Cricket Statistics: Could the Captaincy Affect Hashim Amla's Batting?

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Cricket Statistics: Could the Captaincy Affect Hashim Amla's Batting?
Morne de Klerk/Getty Images

Following the international retirement of South Africa's Graeme Smith, star batsman Hashim Amla has been handed the captaincy of the Proteas' Test team. A prolific accumulator of runs and the owner of a serene disposition, Amla's appointment immediately strikes as a safe bet by Cricket South Africa. 

However, Alastair Cook's ongoing form slump with the bat while at the helm of England has reignited an old question: How does captaincy affect batting?

As South Africa enter a new phase under the leadership of Amla, the stabilising influence of his top-order excellence will be essential.

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But can the 31-year-old maintain his current batting standards, while concurrently dealing with selection decisions, media obligations and the complexities of on-field leadership?

It's a valid question.

Indeed, there's long been a perception that the burden of captaincy can often prove troublesome for elite batsman, cluttering the mind with peripheral issues that eventually take a toll on one's work with the blade.

Interestingly, however, the statistics don't back that up. The perception is actually more of a myth, used as a shallow conclusion when analysing a captain's form with the bat. 

 

Batting Records of Current Test Captains

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Often forgotten when analysing Alastair Cook's recent slide is how dominant the England skipper was when he first assumed his duties from Andrew Strauss. 

In his first nine innings as the leader of his country, the left-hander relentlessly gathered runs by striking five centuries—three of which exceeded 173. 

Even when factoring in his barren stretch dating back to the beginning of the 2013 Ashes series on home soil, Cook's batting average as captain is almost identical to his record prior to taking the leadership. 

Additionally, every other current Test captain has enjoyed a significant upturn in batting form since the date of their appointment. Denesh Ramdin has been left off the list below, given that he's just completed one match as captain of the West Indies. 

Captaincy's Influence on Batting for Current Test Captains
Player Ave. not as Captain Ave. as Captain
Angelo Mathews (SL) 39.71 80.00
Misbah-ul-Haq (Pak) 33.60 61.38
Michael Clarke (Aus) 46.97 59.05
Brendan Taylor (Zim) 21.10 52.37
Brendon McCullum (NZ) 35.63 47.70
Alastair Cook (Eng) 46.36 46.27
Mushfiqur Rahim (Ban) 27.15 42.52
MS Dhoni (Ind) 33.06 42.18

ESPN Cricinfo

 

Batting Records of Previous Test Captains 

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Further historical batting records also dispute the myth that captaincy negatively affects one's batting form.

Of the players listed below, only Australia's Mark Taylor and the West Indies' Sir Viv Richards experienced significant declines in form after ascending to the helm of their respective teams. 

Unfathomably, Sir Donald Bradman managed to better his mark of 98.69 prior to taking the Australian captaincy, recording an average of 101.51 as his team's leader. 

Brian Lara also blossomed with the added responsibility, despite his own batting importance continuing to grow as his West Indian outfits declined during his tenure. 

Intriguingly, both Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting—the highest Test run-scorers of all time—saw their averages dip slightly as captain.

Yet, neither suffered the sort of substantial decline that could be pinned on the burden of leadership. The Australian in particular enjoyed a blistering spell as captain before his record tailed off as age caught up with the Tasmanian maestro.

Smith's higher figure without the captaincy also needs to be ignored, given that he played just eight of his 117 Tests without the leadership.

Captaincy's Influence on Batting for Notable Past Test Captains
Player Ave. not as Captain Ave. as Captain
Sir Donald Bradman (Aus) 98.69 101.51
Sir Garry Sobers (WI) 57.01 58.80
Graham Gooch (Eng) 35.93 58.72
Brian Lara (WI) 50.53 57.83
Greg Chappell (Aus) 51.80 55.38
Bob Simpson (Aus) 33.67 54.07
Peter May (Eng) 36.42 54.03
Steve Waugh (Aus) 50.44 52.30
Ricky Ponting (Aus) 52.18 51.51
Sachin Tendulkar (Ind) 54.16 51.35
Clive Lloyd (WI) 38.67 51.30
Allan Border (Aus) 50.01 50.94
Sunil Gavaskar (Ind) 51.33 50.72
Ian Chappell (Aus) 37.26 50.00
Graeme Smith (SA) 55.09 48.30
Sir Viv Richards (WI) 53.64 45.11
Mohammad Azharuddin (Ind) 46.01 43.93
Stephen Fleming (NZ) 38.76 40.59
Michael Atherton (Eng) 35.25 40.58
Mark Taylor (Aus) 46.97 39.63

ESPN Cricinfo

 

So Why Does the Myth Continue to be Discussed?

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It has long been accepted in Australia that the captaincy tends to elevate a player's batting performances, particularly when one considers how carefully each of the nation's recent leadership transitions have been planned.

However, here in England, the perception is quite the opposite. The view that the captaincy negatively affects one's batting has continued to hold strong.

Curiously, England is perhaps the only country in the cricketing landscape where recent statistics support that school of thought. 

Since Nasser Hussain's appointment, each of the last four long-standing English captains—Mark Butcher, Marcus Trescothick, Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen are excluded in this sensehave endured struggles with the bat to some extent after earning promotion.

Captaincy's Influence on Batting for Recent England Captains
Player Ave. not as Captain Ave. as Captain
Alastair Cook 46.36 46.27
Andrew Strauss 41.04 40.76
Michael Vaughan 50.98 36.02
Nasser Hussain 38.10 36.04

ESPN Cricinfo

Of course, that short list helps to understand the continual presence of the concept on English shores.

But as he prepares to replace the enormous void left by Smith's retirement, Amla can look to the countless records of both his counterparts and predecessors for proof that the captaincy is rarely detrimental to a batsman.

 

All statistics courtesy of ESPN Cricinfo.

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