Cricket Find/Feedback/Site Index
June 1, 2000


send this story to a friend

Food for thought

Harsha Bhogle

Some words get abused more than others but none, in recent times, has been mauled as mercilessly as the word "academy". Sometimes by embracing a name, we hope to embrace the deed as several dubious companies have tried to do by attaching the word "infosys" to the end of their name. Sometimes, our intentions aren't even as honourable for we seek merely to dupe and to mislead. I fear sometimes that the proliferation of "academies" belongs, not even to the first but to the second category.

Amidst these pools of fakes, the originals must stand out. To do so, they must possess qualities that are not easy to replicate; they must set standards that only the very best can emulate. They must seek to embrace the original definition of an academy, which was "a college, university or other institution of higher learning". This learning must be physical and mental, practical and intellectual for otherwise it will fall short of the standards it seeks, hopefully to attain.

This should, I believe, be the objective of India's national cricket academy; to produce not just highly skilled cricketers, but well rounded sportsmen as well. If it restricts the learning of its wards to cricket alone, it will not only do them injustice, it will end up being a white elephant, like so many of our public sector enterprises became.

Indian cricket has rarely been short of skill and there is little doubt that, given the large base from which they have qualified, the first set of trainees are already very good cricketers. Our biggest shortcoming has been intellectual. The system, and therefore the individuals within it, have shown an appalling lack of vision, indeed even a very poor appreciation of the present. It was clear more than a decade ago that the game was changing. It is painfully apparent today that it has. And yet our methods have remained the same. The system hasn't taught cricketers the reality of today but the cricketers, largely, haven't shown themselves capable of absorbing that reality on their own.

And so, apart from teaching the spinners how to use the breeze and the opening batsmen the merits of a still head, the national academy needs to teach these young men the intellectual skills that separate great performers from ordinary one. The Australian academy does that very well and you could see the approach in the first questions that Rodney Marsh asked of them.

I do not know what the curriculum is but I am a bit concerned at a general attitude in cricketing circles in India that only cricketers can impart skills to others; indeed that only cricketers can have anything to do with cricket in India. There is an attempt to raise barriers, to create a club that only they can have access to. Now, if it was a club of cricketing achievers, people who have scored more than three thousand Test runs for example, it is perfectly acceptable. But to believe that cricketing bodies should be run and managed by cricketers alone is to install barriers of the mind.

The academy needs to generate proud performers and such people draw inspiration from a wide variety of sources. They have heroes within and outside their community and to inculcate such an attitude, they must be exposed to the spirit of achievement rather than a narrow set of achievers. The broader the mind, the more it can soak in and remember, it is in the mind that Indian cricket has been losing matches. That is why it is important that apart from traditional skills they are taught what made Muhammad Ali special, why John McEnroe was such a great tennis player and why, amidst so many outstanding players, there was only one Michael Jordan. They need to know what it is that drives Leander Paes to play for India and what it was that made Prakash Padukone one of our greatest achievers.

Australia do that very well and I mention Australia so often because we have stated that theirs is the model we want to follow. Steve Waugh for example, draws inspiration from poetry, Justin Langer climbed out of disappointment and became a better player than his talent justified by applying the discipline he learnt from karate. His hero is a marathon runner! Over the years, Australian cricket teams have routinely invited achievers from other disciplines, not just to spur the spirit of achievement but to share in the pride of being Australian.

Our academy will do our young cricketers a colossal favour if they can leave after their stint with the awareness that there is more to cricket than money and endorsements; with a respect for intellect rather than just physical skill; with the ability to seek inspiration from a wide range of sources.

Sometime back, I asked Allan Border a question that had been bothering me for a while. "When John Buchanan became coach of Australia wasn't there a feeling, with players like the Waugh twins, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath in the side, that his inadequacies as a player would limit him at some point?" "No," he said, "when you get to the national team, you don't need a coach to teach you how to play cricket. John is very good at working with people; he points out little things; he has his own skills and the players appreciate that. They know that he is improving their performance."

I say this with no malice at all but in the present environment in our cricket, John Buchanan could never become coach of the national team because we would constantly look to his international record. And he doesn't even have one! It is this awareness of other skills and the maturity to accept them that I hope our academy will teach young cricketers.

Sometime back, I read an outstanding convocation address from Sumantra Ghosal to graduating students of the Indian Institute of Management at Calcutta. Some of the things he told those aspiring managers are just as relevant to aspiring cricketers because while the skills need to be different, the vision required is the same. I am reproducing just one extract. I believe an aware mind has much to learn from it, but for that it must first rise above the little club that believes that all learning on cricket must come from cricketers alone. This is what he said.

"[Management]... is all about action. What you have learnt through your work here (substitute cricket for management) will help you identify what to do, but you must have to have the courage and the will to translate that knowing into actual doing.

Some of you, even some of the brightest of you, may fumble this test of action. You may procrastinate. You may suffer from learned helplessness, paralyzed by analysis, or because of the fear of failure. Some others among you will excel in the domain of action, willing and able to do what you believe in, and taking the consequences, profiting from the successes, learning from the failures. What will distinguish these two groups? What does it take to combine the knowledge and relationships you have built over the last two years with the courage and resilience you will need for sustained, purposive action-taking in the future?

The French writer, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, created a striking metaphor: "If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to go to the forest to gather wood, saw it, and nail the planks together. Instead, teach them the desire for the sea".

That is what you will need: a desire for the sea. For most of you, even if not for all, the sea will be the sea of business and management (read: sea of international cricket) Do you have a desire for that sea? That is what we need to teach our cricketers; not just to build a boat but to have a desire for the sea. Do we have the vision, the openness of mind to do that?

Harsha Bhogle

Mail Prem Panicker