Thursday, May 22, 2008


The task: To form a cricket team to win the final of the biggest prize money championship ever.
The challenge: To pick the winning unit and do whatever it takes to win.
The prize: Whatever it takes. But if you lose, you pay.
No excuses. Only results. Get paid if you deliver. Pay penalties if you cannot.
The day may not be too far away when such an ad would appear. How would you go about it?
I’d pick the coach first. One who has more knowledge and understanding of the game than anyone in the team. Technical knowledge, strategic and tactical knowledge, man management and most importantly the psychology of winning. The coach will be responsible for all the inputs that the team and the captain gets and will take all responsibility for its complete preparation. The coach gets to pick his support staff. The coach would provide his plan, his detailed roadmap to the final. This plan would be approved of by the captain and the team management as the one they all stand by.
The captain next. With him I’d vest the responsibility of picking the team and that of its performance. Goes without saying that he is the best man for the job in the team, has excellent leadership and man management capabilities. Not the popular choice but the best man. The captain needs a strong intuition, complete belief in himself and his players, ability to bring out the best in all his players, to keep his cool and always be probing to convert half chances into an advantage.
The captain would be assisted by the coach and the team management in selecting the players. However, since the captain is the one vested with the responsibility of the performance of the team, He must be able to convince the committee on his decision. The captain leads the discussion with his list. The other members on the committee balance out the selection process so it is not skewed.
The committee would pick the team keeping in mind the overall balance of the team and the role of each player. Most importantly the playing eleven should be backed up by enough bench strength, each sub capable of replacing the player in the first eleven. Player’s capabilities, motivational levels, ability to adapt, capability to fit into their roles, availability and being part of the team are factors that would be considered while selecting the players.
Having picked the team that everyone is agreed upon (since your captain picked the team, better support him or else pick your team and another captain), its imperative to get the team to bind together. This is the one area which needs most focus. To know individual strengths and what makes them give their best is what the captain and coach need to find out. Infact everyone in the team needs to know that – since most are proven players they have a record but then there could be new roles, new dimensions. Everything must be explored to make the team come together like a fist. One goal, one purpose, one team. All for one and one for all. Apart from having the services of a sports psychologist (one who knows his job) its worth getting trained by a commando outfit for such an expedition.
The big factor is always going to get the team working as a unit as quickly as one can. That remains the main job for the support staff - the coaches, CEOs, COOs and all other support staff with the captain and senior players. Knowing strengths and weaknesses of each and every team member, making everyone feel as they belong in the team, making everyone aware of the team's goal, the team's method, their roles and the roles of others. It is important because the differences between players is not just about geography; it is also culture, and about the huge gap in their exposure to the game. Since most players are hardcore professionals, coaching them is not so much the big thing as getting them to function as a unit. That I think is the key to the successful teams and the not-so-successful ones.
Coach. Captain. Team. Bonding. Mission. Goal. Preparation. Belief. Action. Correction. Action.
If the team can take the ownership of the goal, if all the preparation can make them take ownership of the goal, its more than likely that they will give their best for the cause. They will have a personal stake in the cause. Success is more likely to occur than failure in such circumstances.

Monday, May 19, 2008

IPL Saga - Leadership styles

The IPL's inaugural tournament has thrown the spotlight on leadership in the T20 format. Never before has leadership come under the scanner so much as in this form of the game. In T20, plans have to be implemented instantly. The captain has to be completely clued in and act proactively. There is no time to wait to make a bowling or a fielding change - one over can change the game. There is no time to sulk or get angry at a bad over, a misfield, or a dropped catch. The leader has to be on the ball every moment, forgetting the past, egging his players on and making and changing plans to the situation that's evolving, until the final ball.
The T20 leader needs a strong intuition, complete belief in his players, ability to rally the players, to bring out the best in them despite a bad over or a dropped catch, to process lots of information depending on the situation, to pull the team together at all stages and so much more.
In IPL, the big factor was always going to get the team working as a unit as quickly as one can. That was the main job for the support staff - the coaches, CEOs, COOs and all other support staff with the captain and senior players. Knowing strengths and weaknesses of each and every team member, making everyone feel as they belong in the team, making everyone aware of the team's goal, the team's method, their roles and the roles of others. It is important because the differences between players is not just about geography; it is also culture, and about the huge gap in their exposure to the game. Since most players are hardcore professionals, coaching them is not so much the big thing as getting them to function as a unit. That I think is the key to the successful teams and the not-so-successful ones.
Some leadership styles worked for me and some didn't.
I was rather skeptical about the leadership of Dravid and Laxman from the beginning. Though I rate their understanding of the nuances of the game highly, I feel they were not suited to lead this format. Dravid is a thinker and a delayed 'doer' - as a T20 captain that is not good at all - he reacts an over too late, a match too late. Consequently Royal Challengers did no justice to their potential and were clearly below par.
Laxman's team, the Deccan Chargers, had too many players of individual charisma and personality that only someone with a strong personality would have made it work. By the time Gilchrist took over, the damage was done. It was just a personality problem, a sub continental trait of leadership by consensus.
I had great hopes on Sehwag whom I rate highly in terms of intuition, courage and implementation. But what let him down I felt is his penchant to ignore the small details. I feel Sehwag made the mistake of thinking that everything could be tackled as it came-batting, bowling, fielding. Everything could be tackled by his intuitive captaincy. A bit more planning, more informed decisions and taking it match by match and situation by situation could have probably seen Delhi Daredevils faring much better. After all they have one of the best balanced sides.
Mumbai Indians got off with the wrong captain - Harbhajan, who is too immature to be a good captain. Pollock pulled the team together and steadied the sinking ship. Now they have the tactical genius and inspirational presence of Tendulkar and will do much better. Tendulkar, one can be assured, will have all the information, all the tactics in place for every match, every situation. The only thing against him is that is presence is awesome for most players (including Jayasuriya who all but admitted it) and it depends on how he channelises their hero worship. I feel that if he lets the players be, with a quiet word of encouragement and not burden them with his usual high standard of expectations, he will get them to do even better.
Saurav's leadership lacks his usual confident and there seems to be some dichotomy in his mind. Whether it is the pace of the game or the individual brilliance of his team members that's making his captaincy appear sluggish I cannot fathom, but he has not fared too well so far with his leadership.
Dhoni is doing well in his own quiet, unobtrusive way, keeping things under control and taking things match by match. Most experiments are done, the team's doing well and they seem headed to the semi final. Dhoni's style intrigues me, he is very undemonstrative, yet very effective. He lets everyone make their own method to execute the team plans and that I think is the beauty of it - there are eleven players thinking like captains and Captain Cool to soak in any pressure. His clarity and composure will serve the Chennai Super Kings well as the matches get tighter.
Yuvraj has learnt very fast from his early outings in the IPL as captain and has pulled his team through admirably. I must admit that I was not a great fan of his captaincy after some initial gaffes, but he has motivated the team well enough to perform even when he, their key batsman, is not scoring. That's a tribute to the spirit he has infused in the team and it's now one of those teams where everyone seems to be focussed on one goal-the team's victory. Irfan has got his swing back, Piyush is bowling beautifully, Mahela,'s great to watch this side in T20. The best model for this form of the game is the Rajasthan Royals model. A lot of high potential fringe players who have everything to prove and nothing to lose. An icon like Shane Warne at the helm puts even a Graeme Smith secure in his role. Warne is canny, street smart, tactically on the ball. He knows every player inside out, their strengths, their roles...he throws them into the deep end and expects them to do well. And they respond. How he infuses confidence in the younger lot is something I would dearly love to know but I know this much-he will not do it quietly like Dhoni; Warne will articulate it. All fringe players know their role, know their captain knows how to use them, all senior players with well defined roles again, and at the very top, Shane Warne using the power of his personality, his understanding of human nature, the game of cricket and what it takes to get the slightest of advantages and convert that into a win.
It will be interesting to see how these leadership styles evolve further. But this much I know. They will all evolve. Just as the players will. Exciting days ahead.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

IPL - Corporate Franchisees and the Sportsman Spirit

Vijay Mallya is the first to come out in the open with his feelings but I suspect there are more to follow. After all it is not easy to digest a bad loss after spending a fortune. Especially for corporate leaders who are used to winning corporate games. It's bad for the image.
If corporate India thought it could walk into a domain like cricket and expect their team to win, it should have prepared accordingly. It should have taken the trouble to understand the dynamics, players, strengths, limitations. The same rules apply here.
If you want your team to win, set your priorities right. What's the goal? How do you achieve it? What is the best combination of players that will achieve it for you? Who is the leader who will deliver the cup? What are the roles and responsibilities? What's the preparation required? What is the support required? At what stage do we seek correction if things are not according to plan? What is the detailed action plan? What is plan B and when do we enforce it? How do you ensure that the team plays together as a unit to achieve the goal? Who is responsible overall for the team's show?
Assuming that the RC team had a clear goal (they looked good for the semi final atleast), they do not seem to have spent enough time thinking of the other things. Preparation, leadership, combination, tactics. Rahul Dravid, in my opinion is a great player even in T20 and deserves the icon status but as a leader he is not the kind who can pull a diverse bunch of strong individuals into a winning unit. Team selection is a specialist area - leaving it out to one man, even if he is the captain is a grave error. That's why there are committees to balance out any judgmental errors. Surprisingly the team that RC picked, though oldish, is still far better player to player vis-a-vis say Rajasthan Royals or Mumbai Indians. And now, with support fast vanishing for the team, any hope of recouping now will be a miracle-not good corporate management.
The management's prime concern at this stage could be finding out why the combination didn't gell and make appropriate corrections rather than sacking a non-cricketing CEO who has almost no role to play in player performances, blaming the captain for poor team selection and abandoning the team by saying that its a team that it did not want.
These are signs of lazy and uninspiring management. It reflects badly on the corporate image; even worse than losing matches. Sports and games are about playing hard and giving your best. Spectators and consumers understand that you win some and lose some. They will cheer the one match that you get things right and return again hoping for a better show the next match. But what they don't forgive is lack of sportsman spirit - abandoning your team just because you don't make a pretty picture at the end of the match.
Winning is one thing but maintaining your dignity in loss is quite another. What they say is true-you learn more about a person in one hour of sport than you can in ten years of knowing. Hopefully there will be gains eventually. The cricketers will learn to win and the franchise managements will learn a bit about sportsman spirit.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

IPL - First Impressions

I watched the first round matches of IPL's T20 show. Some of the impressions I am left with are as follows:
1) Teams must be young. Old teams like Royal Challengers have no hope.
2) Teams need good, solid leadership, captains with a tactical mind and the ability to rally the team together. Warne, Dhoni, Sehwag, Yuvraj are doing well. Laxman, Dravid, Saurav, Harbhajan/Pollock are struggling.
3) The difference between your international 'stars' and the younger lot in the country is not much - infact some youngsters look better than the 'stars'.
4) The best names do not make succesful teams. Deccan Chargers, Kolkata Night Riders and Royal Challengers to some degree are cases in point.
5) Not many bowlers seem to be able to bowl yorkers consistently, or for that matter even a consistent line and length.
6) I have no personal stake with any team, not even my local Hyderabad team. I root for the underdogs because they provide drama and they are doing well - Rajasthan Royals.
7) The filmi and corporate franchise owners are probably wondering how anything gets done with cricketers, whether there is any logic in anything at all. And that in sport, you don't jump up and down after one match-you can afford to do that after the tournament - else you look rather silly.
8) Harbhajan suspension and Sreesanth's crybaby act left me shaking my head; grow up boys. Gawd! Counsel them please someone-they are such terrible examples to young cricketers.
9) After a while, the matches are getting to be a bit like the WWF matches; watch it because there is nothing else to do.
10) Having CEOs, Chief and Assistant Coaches, team songs, logos and team ads, designer wear, brand ambassadors, models and actors - do not maketh the team. You are better off planning a better team. The Rajasthan Royals got it right there.
It's sad that the Royal Challengers reacted to their bad team selection and uninspiring leadership by sacking Charu Sharma, the CEO, for no fault of his. The first of many scapegoats I am sure. If someone had to be sacked, it should have been Rahul Dravid as captain. Rahul is playing well but sadly lacks the dynamism of an inspiring leader.
Mon these issues in future blogs.