Daily Archives: 6 June 2007

Graham Who? And who else?

The decision on the new Indian coach is due in the next couple of weeks. Most Indian cricket fans wouldn’t have heard the name of Graham Ford, who apparently is the front runner for the Indian coaching job. Other names have also been brandished along. CricInfo reports that  John Emburey is one of them. Apparently Duncan Fletcher is another. Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting make up the numbers.

Whatmore is now out of favour. There aren’t any Indian names that have sprung up recently, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if they did. Whether it is a Firangi or Desi coach, I reckon it is time to give Balbir Singh a call and make him Head coach 🙂

-Mahesh-

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On Why Team India needs an Anglo-Saxon

Srikanth asked a very pertinent and thought-provoking question earlier on what he called the “White Man Syndrome” that has seemingly afflicted Indian cricket. Fair call. I started typing this out in the “comments” section of that post and when this response was becoming quite lengthy, I thought I’d write a piece on this.

I am not sure if Srikanth really believed that India could “make do” with an Indian coach or whether he was merely being provocative. Either way it does not really matter. The question — rhetorical or otherwise — has been posed. I am sure there will be many views expressed on this. No doubt. For there is no greater stirrer of Indian emotions than a statement that suggests Anglo-Saxon superiority. Chests will be thumped. Effigies will be burned. Emotions will rise. Chests will swell and “Mera Bharath Mahaan” will be quoted regularly!

Good one Srikanth!

Let me add fuel to the fire by taking a stand: I can’t see any Indian capable of coaching Team India. And this has nothing to do with either “white superiority” or “brown inferiority”. It is just a pragmatic reality that is based on facts and observations.

Let us consider for just a moment the following question:

“How many Indians are out there coaching national teams?”.

Not many. Surely, that says something!

Yes, we did have Madan Lal who performed a stint somewhere and then we had Sandeep Patil who coached with some distinction in Kenya. But really the cupboard is bare. On the other hand, Australia, South Africa and England have big names, coaching systems and highly-credentialed coaching programs to boast of. For goodness sake, the Indian National Cricket Academy itself has only been going for a year and a bit. How can we expect a full shelf of good coaches to chose from?

Note, I said “teams” rather than just “cricket teams”. Even our hockey coaches are not in great demand (as far as I am aware).

Two statements of fact:
(a) We do not have Indians coaching national teams. That says something, doesn’t it? Who out there is clamouring for an Indian to coach them?
(b) By contrast, who out there is clamouring for an Australian, a South African or an Englishman to coach them — plenty! Indeed, nearly 50% of the teams in the World Cup were coached by Aussies!

And these are truisms perhaps because of two factors.

A]
Indians, are generally better followers-doers than leader-organisers. Moreover, Indians rely on individual spirit, and an entrepreneurial mindset than a systems-organisation-mindset. Yehudi Menuhin once said (and this is not a verbatim quote), “An Indian symphony orchestra would be a disaster because each one would want to express themselves differently, the way they thought was right”! [Note: This is not a verbatim quote]… Even in the leadership-stakes, we are not quite there yet. Only now are we starting to set the scene in the corporate world. Yes, we do have the Narayana Murthy’s, the Indira Nui’s and other Corporate Leaders. But we are, by and large, natural born followers. This is, I know, a hopeless generalisation. But I wanted to start somewhere!

B]
Coaching requires strong leadership and a pedantic/religious systems mindset. Coaching is about defining (not merely copying) processes that will yield the desired outcomes. We seem to have a “Give us a process and we will do it cheaper-better-faster by throwing a 1000 people at it” mentality. There is nothing wrong with that, mind you. But that mindset only goes so far when it comes to innovation and knowledge generation. These are necessary for a team to be on the leading edge, especially in the sporting arena. Sporting talent must be a given. Everyone has it. What’s required is the systems and process that elevates a team to a different plane and, thereby, secure an advantage. Continued success calls for innovative thinking that simultaneously brings into focus the goals for a collection of individuals. Who’d have thought of bringing in a baseball coach to sharpen the fielding skills of a cricket team? Australia did under the “coachship” of Bob Simpson, Geoff Marsh and Buchanan. And they did it in 1995, mind you!

What does a cricket coach need to do?

  • The coach needs to articulate a vision and a set of strategic directions that provides a raison d’etre for the team.
  • The coach needs to articulate operational strategy that emphasises a strong work ethic, situational awareness and individual roles in achieving team successes (as means to the end).
  • The coach needs to design, articulate, create and organise a deeply embedded resource system and structure that will enable the realisation of this vision.
  • Operationally, the coach needs to ensure that the design is manifested in a strongly emphasised team environment that includes acute teamship and an ethos of strong mutual reliance.

Note that the above are in addition to a thought-provoking post that Mahesh had written a while back on this blogsite in the aftermath of India’s early exit from the World Cup 2007! Mahesh’s post concentrated on (a) clear vision and target, (b) experience and knowledge, (c) communication skills, and (d) enjoy the confidence of players.

Coaching is all of that, and more. Much more! It is about developing and embedding systems that will get out the best. It is really a refined science these days. If you look at swimming, baseball and AFL as three random examples of coaching excellence, one could be easily frightened by the scientific approaches that are taken to coaching — and not much of it is about technique, mind you! For example, quite a few international swimming coaches have already started to look at the mathematical modelling of the biomechanics of swimming! I know we could scoff at this suggestion and probably ridicule it as anal behaviour gone madder! But I am aware of coaches that are developing seriously complex (and yet real) mathematical biomechanics swimming models and solving it on a massively parallel computers to better understand where the elite athlete could accrue a sustained competitive advantage.

The Australian Institute of Sports treats coaching as a science. They have refined the methods and techniques of coaching. It is less about technique and more about developing a deeper understanding of an elite sportspersons’ body.

Shane Warne did not believe in the principles of a coach. He is reported to have said “A coach is something that takes you to the game and back to the hotel”! But Shane Warne was a genius in a team filled with professionals. In these modern times, a coach is a vitally important cog in the success-wheel.

Note that I said nothing about cricketing technique or skill or ability. That is a given. It satisfies the “sufficiency” condition. What is strongly necessary is effective leadership and a systems mindset. I’ll put it to you that not many Indian cricketers have either. At least, they have not exhibited this trait in a manner that is obvious to me!

I will perhaps get into trouble for this, but thems’ my views anyway!

I seem to be referring to Steve Waugh’s book quite a book lately. So here is another reference.

He deals with most tours in great detail. For some tours, he has devoted entire chapters! However, in a strange twist, he affords just one or two paragraphs to the Sachin-Tendulkar-led Team India that toured Australia in 1999-2000. He starts the paragraph with “India came and went” or words to that effect and concludes it almost disdainfully.

We all know that Steve Waugh was perhaps the most impressive cricketing leaders of our times. It can be said that he re-defined ruthlessness, work-ethic, team-ness, playing-with-passion-and-pride, grit, tenacity, courage and other such attributes. he had a vision for the Australian Team and he pursued it with determination, will-power and passion. These are attributes of a coach and hence my interest in what he had/has to say.

What’s the point of all of this?

In his book (again, recollecting from memory) he talks about discipline, playing for each other, playing with pride and playing with passion. He talks about the game being only 5% inspiration (read talent) and the rest of it being perspiration. The perspiration comes from thinking relentlessly about the game — living it, breathing it to a point where it becomes almost all-consuming; thinking through the opponent — their strengths and weaknesses; thinking about the personnel in the team — their aspirations, roles and responsibilities; motivating people to give off their best; monitoring moods in the team — staying on top of these moods and having a finger on the pulse; putting in the hard yards to iron out technical flaws; sweating it out continuously in exercise regimens; and having fun too, etc.

He alludes to the fact that in that series, from what he saw, Indians lacked a clear system. They relied on individual brilliance. They lacked the will to fight it out, to guts it out. He talks about horrible preparations and drills and talks about a singular lack of preparation and/or strategy. This is what a coach would bring to the job. The Indian unit was more of a rabble (note that I am not quoting verbatim here). In particular, he concentrates scathingly on how the Indian team wanted to “finish off” the 3rd Test in Sydney on day-3 itself, so that they won’t need to come back to more ignominy on day-4!

The coach’s job these days is less about technical superiority and capability. It is to motivate players to give off their best. It is to bring the entire unit together. It is to handle drills effectively. It is less about correcting a technical flaw in Sehwag’s offside-technique or in Harbhajan’s pivot.

Australia, South Africa and England have a system of producing professional coaches, fitness trainers, physios and nutritionists for elite sporting teams. The Australian Institute of Sport and the National Cricket Academy (in Brisbane these days) are role models that other places have copied/emulated. It will take years for India to replicate this success — and in these places, it is treated as a science and not just a sport!

So, in my view, it is not just about Anglo-Saxon superiority. We can swell our chests, thump it and yell “Mera Bhaarah Mahaan” for as long and for as loud as we want. The bottom line is that we are a long way away from cutting it with the best when it comes to a professional systems mindset that yells for approaching the game from a systems-science perspective.

And it is required…

— Mohan