England’s former captain Michael Vaughan recently opened up about the doubts he suffered in the final stages of his captaincy tenure. The crucial bit in the interview for me was this:
He reflected that often had to put up a front. “A lot of captaincy is about acting: you want your team-mates to play naturally and be themselves, but the captain has to act. Your job is to lead with a calm authority. On that Sunday morning at Edgbaston in 2005, when we won the second Test against Australia by two runs, I was unbelievably stressed. I was flapping like hell inside, but couldn’t show it … The players in my last year as captain didn’t know I was struggling – and that is one of the things I will always be proudest of.”
We’ve known about this aspect of successful captains for a while now. Witness the endless tributes to M.S. Dhoni’s zen-like calm, which contrasted with Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid’s nervous reigns during the Indian Premier League.
Vaughan’s comments — particularly the gorgeous line, “a lot of the captaincy is about acting” — recall Chapter 16 in Thomas Hobbes’ The Leviathan, in which Hobbes argues that a true sovereign must put on a “mask” when he represents others. The sovereign must play disguise because he is just like the others; he is human, fallible, and equal. But he should not show this, as weakness only breeds disunity (if you found out you were led by someone just like you, you would want to lead yourself, which would lead to conflict).
As Hobbes writes:
A multitude of men are made one person when they are by one man, or one person, represented; so that it be done with the consent of every one of that multitude in particular. For it is the unity of the representer, not the unity of the represented, that maketh the person one. And it is the representer that beareth the person, and but one person: and unity cannot otherwise be understood in multitude.
It’s worth mentioning here, as Prof. David Runciman of Cambridge argues, that this “acting” is really just hypocrisy. Vaughan pretended to be calm when he wasn’t. And yet, while our modern political culture distrusts politicians who are not sincere with us, in this regard, at least, Vaughan’s hypocrisy saved his team (for the most part). It was only when he lost control of the outward display of his feelings — when he said he felt creeping doubts — that he rightly decided he should step down. The best captain, however, is the one who knows when to deploy emotion and when to appear reticent and calm, all the while controlling his public face no matter the private turmoils.
Incidentally, I’ve connected Hobbesian philosophy and cricket before. The umpire, for me, is a true Hobbesian sovereign, given wide powers precisely because player equality would result in chaos (every decision would be contested). As I wrote then:
But here’s the paradox: precisely because we know that umpires are fallible, we protect them and their authority to a huge degree. No dissent is tolerated; no players can speak of an umpire’s decision; no umpires can be removed during a series. We do this because, otherwise, the umpire’s authority would fall apart, and become just another schoolyard fight. In other words, because we know that an umpire might get it wrong, we give them God-like status onfield, so that the consensus will hold. Steve Bucknor is human, but Umpire Bucknor is not: he decides life and death.