 6 have a better average with Sammy than they had previously.

He is clearly good at getting the best out of his players.

I have also enjoyed his bowling changes and decisions regarding declarations etc. It's very difficult to measure the ability of a captain at this, but he seems to do this well, exemplified especially by the pressure he put on Australia in the recent series.

The field settings however are a different story.

There are a number of things that a captain needs to balance out. One of these is how many fielders are in attacking positions, how many are saving singles and how many are saving boundaries. Another is what parts of the field need special protection, and where a batsman is likely to give up an opportunity. There needs to be a combination of homework, observation, psychology, intuition and good luck in setting a good field.

One key part of setting a field is playing with the head of the batsman. Stephen Fleming was a master at this. He knew what a batsman's favoutite shot was, and put 4 fielders there. The bowlers then made it as easy as possible for the batsmen to hit the ball in their favourite spot, but the field made it too risky. Saleem Malik was another who had a real ability to make the batsmen hit the ball where he wanted them to. It was a bit part in the success that Pakistan had under his watch. (Especially impressive considering he wasn't always wanting to win every match)

It is hard to measure statistically the field setting skills of a captain, but one thing that can be measured is how their opponents score their runs. If a team is scoring their runs in boundaries, it's likely that the field is up close. If they are scoring them by running, then it is likely that the field is set back. It's not a fool-proof assumption, but I think it is a fair one to make.

So I looked at all matches that had a result in the last 10 years, and saw if there were any patterns. I noticed that there was a difference in how the captains that won and lost conceded the runs. I've averaged the runs out to runs per 90 overs (ie. runs per day)

resultBoundary runsRun runsExtra boundary runs (%)

Teams that win the match tend to have their field up more than teams that lose. This is not particularly surprising, as teams that are losing tend to set defensive fields. However the difference is more than I would have expected.

Then I looked at teams playing against Sammy.

Boundary runsRun runsExtra boundary runs (%)

Sammy actually conceded less runs from boundaries than from running. He is very intent on defending boundaries, but at the expense of letting in a lot of singles. Captains that win matches only concede on average 113 run runs, but Sammy concedes on average 145 run runs.

So it appears that Sammy is too defensive of the boundary, and leaves too many singles.

But the big issue is in the 4th innings. He has had a few opportunities in recent matches to bowl teams out, and each of them he has not managed to take the vital wickets. He has actually had 7 chances to bowl at a team in the 4th innings. Here are the numbers:

resultBoundary runsRun runsExtra boundary runs (%)

The numbers tell the story. He is so scared to concede boundaries that the fields are set well too deep.

If he can rectify this balance Sammy could be a magnificent captain. He makes good changes, gets the most out of his players, but really needs to set better fields.


  1. Here is a comparison between Sammy and other captains.

  2. Part of the problem Sammy has as captain is that he is more often than not the 3rd seamer. I think he needs to be playing 5 bowlers if he is one of them, and move up the order to bat at 7, Ramdin or Baugh at 6. His bowling average over his past few games is terrible, but his recent batting form suggests he could handle the extra responsibility of batting 7.

  3. Sorry, only just caught up with this - really superb stuff as usual. I have a cod psychology theory that Sammy being in the midst of all the Gayle/WICB infighting (plus latterly his backfiring declaration in Bridgetown) makes him tend naturally to consensus rather than conflict. I suspect that's nonsense, but he does seem peculiarly averse to bringing the field up. Hopefully just a minor stumble in his road to greatness.

    Also, the surprise from English journos that greeted his ton at TB really cheesed me off. They reacted as if a cow had just written an opera. Darren will prevail.

  4. Counter-intuitive that losing teams should score a higher % of runs in boundaries than winning teams. Does that hold for each Test team? Great work.

    1. In the last 5 years, teams that won scored on average 2 more runs per day from boundaries than running. Teams that lost scored on average 20 more runs per day from boundaries than running. Stopping singles wins matches.