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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

From Adelaide to Bangalore

"Twenty-four hours after what was one of Indian cricket's lowest points in the last twenty-four years…" is how I planned to start this article/blog. But then, looking back, I realize, for me at least, this is not entirely true. Yes, Indian cricket hit a major low on the 28th of March 2005 but for those of us Indians to whom defeat to Pakistan is not the worst shame in the cricketing world, it was just another very bad, hugely forgettable day in the office for the Indian cricket team.

Don't get me wrong. It hurt – and it hurt real bad. If India, chasing 383, had gone gamely for the target and been bowled out for 350, Indians would still have been very disappointed, it would still have pained many diehard Indian fans. But there is pain - and there is anguish. The Indian performance yesterday evoked anguish and anger in equal measure to start with – and very soon anger overtook anguish as wave after wave of hostile public sentiment was targeted at the Indian players who would probably wish they could turn the clock back by twenty-four hours and start all over again.

If it was a forgettable day for Indian fans, it is not like they are going to be allowed to forget this day very easily. For years, Sharjah 86 and Chennai 99 were the Pakistani highlights in cricket talk against Indians. Now Bangalore 05 will join them and Indians will wince. Whatever trouble the Indian players on the field have negotiating the Pakistani bowling, their fans off it will have far more trouble fending off the jibes. Hopefully it is all in good taste and there will be a balance in opportunities to have a go at each other. That is what fan clubs are all about.

(For the record, though yesterday's defeat was painful for me, it does not even come close to the emptiness I felt when India, chasing 120 for an away series victory at Bridgetown, Barbados a few years ago, was shot out for 81. That was about as low as it got for me. True Chennai 99 hurt real bad because India had come so close to victory but Bridgetown 97 left me numb for a while).

What now ? Nothing.

There will be a huge hue and cry for a few days, a few heads may roll – or they may not, depending on whether this is indeed required to appease an angry public. There will be a few games played, the BCCI team (at least for now I do not want to call it the Indian team) will win a few, there will be some records created and all will be well again. Public memory is short if anything, and until the next Bangalore, life will be back to normal.

That has been the story of Indian cricket – and nobody should be surprised if the story plays itself out again. The first couple of games in the World Cup 2003 tournament invited tremendous public wrath against Indian players, they immediately put up a better showing and soon they were returning home as heroes for having made it to the final.

For every Bangalore, the Indian players manage to pull off, from time to time, an Adelaide. And the country goes ga-ga over them. So all I can say is, let's wait for the next Adelaide.

The danger with the Adelaides of the world is that you could very easily get carried away in the euphoria of the result. These games very easily lead you to draw misleading conclusions about the quality of the Indian side. After all, beating the Australians on their home soil is something other teams can usually only dream of. If India has actually done it, it must mean that they are a notch above the rest, that they are world-beaters, that they have excellence in all departments of the game.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. If you carefully analyse each of these Adelaides, Multans and Rawalpindis, you will find that, at the root of each of them, are either a few individual performances, or some moments of indiscretion on the part of the opposition, or helpful pitch conditions or some such aspect of the match that gave India the edge. It is rarely sheer hard work or brilliance sustained over the entire duration of the match that resulted in the victory. But, in the euphoria of the moment, we do not want to dampen the mood by analysis.

I do not, for one moment, want to downplay any of these wins. A win is a win and is something to be cherished. But when we ignore the underlying fabric and concentrate only on the silky sheen, we do grave injustice to ourselves because we are under-prepared when the silk is worn out and the ugly fabric stares at us, all exposed. We have to acknowledge the fabric for what it is and, even in "good times", fix it if we want to have a better chance of sustained success.

Fix it ? Easier said than done. In the corporate world, where shareholders elect the Board of Directors and have the right to change them if the results are not to their satisfaction, there is power in the hands of the shareholders (at least in theory). In the cricketing world, where the public neither elect the selection committee nor select the players, they can do little more than wringing their hands or banging their heads against a wall when the players put up a sorry performance. (The more frustrated and adventurous amongst the public may not stop at these hopeless gestures of failure but, tempting as it may be, any more drastic step is something that I would not be at liberty to recommend in this column).

This is where the problem therefore lies, to start with. There is only one team representing India – and therefore just one team on which the aspirations of millions are placed. The public lives and dies with these players' performances – but not for the players themselves, but for what they represent – Team India. This is very important – players come and go, but the public loyalty to Team India is much deeper and stronger than sentiment for any one individual. Each cricketer better get this clearly into his head - he is worshipped because he plays for Team India and brings glory for Team India. The day he stops doing this, he must be replaced for another player who can do the job better. The corporate world is ruthless in its pursuit of success and struggle for survival in a competitive world, there is no reason why the cricketing team representing the country and carrying the hopes of millions should be treated any different. On their part, the public should stop glorifying individual performances over the team cause.

Another point which the cricket establishment would do well to realize is that you can only pick the best from what you have. And if what you have is rotten or average, stop kidding yourself - you will never have a world-beating side. Again we can draw an analogy with the corporate world. The quality of its employees manifests itself in the results of the corporation. Many companies hire the best or ensure they have training programmes or even in-house educational institutes that act as a feed for employee development. There are a few cricket academies in India at the moment but, while they are probably doing creditable work, the tangible output (in terms of value for Team India) has not quite met the requirement. One Srinath or a Prasad, is, I am afraid, not good enough.

A third point to consider is performance-based compensation. I cannot help feeling (and maybe I am out of line here) that, barring a few exceptions, most Indian players are quite content with doing just enough to keep themselves in the squad. They do not seem to have the hunger to go all out to excel. This is possibly because, as long as they are in the squad, their revenue stream is assured and they are anyway well compensated through channels of income other than just their salary from the cricket board. This is a major dampener for the team performance and does great injustice to the fans who expect each player to give his best at all times. In corporate life, usually the terms of employment dictate that the employee shall not engage in any earning activity that may conflict with the interests of the employer or that may interfere with the ability of the employee to perform to the best of his ability.

I know this has been tried by the BCCI and has failed due to the power of the star players involved. But either the BCCI should consider re-inforcing this (and if a player refuses, well, he just cannot represent the BCCI or Team India) or the BCCI should make its player compensations so attractive as to make it worth the player's while to stick with BCCI. This is probably not going to fly (since it involves commercial considerations and market forces) but, instead of concentrating on the process, the BCCI can easily concentrate on the output. If the BCCI raises its performance bar much higher than it is at the moment, players will automatically need to deliver more to be part of Team India and since it is their currency with Team India that makes them attractive for product sponsors, it will automatically require them to push themselves to perform better.

So, if all this is in place, will we see a better performing Team India ? I believe much more is required than just this. All this will help but the fire burning in your stomach that makes you push yourself is something that cannot be educated or trained into an individual – either you have it or you don't.

Till we have our underlying structure in place, we will just bumble and stumble along –with a Bangalore to match every Adelaide, and more positively spoken, with an Adelaide to match every Bangalore.

Until the next Adelaide.

Yours,
Raja Swaminathan

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