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A master stroke

MARK Taylor has taken a risk in announcing that he may step down as captain of the Australian cricket team and fight for his place as a batsman. But, unlike many of his Test innings, this time his timing is perfect.

Taylor says he wants Australia to have one captain for both forms of the game. He is stating the truth. What remains unsaid is the fact that he also thinks he should be that leader.

After a long time, Australia have not merely been beaten in a Test series, they have been humiliated. Another subcontinental exercise lies ahead and it is clear that if a new man were to lead the team thither, the chances of more humiliation would be increased. Taylor knows the team and they know his captaincy. It is obvious that there is only one choice for captain on that tour.

As the late Dr Lawrence Peter, enunciator of the Peter Principle, put it, failure leads to success and vice versa. Much in the same manner, the failure in India may lead to success for Taylor, success in his bid to retain leadership of the one-day team. He could not have made the statement after a successful tour. Now it is possible to apportion some part of the blame for the Indian fiasco to factors outside the field of play.

It must be noted that England is following a similar policy of separate captains for Tests and one-dayers (at the moment they do not have a Test captain as Mike Atherton's replacement has not been named) with remarkable success in the shorter form of the game. At the time of writing, Adam Hollioake has led the team to five wins and just one defeat in one-dayers. There have been no complaints about a fair share of the captaincy not going to either player, the way Taylor put it after he returned to Sydney on the last day of March.

Given Taylor's indifferent form, his hundreds in each of the last four series notwithstanding, it is difficult to see him retaining his Test place as a batsman alone. Assuming that it does happen despite the odds, and the captaincy goes to Steve Waugh, it would not help that gentleman, a more diffident personality, to have Taylor in the side. How would Richie Richardson have coped with having Viv Richards as a player under him? The analogy isn't exact, but the general idea is the same.

It remains to be seen whether Taylor will make the one-day captaincy a condition for continuing as Test captain. The selectors have yet to respond to his call for a summit to discuss the issue of separate teams. But sooner or later, they will have to sit down with him and other senior players and talk.

I have a feeling that if he does make it a condition, he will get his way. Sending a team to Pakistan with a new captain would be something akin to committing suicide. Another series loss would damage this Australian team badly and getting it together again would be very difficult. And if that happens, then there will be quite some baying for selectorial blood.

The media in Australia don't take kindly to being beaten at sport and sooner or later scapegoats will be located by them. That is something Australian cricket officialdom would be eager to avoid; they have just managed to sort out the pay issue and they are unlikely to be eager to see another troublesome issue on their plates so soon.