What is it about captaincy that provokes virtually irrational behaviour on the part of cricketers? On the one hand, they all die to be captain, but once they have had a taste of the job and have had it for a few years, they want to throw it away.
Not all of them do it as dramatically as Michael Vaughan of England did, with tears in his eyes that brought back memories of 1984 when Kimberley John Hughes surrendered to his own inadequacies and got lachrymose while giving up the job. In Hughes' case, the tears were, perhaps, understandable because he led Australia at a most difficult time in its cricket history.
The Packer players, who were the obvious big starts of cricket, came back into the national team in 1980 and Hughes would have felt the pressure the most, especially in times when the West Indies were almost unbeatable in any form of the game. In Vaughan's case, it is more difficult to fathom this big, teary farewell.
As England's most successful Test captain, the soft-spoken Vaughan had enjoyed more highs, including the incredible Ashes win that launched him into the near-Brearley class of captaincy. The bitter truth is a Test captain is only as good as his team and if the XI is not pulling its weight, there is no way to escape.
Vaughan joins Rahul Dravid as an established Test captain to give up the job when they seemed safely ensconced in the hot seat. Of course, Dravid proved his point by leading his team to Test triumph over England before chucking the job. He may have been convinced that not all in the team were backing him in the widely disparate team that went to the Caribbean for the unhappy World Cup in 2007.
To time the exit has always been the most delicate of tasks for captains. Imran Khan had a brainwave, but then that one was easy as he had won the World Cup and there was no more ultimate prize in the game to hunt. It was the perfect exit, although some of his team members thought he had to go because he was getting very unpopular, especially because he forgot to mention them and only spoke of his cancer hospital project on the famous day from MCG turf.
Sunil Gavaskar was another who saw the light when he won the World Championship of Cricket in Australia in 1985, intelligently estimating that no higher moments could possibly come soon enough in the autumn of his career. He did play on for two years in his own cerebral way until the home World Cup presented another timely exit stage.
Very few international captains in the modern era have had the grace to leave as Imran and Gavaskar did. The modern era is mentioned because the times placed the captain on such a pedestal that no one could easily give up on the post easily.
India's most successful captain, Sourav Ganguly, was cast aside, which is sad considering he had changed the perspective of Indian captaincy by getting regional bias out of selection, with a minor exception or two.
Kevin Pietersen is expected to take England into a new era, or that is the massive expectation soon as the change came about abruptly on Vaughan's decision to take some time off. Given the media and social commitments of captains today, it's an incredibly difficult task that might even be the undoing of Pietersen, the batsman.
Captaincy can be a nebulous assignment; some even liken it to a poisoned chalice. Yet, many want to drink from this pitcher of ambition. But no one does so blindly.
Pietersen's case will be another test of character even for a great cricketer and extraordinarily gifted batsman who can hit off the wrong hand for six.
KP seems the perfect candidate for England in an era of rapid change when T-20 is threatening to run all other forms of the game off the park.
The challenge can make him or mar him. Interesting times are certainly ahead given the nature of the job and the personality of the player who is taking it up.
Republished with permission from The Asian Age