Monthly Archives: March 2007

News in brief: Saturday 31 March 2007

-Mahesh-

Indian Cricket Strategic Roadmap…

Vish Krishnan has already talked about mental strength as the first anchor points. This is an excellent starting point towards the formation of a strategic roadmap for Indian cricket.

Everyone has a view. Vish Krishnan has. I do too. The Indian cricket fan on the street has a view. These range from a “kick them all out” to a more phlegmatic “take the pains with the gains” approach.

Price Waterhouse Coopers, India too have a view. They came out with a plan to augment self-belief in the team.

Narayana Murthy (Infosys guru and noted visionary) came out with a statement on “sticking to process and not giving up“. He seemed to echo the words of the legendary Australian Rugby wizard John Eales: “Courage even under intense pressure and sticking to the game plan” was his mantra. Narayana Murthy felt that the Indian team management gave up on their “process thinking” and started to concentrate far too much on immediate outcomes when under intense pressure.

A few others commented on this blogsite on a few other aspects including fitness and so on.

Here is (what I think is) a fuller list of things that Indian cricket needs to concentrate on to bounce back (this includes the three dot points in Vish Krishnan’s earlier posting):

  • Improve Mental strength at all levels
  • Skills improvement
  • Better Player management
  • Develop fast Pitches for local competition
  • Implement a Player Endorsement Management Program
  • Improve Fitness levels
  • Revamp the domestic competition
  • Improve Fielding: When will Indian cricket learn that this is important
  • Have a vision and stick to it.
  • Better management of Indian media.
  • Improve situational awareness capabilities of all players.

All of these require much more indepth analysis and elaboration. Let us construct this list and then develop these further. Please comment on other headline items. We will then address each of the above in turn.

Player Endorsement Management

A quick word of clarification on “Player Endorsement Management”. At the moment, poster-boys like Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Dhoni and Pathan are brand ambassadors for a huge plethorta brands each. I have absolutely nothing against players making money out of cricket. As I was saying to a friend of mine over a heated email exchange, I do not begrudge them their earnings. The market decides how much these guys get paid. Not you and me.

There are numerous stories of the litany of players who fall by the wayside in their attempts to get to the top of their profession. I know of several sportspersons from my school who made a choice to strike it out in cricket. A good friend of mine (name withheld for obvious reasons) was an excellent soccer, cricket and field-hockey player. He represented South Indian schools in soccer and cricket! He represented state juniors in cricket, soccer and hockey. He had to make a choice. He chose to focus on cricket. Five years and two injuries later, he was virtually on the road, with a drug addiction to kick off as well. He tried to get to the top. he fell by the wayside. But these players in the Indian team persevered despite the trials and tribulations and despite the politics-riddled system that they had to either fight against or work with. They fought the odds to get to the top. And they stuck to their self-belief to reach the top.

Good luck to them for what they get paid. I can’t begrudge them their right to get paid whatever just as I can’t begrudge the CEO of a top company getting what he gets paid. He is worth what the market says he is worth.

If Kelly Slater gets paid hell of a lot to ply his surfing trade, good luck to him. If Lance Armstrong gets paid a heck of a lot to ply his cycling trade, good luck to him. If Roger Federer gets paid what he does to ply his tennis trade, good luck to him. Similarly Tendulkar, Dravid or Ganguly… These are the fruits of individual life choices. We should not begrudge what people get paid.

We each made a choices to be what we wanted to be knowing full well that we would get paid (or not) in comparison to an insurance salesman, a retail executive, an IT professional or a cricketer or a soccer player. There — right there — we lost my right to whinge. At least, that is what I think!

All I can then ask for then is that there are checks and balances in the cricketing system.

  • There are no jobs for life.
  • There is a performance-based system in place.
  • The players give off their best.

That’s about it.

Yes, they played badly against Bangladesh. They probably played worse against Sri Lanka. But there are a multitude of reasons for these terrible losses. And we need to get to the bottom of these.

I agree that Indian fans would be disappointed. But asking for Dravid’s head on the guillotine (figuritively or really) or sacking 15 players from the team or some such drastic measure is not right. Just as constructing a temple when the team wins is not right. It is a game. We have to learn to accept the spills with the thrills…

But there have to be chacks and balances. And one is desperately needed in the area of player endorsement management, in my view.

No sponsor is going to make a cricketer their brand ambassador without exacting their pound of flesh in terms of player-time-commitment. The more time players spend with sponsors, the less time they have to polish their own games. And this is where the BCCI must step in. As the “employer” of the players, they would be well within their rights too impose a simple rule that states that no contracted player can enter into more than 10 (say) sponsorship deals. This could well sort out this issue of player-time-commitments, in my view. This rule could also be expressed in terms of total-lapse-time-contributed-to-sponsors. This will ensure that players do not over-sell themselves and their time. They would be able to exact more money (perhaps) from each of the sponsors and will also have time to spend on their own games.

But we are perhaps getting a bit ahead of ourselves. Let us agree on the main heads and we can then start expanding on each of these to develop a roadmap.

One issue is non-negotiable in my view: A strategic vision and a roadmap is urgently required. This inglorious and embarassing bombing-out has highlighted the necessity. In that sense, it is a blessing in disguise.

Like much of India (in my view) there was more spin and less substance to the cricket team. This inadequacy was exposed rudely. Like the rest of India will get a rude shock (my prediction) in the near future, the Indian cricket team has received this rude shock. It is opportune. Rather than wallow in depression, it is time to sit up and use this as a positive opportunity to chart a cogent progress pathway.

Views?

— Mohan

Quick Observations

I have not been posting on i3j3cricket becasue I have been travelling around India over the last 2 weeks or so. In these two weeks, India has bombed out of the World Cup in a terribly frustrating manner.

A few quick observations:

The Indian fan laughs and switches off
There is a certain numbness in India that I detect. There is anger too. But I think the predominant feeling is onu of disbelief and shock. And perhaps for the first time, there is humour. In spades. The Indian cricket fan (and perhaps India too) has learned to laugh about the teams’ plight. There is a sudden preponderance of jokes doing the rounds. And that is, in my view, healthy.

Much of India has switched off their TV sets. And this is bad news for advertisers. There are several articles on the future of marketing executives who punted on the World Cup. A friend of mine (name and company withheld for obvious reasons) pumped his executive team to allocate 5 crore ruppes in advertising. He works for a small-to-medium sized enterprise for whom Rs 5 crore would be hard to come by. He decided to place all of that budget in the Super8 matches. That budget is now almost worthless and his career path has a sudden and unexpected dead-end sign on it!

Many fans that I have interacted with have gone down the hack-them, sack-them, do-not-pay-them, drop-them route. Most fans that I have talked to have been surprisingly phlegmatic.

Most see this shocking loss and embarassing exit as a boon for Indian cricket. I think so too. It is time for a reality check. It is time for an overhaul — not of personnel, but of processes. More on that later…

The braying mediocrity

I have watched the Indian media pressure pendulum swing from one ridiculous (chest-pumping) extreme to the other (mud raking) extreme. This provides more fodder to my hypothesis that the fourth estate is indeed the “braying mediocrity of Indian cricket”. While it is not right to place the entire blame for India’s loss on the media, they will take a special place in the document that chronicles the reasons for India’s loss. There are a plethora of media channels and all of them jostle with each other for the next sensational story. And if one does not exist, it is created. There is no dearth of (non-)experts to wheel into a studio. The only qualifications for being a TV (non-)expert, it seems, is that one needs to:

  • have played cricket ordinarily,
  • speak in a terribly cluttered and unorganised manner.
  • have learnt to say a few inept jokes.
  • speak in terrible English.

And there are several (non-)experts who qualify on the above measures.

The Messiah and the student?

And it is in the exploitation of the media that my beef with Guru Greg Chappell comes in. In this heightened environment of media frenzy, where each channel is looking to invent (note: invent and create as opposed to investigate and unearth) sensationalism-driven angles, Greg Chappell has been thoroughly and singularly unwise.

He has used the media in much the same way as Prince Charles and the Royal Family did (and still do) in England. They use the media to weave their spins and they blame them when their privacy is disturbed in a sensational manner.

In much the same way Greg Chappell has leaked SMSs and emails to selected channels (when it suits him) and then blamed them for “creating additional pressure” (when it suits him). For this reason, he must go. I have been a staunch supporter of Greg Chappells’ ways. He seemed right. He had a vision. He seemed to have the courage to pursue that vision. He secured support from his masters to prosecute that vision in an unstinting and relentless manner. He did that. However, if a person does not behave with utmost integrity at all times, I personally have no time for him. The Rajan Bala episode has convinced me that he is a person with minimal (or even non-existent) back-bone. Indian cricket should rid itself of his cancer.

Indian cricket looked on Greg Chappell as a Messiah. He was welcomed openly. Yes there were doubters and mud-flingers. However, he was given a nice run and an almost unfettered reign. He had the selection committee on his side. He had the Board on his side. He was the Messiah with a vision.

However, as U. G. Krishnamurthy (the philosopher who passed away recently) said once, the only thing a messiah guarantees is a mess!

And that’s what we find in Indian cricket.

The messiah has to go.

  • Not because of the outcome. No. Unexpected outcomes come with the territory.
  • Not because of his flawed vision. No. The vision was (and continues to be, in my view, sound).
  • Not because of incompetence. No. He is a very competent coach with a strong work ethic and a passion.

The messiah has to go… It is because, in my view, his integrity is seriously in question.

And what about the student, Rahul Dravid?

It warmed my heart to find that, after India’s disappointing journey ended, Rahul Dravid came straight out and said, “I accept personal responsibility for this loss.” Indeed, apart from that, he has not said much else! He copped the blows on the chin. He did not deflect blame. He took it on himself. He has taken the loss like a true leader. He has admitted that the buck stopped with him. He has shown great moral fabric and integrity. Leadership is about owning personal responsibility with panache.

It is said that the true character of a leader is seen in the face of great adversity.

Yes, he is far from a perfect leader. But a leader without a vision and a leader without personal integrity is a waste of space. Dravid has it in spades and constantly demonstrates it too.

Rahul Dravid, take a bow.

Greg Chappell, meanwhile, has deflected blame. He has flung mud on the players and the selectors. He has looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights. He has come across like a man worried more by his record and his pay packet than his personal integrity.

The messiah is himself a mess. And he has to go, in my view.

To finish off, a few jokes that I have heard recently:

Greg Chappell achieves his Vision:
When Greg Chappell was appointed, he said he would ensure that India is in the last four of the World Cup. He has done so. India is either 13, 14, 15 or 16 in the World!

Yuvraj the finisher
Yuvraj Singh was touted by Guru Greg as the best finisher in ODIs in the World. True. He did finish the Indian team!

— Mohan

Action time for BCCI – Part I

India’s world cup first round exit has confirmed what we already knew about the Indian team but unwilling to accept. We, the die-hard fans were in a constant state of denial – Our heroes cannot fail us. Well, they just did and at least now let us start to accept fact as it is. Let us say this loud, the current Indian team lacks mental strength. And I am not entirely blaming it on the players.

I would say the first and foremost blame should go the media. Scribes and reporters unrealistically raise expectations about players and dump them very next game. How will a young player adapt to this?

Pathan would have thought he was the next Akram, Dhoni the next Gichrist and Yuvraj must have compared himself with Hussey or Bevan. When the situation arises where a games balance depends on them they are unable to raise to the occasion. Not because they lack the skill but they lack the mental strength to absorb pressure.

An average Indian cricketer faces a lot more pressure than say, Ricky Ponting the captain of the most successful team. And the average Indian cricketer in my opinion is not sufficiently trained to handle pressure. Handling pressure is about blocking everything else except the task on hand. It is about overcoming the fear of failure and understanding that at the end of the day it is but a game. Lives don’t depend on it.

Indians in general are passive by nature and pressure does not sit too well on them. History says that India has never invaded or mongered war. I will in fact go ahead and generalise and say that we are too soft and benign. Don’t get me wrong, these traits are good and they are the very principles matured civilisation is based upon. The problem arises when we start mixing sports with our life values.

Modern cricket demands aggression, abrasiveness and strength. Australia have it all and they are backed by wonderful talent and skills nurtured by their professional management of the game. By nature they are physically stronger, mentally tougher and perform better under pressure in sports than others. Cricket, which is also a game of skill, is the only reason India is still able to compete with countries like Australia and South Africa.

India in order to be a force in the changing game needs to urgently address three things:

  • Mental strength
  • Skills improvement
  • Player management

We need to get the best minds thinking and put together a plan to address the ‘mental strength’ aspect. The Indian teams problems cannot be solved by inspirational pep talks or a visit to the sports psychologist.

It is not unheard of that top sportsmen and women often use hypnotherapy, meditation etc among other techniques to improve the ability to cope with pressure. The BCCI should look in these directions for more effective answers.

Managing expectations is another area where the BCCI has failed miserably. They have irresponsibly allowed the media and corporate sponsors to artificially inflate the ability and skill of the Indian team.

Perhaps the BCCI should use the same media to propagate actual facts. They should make a documentary of the sacrifice a player makes to make it to the Indian team and what pressures he faces. A majority of the fans take cricketing skills for granted and that players win or lose games because of their lack of commitment and nothing else. This single reason is why we see burning effigies and damaged homes.

Improving skills is perhaps the key challenge the BCCI face. Skill is a major part of this game and one can still compete and win against aggressive and physically strong sides through skill alone.

End of Part I

– Vish

News in brief: Friday 30 March 2007

-Mahesh-

Cricket Scorecard gadget for Vista users

We are launching an “early edition” version of our Cricket Scorecard gadget for people using Microsoft Vista. The gadget will show both Live Cricket scores and results from the last 7 days. The gadget is of course free to download, but we would like to hear your feedback.

Download Cricket Scorecard Gadget

-Mahesh-

News in brief: Thursday 29 March 2007

-Mahesh-