Sunday, April 01, 2007

Management & Cricket

After India's loss at the world cup, everyone has been pitching in with their two paise worth on the issue. The most idiotic instances occur when the business papers try and get some random manager or consultant or CEO-Mentor to comment on various issues and these luminaries proceed to analyse and comment not based on their knowledge of the game, but based on their knowledge of the 'principles of strategic management' .

We all respect you Mr Narayan Murthy. But we also realise that there is a difference between creating a company that is reasonably good while providing IT services, and creating a team that brings home the world cup. Your experiences with Infosys, however valuable they are, are not universal. When you build a team, you are dealing with individuals who have graduated from one of the numerous faceless engineering colleges of India, who will provide middling services to numerous faceless clients over a product that did not exactly change the world of Information Technology. When you build a business, you try and create markets where there were none, you try and gain share in markets which actually exist, and you do not necessarily need to defeat the other guy to do supremely well yourself. That, you will agree, is not similiar in form or spirit to working on the game of the top 15 people in the country so that they can defeat the top 15 players of other countries and win a sporting event.

Sport is different, it is zero-sum. It is also not very long term. Structural and process deficiencies do not explain everything -in fact, at the highest level in sport, structures and processes hardly seem to matter. Else, Kenyan and Ethiopian athletes would not have dominated middle distance races, Brazil would have never won the football world cup, and Pakistan would have never produced a single cricketing great. A call of 'Don't criticise the process, follow it' is valid only when the process in question is definitely correct. A process that destroyed the form and confidence of the premier fast bowler of the country is not correct. The relationship between software engineers and their team leaders is also not the same as that between a cricketing team and its coach. So, "we have debates and discussions, but once we decide on something, everyone knows who the leader is and follows him" is also not a golden mantra to be applied to the cricketing team. Greg Chappell was not/is not/should not be the 'leader' of the Indian cricket team as you understand the term 'leader'. And lest we all forget, there are two teams that play out there - sometimes no matter how good you are, it's just not good enough. There are times when this shows and people are happy because you put in a fight. There are times when this doesn't show, and that's simply because the other team didn't allow you to be any good. Wipro engineers cannot curb the enthusiasm of your team members by coming up with a brilliant product, but Muralitharan can within an over force many of our newer cricketers to do a re-think on whatever they have ever learnt about cricket.

And please, a sincere request - before anyone analyses the cup debacle - please read this.

There is one main reason why the structure of our game is weak - parents won't let their children play for a living. Please stop blaming BCCI, regional selection, etc. It has more to do with attitude than with incentives. The attitude may or may not have been the result of a lack of incentives, but it surely survives even in these days of surplus incentives. There is one main reason why the national team did not do so well - we are not good enough today, on talent as well as on form. Greg Chappell's processes have something to do with it. Every team passes through some evolutionary phase shifts. Sri Lanka was in one such phase shift in 1999, Pakistan in 2003, West Indies in 1987, Australia in 1983. Add India,2007 to the list.

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