Captains fantastic

Richie McCaw.
Photo / Ron Burgin
Richie McCaw. Photo / Ron Burgin

Michael Clarke's epic and ultimately unselfish knock of 329 not out to bring India to its knees in the second cricket test achieved two things - it consigned the nickname 'Pup' to history (Clarke was far more a full-grown and punishing bull terrier here) and reminded the Herald on Sunday sports team of other great captain's knocks.

1 Richie McCaw
No other Rugby World Cup winning captain has achieved that mark with as much difficulty as McCaw faced. Never mind the almost constant carping of opponents - aimed at referees - about his "cheating" at ruck and maul, Cap'n Richie also had to deal with a painful foot injury that would have undone lesser men. He changed his game style, playing less as an out-and-out fetcher and ball-grubber and more as a ball-runner, and he also carried the burden that many felt he had not been much of a leader in the ill-fated 2007 RWC campaign.

Whatever the truth of that, McCaw grew hugely as a leader on and off the field and in training in the intervening four years - to the stage where it was entirely possible to say these were as much McCaw's All Blacks as they were Graham Henry's and the embarrassed flanker had to fend off suggestions of a knighthood.

His leadership was also seen in incidents such as the late-night spell on the booze that got Cory Jane and Israel Dagg into hot water and, after Henry had tried to close down discussion of this at a press conference, McCaw took over and questioned why leading All Blacks wouldn't be doing everything they could to help win the Cup - like staying off the "pop". In the 2011 final, McCaw was immense - covering huge territory with that great engine and ticker of his and leading the way in penalty-free defence. Oh, and talking of discipline, he showed plenty when being eye gouged by the French and choosing not to retaliate or even make a fuss about it afterwards. Leadership with a capital L.
- Paul Lewis

2 Diego Maradona
Pele era el mejor; Maradona fue mejor: Pele was the best; but Maradona was better. It's a common refrain in Buenos Aires but, whatever your view, there is no doubthis efforts as skipper of champions Argentina at the 1986 World Cup were astonishing. If you think Richie McCaw had pressure on his shoulders last year, try being captain of the Albiceleste as well as the anointed boy wonder of the sport, at a time when defenders virtually had a licence to maim.

In Mexico, Maradona scored a late equaliser against Italy, set up all three goals against South Korea and was inspirational in the second round win over Uruguay. Two goals followed against England - one illegally with his forearm as the 1.65m striker somehow out-jumped a static Peter Shilton and the second via a bewildering 60m slalom run from his own half where he beat six England players to score. An Argentinian commentator, when he started breathing again hollered, "I want to cry . . . you cosmic kite - what planet did you come from?"

The zurdo de oro (golden left foot) scored a brace in the semifinal against Belgium, including another solo run that left speedy defender Eric Gerets looking like he was running in quicksand. In the final, West Germany employed Lothar Matthaus to man mark Maradona but theNo10 wriggled free in the last few minutes to provide an instant inch-perfect, defence-splitting pass which broke a 2-2 deadlock and sent Argentina into delirium. He scored or created 10 of Argentina's 14 goals and was fouled for free kicks 53 times, more than twice that of any other player in the tournament. Nobody before or since has had such an influence on a World Cup.
- Michael Burgess

3 Ryan Nelsen
Immense, inspirational, imposing, intense - for 10 days in South Africa in 2010, Nelsen inspiredpraise. He had only met fellow defenders Winston Reid and Tommy Smith a few months earlier and had to forge an understanding to combat some of the best attackers in the world. Besides all that, he had the responsibility of his own game, knowing that if he failed to front with his best performance, the All Whites could crumble around him. Against Slovakia, the No 6 made several crucial plays to keep his side in the game and also made the call to send Reid forward for his tournament-defining goal in the dying seconds.

The moment, often replayed, of him towering over a cowering Slovakian attacker after a foul, showed that this New Zealand team was not going to lie down for anyone. In the epic match against Italy, as the Azzurri flooded the New Zealand half, Nelsen was titanic, always seeming to be in the right place at the right time. Against Paraguay, Nelsen was badly affected by illness and it showed in the team's performance, as they failed to fire a shot. Nevertheless, the All Whites achieved beyond expectation and Nelsen was named in ESPN's team of the tournament.
- Michael Burgess

4 Martin Johnson
One of the all-time great captains, Johnson led from the front with a grumpy, unforgiving hardness that inspired his men. Most people from overseas rate his 2003 Rugby World Cup win and his series-winning captaincy of the 1997 Lions in South Africa as his finest leadership moments. In this country, we remember a six-man England pack, led by a snarling, defiant Johnson, holding off intense All Black pressure after nit-picking referee Stuart Dickinson had sent off two England back row forwards in a tight match inWellington earlier that World Cup year.

The All Blacks struggled to penetrate a tight England defence and the visitors held on for a fine 15-13 win. When asked what was running through his head as he packed down in a six-man scrum against the All Blacks, Johnson famously replied:"My spine." But, just like the World Cup final later that year, it was almost a single-handed act of will by Johnson in getting his team over the line.
- Paul Lewis

5 Mike Brearley
A case where a captain's 'knock' didn't have to involve a century. In fact, Brearley never made a century in 39 tests for England (31 as captain), with an average of 22.88. A renowned scholar who now spends his days as a psychotherapist, Brearley was once described by Australian fast bowler Rodney Hogg as having a "degree in people"such were his persuasive and motivational qualities. He employed those skills best when recalled to the England side during the 1981 Ashes, taking back the captaincy from Ian Botham. Botham was fresh from a pair during the second test at Lord's and bereft of confidence with Australia up 1-0 in the six-test series. However, the unruffled Brearley restored Botham's confidence and he went on a run-scoring and wicket taking rampage which saw England win three of the last four tests and take the series 3-1. Botham's 149 not out at Headingley was the catalyst but Brearley was pulling the strings. England won after being forced to follow-on; in 2028 tests, that feat has been achieved only three times.
- Andrew Alderson

6 Mal Meninga
Meninga embodied desperation when he led Canberra to the first championship by a non-Sydney side in what was then known as the New South Wales Rugby League Premiership. In the last quarter with Balmain up 12-8, Meninga ankle tapped Mick Neil, stopping him five metres from the Raiders line in a dramatic lunge. The defence recovered and the Raiders surged back with 90 seconds left, courtesy of a try to John Ferguson. That made the score 14-12 and Meninga faced a conversion 10m to the left of the posts. Using his unreliable torpedo toe hack technique he stepped up with head down to drill the ball through the posts. The Raiders survived the 20 minutes of extra time to take the match 19-14 in what many still refer to as the greatest final.
- Andrew Alderson

7 John Eales
When Australia were awarded a kickable penalty in the last seconds of the decisive Bledisloe Cup fixture of 2000, won 24-23, Wallaby captain John Eales was ecstatic. "Where's Stirling?" he said, looking round for Mortlock, the goalkicker. But Mortlock had been replaced and hooker Jeremy Paul said to his skipper; "Mate, it's your kick." That anyone would think about handing the ball to a lock at such a time is testimony to Eales' greatness. Widely regarded as Australia's most complete and greatest forward, Eales had a full range of skills - in the lineout, scrum and loose, he could catch, pass and tackle, and was no slouch on the run. Oh, and he could kick goals (173 points in tests). He was the complete modern lock and a supreme captain. As well as the 1999 World Cup, he led the Wallabies to three consecutive Bledisloe Cup wins, Tri-Nations titles in 2000 and 2001, and a triumphant series against the British Isles in 2001. His place in history is assured.
- Paul Lewis

8 Sir Peter Blake
Go to any leadership seminar in New Zealand and Blake's name will inevitably be cited, such was the length and breadth of his achievements and his ability as a leader. Of all his achievements, there are two in particular that stand out.One was the skill, judgement and mettle displayed in the 1989-90 Whitbread Round the World race, when Steinlager 2 faced off against an outstanding Fisher & Paykel team. Blake's men trailed Grant Dalton's crew for long periods during the race but somehow got up at the crucial time to win line, handicap and overall honours on each leg. The thrilling ding-dong battle down the east coast of New Zealand as the teams raced into Auckland, where Blake made vital calls to secure the win, lives long in the memory. The other was the successful 1995 America's Cup campaign in San Diego. New Zealand had been close on several previous occasions and their sailing and design ability was unquestioned. Somehow Blake's leadership skills - he ran the campaign, sailed on the boat and engendered national pride with the red socks crusade - meant that everything fused together perfectly. It made NZL32 unbeatable as the Kiwis finally claimed the Auld Mug.
- Michael Burgess

9 Darren Lockyer
For all of Lockyer's moments of magic in a Queensland jersey, a freakish act on the night of July 5, 2006 arguably stands above them all. His beloved Maroons were playing for their lives after three successive series defeats. Some were even starting to talk about the death of Origin. The decider in Melbourne was a thriller, though NSW got a legup through a series of awful calls by the match officials. The Blues led 14-10 and were in possession with just over five minutes left on the clock. From dummy half, Brett Hodgson threw an errant pass between two Blues players. Lockyer's marvellous anticipation was such that he was first there, scooping the ball on the first bounce out of the hands of Nathan Hindmarsh and sliding through to score between the posts, winning the match 16-14. It was the try that changed history for a state. Lockyer and coach Mal Meninga kept their jobs and Queensland have wonall six series since that fateful night, while the Blues have shuffled coaches and used a huge number of players. In all, Lockyer captained his state on 22 occasions in 36 matches and also led Australia a record 38 times. - Michael Burgess

10 Seve Ballesteros
The late Ballesteros personified charisma, passion and determination in golf. He was in his element as non-playing captain of Europe in the 1997 Ryder Cup at Valderrama in his home country, Spain. It was the 32nd Ryder Cup but the first held in continental Europe. Between regular thunderstorms, Ballesteros' cart weaved its way around his charges; encouraging, advising, entertaining and consoling. An omnipresent earpiece ensured he didn't miss a shot. His efforts motivated the Europeans to a memorable win - 14½-13½ - over their American opponents. Europe held a 10-5 lead after two days but the United States clawed back to be down 14-13 heading into the final singles which Colin Montgomerie halved with Scott Hoch.The sight of Ballesteros, resplendent in navy blazer, holding the gold trophy aloft remains a memorable sporting scene.
- Andrew Alderson


- Herald on Sunday

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