Archive for the ‘cricket’ Category

The splendid victory of South Africa against Australia set my mind thinking about their leader, Graeme Smith, and how he led from the front. And about his leadership career, as South Africa’s cricket captain.

When he took over as SA captain, he was young and almost brash. There were other seniors who were still in the team, and yet, they gave the reins of captaincy to this young cricketer, who had not been in international cricket for very long.

He came with new ideas. He rubbed the seniors like Jonty, Allan Donald, Pollock, Kluesner and others, the wrong way. He also did not win enough, amidst all this friction. There were talks of him being an incorrect choice, criticism of his hot temper, and what not.

But he learnt. And he learnt fast. And he was fundamentally the right choice, which the South African selectors pursued with. And the persistence paid off. As he became more acceptable as a leader among his teammates. And as he led from the front, with an aggressive, winning approach. And started delivering far better results. And today, he is considered one of the better captains in the cricket world.

A very different background is that of Ratan Tata. As a young entrant in the Tata fold, he took over reins of companies like Tata Textiles and Nelco, and had disastrous results.

Then, when he took over the group, after JRD Tata, he seemed to be going after senior pros like Russi Mody (Tata Steel), Ajit Kerkar (Indian Hotels) and Darbari Seth (Tata Chemicals). At that time, it looked like his insecurity to work with these giants, and he took the route of seeing them off. As later events proved, these people had created virtual fiefdoms, out of their companies, and the decisions to replace them, were extremely brave and bold ones, taken by Ratan Tata.

Over the years now, Ratan Tata has become a fanstastic leader of the group, driving them to unprecedented growth, with very high ambition, and proved to be a real champion.

Another young leader who has quickly worked his way up, and grown by leaps and bounds, has been Kumar Mangalam Birla. Never easy to follow an icon like Aditya Birla, and at a young age too. But he grabbed the opportunity well, and has created brilliant new growth opportunities for the group now.

Not so successful has been his cousin, Yash Birla, who was also thrust into the hot seat, at a very young age, on account of the sudden demise of Ashok Birla. Yash however, has found the good life more to his liking, and running the business, just one of the many things that he does in life.

Rajiv Gandhi was also thrust into the seat of power without much notice, due to the assassination of Indira Gandhi. As a young and unspoilt (by corruption and power) clean leader that time, he promised a lot. And his early years were akin to the Kennedy years, for the US. Held out a lot of promise and the youth of the nation, especially looked up to him, for providing a new direction of growth for the country. However the phase did not last too long, as he got caugh in the political web of deceit and corruption. So the hopes were belied. And ultimately, it all came to an early end, due to his also being assassinated.

Coming back to cricket, it appears as if Australia almost always have the right leader waiting in the wings. After Steve Waugh and Mark Taylor, it looked like Ponting had already been primed up, to take over the reins. And he led by strong example, and providing exemplary leadership, from the outset. And at this time, it appears clear that Michael Clarke is being groomed for the opportunity, and will be all set to take over when his time comes.

The interesting parallel that I see between the two Indian World Cup
victories – 1983 ODIs and 2007 Twenty/20 is the captains.

Where we have had suave, polished, apparently very intelligent and
thinking captains of Indian sides, like Gavaskar and Dravid, to larger
than life captains like Sachin, loners / fixers like Azhar, and
aggressive ones like Saurav, none of these chaps won us the World Cup.

The two who did, Kapil and Dhoni, are of the same breed, in a way. They play from the heart, they are truly fearless, they don’t care much for being politically right, they are game for a challenge, they never-say-die. Moreover, they give their teammates a feeling that the captain is ‘one of them’ only, and yet they are an inspiration to their teams. Most importantly, they lead from the front.

And as it turns out, it is this breed of a captain, this style that won us World Cups – now twice!

The 1983 come-back-from-brink win against Zimbabwe (from 17-5, India
went on to win, backed by a 175 runs knock from Kapil) and the first
round India-Pakistan game that India won in the bowl out, are both
significant turning points in the journey to the ultimate victory.

In that respect, the two World Cup wins have a familiar story.

Cheers.. Chak de, India!

There have been a lot of knee-jerk developments in the Indian cricket scene, post the World Cup fracas. While the new policies of the BCCI appear to be very constructive, and I quite like them, the selections of the two teams to visit Bangladesh, leaves a lot to be desired.

First of all, Shashtri goes on record to state that he is going to be a manager, just for this tour. Like a Bangladesh tour was so critical. We have a stop-gap manager of sorts, it appears.

Then, as far as the team goes, I am not seeing a clear logic. Just that few older heads are out of the ODI squad, and some new names are being tried out. Under Dravid’s captaincy.

What is the exact long term focus?
Why is Sehwag still there in the ODI team?
Is Piyush Chawla good for ODIs and not good for test cricket?
Why would you blood a young leg spinner in the slap-dash game of ODIs, but not give him a chance to learn in the longer test cricket?

Also it looked a big mess – whether the selection was driven by BCCI diktats, or the selectors had a role to play. Shows a sense of desperation and cluelessness…

None of the ruckus would have happened.
In Indian cricketing world, in the Indian media, with the BCCI, amongst the players, etc.
If only the Bangladesh – South Africa game had happened earlier.. !

The Indian team crashed out of the World Cup, because they lost to Bangladesh. The world (well, the billion Indians at least) was shocked because India lost to Bangladesh. “How can they lose to lowly Bangladesh?”, the world asked!

If Indian had beaten Bangladesh and then lost to Sri Lanka (which was always possible, and could have been acceptable too), India would have still made it to the Super 8 stage, lost their badly, and then returned home. The noise levels would have been lower, the advertisers and sponsors would have enjoyed a few weeks more of television viewership, and a general stability would have prevailed.

But that did not happen, and the floodgates of criticism were opened.

Because of the fundamental question, “How could India lose to Bangladesh?”

Things would have been different though, if Bangladesh had met South Africa earlier and beaten South Africa, as they did yesterday.

THEN, the scenario changes dramatically.
Bangladesh is a great cricket team. One that can beat the number one team in the world rankings, South Africa. They are a turnaround team, a champion team. Etc.

Now, after that, if India lost of Bangladesh, it would not matter. After all, if the top team in the world, South Africa, can lose to Bangladesh, then its not such a bad thing for India to lose to them now, is it?

But fate had it otherwise, and the India-Bangladesh game happened a lot earlier, and all the worst things that had to happen for the Indian players, the BCCI, the media, the sponsors, the advertisers, etc., there was ample time for all of that to happen!

Oh well..

What a great giant killer performance by Bangladesh.
And as for South Africa, with everything going for them, they are still going to find a way to lose. Australia-Sri Lanka final, is my tip now!

Right from morning, television has been covering as its headline story, the new policy of BCCI announced yesterday, to revamp Indian cricket. And as media goes, they want to pick the most media worthy point of the statement, while ignoring everything else.

They are talking about BCCI’s curbs on player endorsements, and whether these are right or not. I guess, that part of the statement is a little harsh, and may get criticism from all quarters. It can even be challenged as a Monopolistic Restrictive Trade Practice, since it simply tells the players, that they have to cut their incomes of they do not get selected for cricket matches. And the players cannot go anywhere else, as BCCI is a monopoly.

So there, I agree that this is one of the tough call portions of the statement.
But really, there is so much more that is creditable, and if BCCI really means what it says here, there are good things that can come out of this policy.

1. Asking zones to set up cricket academies and have them associated with the National Cricket Academy. That is money spent in the right place!

2. Asking for faster and more sporting pitches to come up across the country. Something that I have been shouting about for a long time.

3. Having more India A team games, and especially with countries like Australia, South Africa etc. Yes, get the next gen of cricket ready with some competitive cricket.

4. Making it mandatory for senior cricketers to participate in domestic games. Absolutely necessary. All countries have this requirement, except India. Now its coming in and we should hopefully see much lesser of the ‘guys being rested’! Also it is made clear that performance and participation in domestic cricket and clearing fitness tests, become criteria for selection. Awesome.

5. A limit to the number of playing days in a year, for test and ODI playing cricketers. Yes, that leaves them with time to play the domestic cricket referred above. And leave them with lesser reasons to ‘need rest’!

6. Doing away with zonal selectors and going for professional ones, who will be remunerated for their efforts too. Perfect! A must-need.

7. Doing away with slab wise incomes. Well, this is a yes and no situation. Earlier players were graded and got different levels of incomes. In a classic corporatish structure, this is essential. However, a non-performing senior getting more money, and a performing junior making less, was an anamoly. Worth trying this out.

8. Performance based pay. For ODIs, the fixed amount paid to players is reduced and a large bonus is introduced for winning series. Now, if endorsements are reduced and the direct rewards from playing cricket becomes a significant part of the revenues for a player, hopefully, the bonus will motivate the players to give their best and be focussed on winning, rather than just playing!

9. Focus on youth. They are sending a youthful team to Bangladesh. Makes sense. Even at the cost of losing some games at this time, if we focus on rebuilding the team with an eye on the future, its a great investment. Completely endorse it.

10. Dravid retained as captain. Shashtri as manager / coach. Prasad and Robin Singh as additional bowling and fielding coaches. Dravid as captain is good continuity. The perfect person to be an example for a young team that he will hopefully lead. Very intelligent. As long as he does not insist on Sehwag and Harbhajan, I am okay with him! Splitting the coach’s duties into three is a good step in the Indian context. It reduces pressure on a single person. Shashtri is a good choice as manager / coach. He is smart, articulate, young enough, can speak his mind, does not care hoot for authority, and if he establishes a good equation with Dravid and the team, nothing could be better. He is very commercial so I don’t know if that may come in the way, sometimes. But otherwise, I would definitely prefer him over a Gavaskar (puh-leese.. how can anyone even suggest his name!), Kapil Dev (great captain-leader, but would not make a good coach, especially in terms of offering scientific coaching techniques which are the need of the hour) or puppets like Anshuman Gaekwad / Mohinder Amarnath and the like! Robin Singh and Prasad, I don’t know how they will turn out. Have my set of doubts about their choice. I am just happy that the coach’s duties are split into three.

Many of the above are brave steps. Almost un-BCCI-like. Like they have stepped on their own toes, perhaps reduced their powers to an extent, or their means to be corrupt to an extent, or reduced the earnings opportunities. But if the BCCI sees that they need to nurture the golden baby, so that it keeps delivering for a longer time, then clearly these steps are in the right direction.

The mood of the nation being as it is, with the world cup loss, and the players own voice getting muted to that extent, this is the BCCI’s best opportunity to push these changes through. I am hopeful of improvements, as a result.

The money in Indian cricket had made the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) a very greedy board. Trying to squeeze every drop of juice that was available to squeeze out, somewhere in that process, it appeared that they had forgotten about cricket. It was all about selling rights, playing more cricket even if it was inconsequential, etc. To a large extent, these policies of the Board had a role to play in India’s early exit from the World Cup.

Finally they have woken up. Perhaps it required a shock of the World Cup defeat to beat some sense in to the Board. Maybe the unanimous and strong reactions from the public at large, maybe the sharp drop in the TV ratings for the world cup, somewhere some sense was knocked into the Board’s heads.

And they realized that they were trying the kill the goose that was laying the golden egg. And they seem to have retreated just in time.

If the BCCI’s statement at the end of the 2-day session is anything to go by, there are steps in the right direction. Almost all of them. Well, a few things could have been a little different, but hey, why complain? When almost all of the thoughts appear to be, for a change, in the interest of Indian cricket, and not just in the interest of the BCCI’s coffers!

It is flattering to find that several of the suggestions that I had penned out, as the potential solutions, in the interest of Indian cricket, seem to have found their way in the Board’s statement today!

Looking forward to better times in Indian cricket.. !

Can a team win a big event like the World Cup in cricket, without having genuine heroes or characters?

Was the Indian team that won the World Cup in 1983 a team like that? Well, Kapil Dev was a character for sure. So, I would not call it a team without any heroes. But yes, other than Kapil, the rest of the team was pretty much, average chaps.

Pakistan as a World Cup winner, had of course, Imran Khan and Javed Miandad, two amazing characters. Sri Lanka, in their win, had a Jayasuriya and an Aravinda D’Silva, not to speak of their most amazing captain ever, Ranatunga.

Which brings me to the current World Cup and the teams in the reckoning. Leaving Ireland and Bangladesh aside, lets examine the rest of the teams, and see if there are heroes or larger than life characters present, in these teams.

Australia of course, has Ponting. But they also have awesome heroes like Gilchrist and McGrath, and budding ones like Hussey and Clarke. And then there is Symonds.

So yes, Australia may only have an excess of them!

South African characters would include guys like Smith at the top, followed by Kallis, Gibbs, Pollock and Boucher. People with fan followings, people who are capable to turning things around on their own, guys who have done it few times, people with a certain style about them.

Which is why, in the above two teams, if one had to pick a single name each, it would have to be Ponting and Smith respectively. The style and aplomb with which they bat and lead their sides from the front qualifies them, for these unique positions.

Then coming to Sri Lanka. Certainly its got to be Murali. What a character.. he is an enigma of sorts, almost a magician like figure. A big wide smile each time he gets a wicket, or even when he takes a catch or fields well or throws his bat around to score some runs. Other names to be picked could include Sangakara, Malinga and Vaas. But Murali is streets ahead.

England has Flintoff and Peitersen. Both have a certain style and confidence to be the heroes of their teams, and aptly become the characters for England. Panesar is the only other name that comes to mind, but more so, because he is a Sikh, and stands out, and has that oriental spinning magic. But he has a long way to go.

The West Indies have Lara. Again, like in case of Sri Lanka, he is the one man who is streets ahead of all others. Quite like a Viv Richards before him, the absolute confidence justifies the tag for him. He can take on complete teams single handedly, and as long as he is on the crease, no matter if 9 wickets are down, the opposite team cannot heave a sigh of relief! Other characters in West Indies would include Gayle and perhaps, Chanderpaul. Bravo is an emerging one, and if he justifies the potential that he shows, he could be their future character!

That brings us to New Zealand. Where from actually this thought came to my mind, in the first place. I find that New Zealand as a team, does NOT have any such characters! Yes, guys like Oram, Mcmillan, Bond, Vettori, have flirted with the tag, but they still do not really ‘own’ the character tag! None of them. Least of all, their captain, Fleming. And yet, they could be the genuine dark horse of the World Cup, to challenge Australia, South Africa and Sri Lanka.

So, to repeat my question from the beginning of this post, “Can a team win a big event like the World Cup in cricket, without having genuine heroes or characters?”.
I am not sure. We will see if New Zealand gets there.. then, we will know the answer to this.

Oh, by the way, I do not want to talk about teams that are already eliminated, as to whether they had any characters or not. Which is why India and Pakistan are not even mentioned here.