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June 7, 1999


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Good leadership is the key

Wg. Cdr. R V Parasnis (Retd.)

Yet again it happened. India lost a high pressure match which was almost theirs for the asking. The history of Indian cricket is mostly a sad saga of self inflicted defeats, wherein our heroics are limited only to approaching within grasp of victory, and then, as a matter of habit, suffering defeats.

Why is it that, more often than not, we come close to converting a losing situation into a winning one, but fail to achieve the end result in our favour?

Take the recent Indo-Pak Test at Chennai as an example. The first Pakistan innings saw us get into an advantageous position. Better handled, we could have even restricted Pakistan to a lower score. But that was not to be. Then, we frittered away the chance with a poor batting display and got only a slender lead, but a lead nevertheless!

The second Pakistan innings proved to be a clear-cut leadership failure on the part of skipper Mohammad Azharuddin. The way the Indian attack was handled was a lesson on how to not to win matches, as quoted by Pradeep Vijaykar in the Times of India. I am in full agreement of that view.

Azhar's filed placing left a lot to be desired too. Also, the absence of that special spring in the fielders' heels, one that is seen only in teams fired by enthusiasm, was sorely felt. The Indian captain also had no idea on how to stop Afridi and Inzamam, when they were going great guns. Indeed, by now, it should be clear to everyone that he is no inspirer of men on the field.

Also, it is an enigma as to why his individual performance suffers so often during high pressure matches. He need not throw the record of his 'wins' on the face of his critics. Statistics give only half the story. He never won those matches on his own - neither on the strength of a well-thought out strategy, nor his inspirational skills.

For strategy, he depends heavily on his cricketing manager. As for tactics on the field, none seem to develop under his stewardship. Original thinking is not his strong point. Most of his wins are achieved because of a sterling performance by players in their individual capacity, and not on account of team effort, attributable to good leadership skills.

An analysis of our defects, with particular reference to the present times, brings me to the following conclusions:
Square peg in a round hole: Captain Azharuddin has shown all along that he is not leadership material and yet our selectors have continued with him at the helm. The cricketing managers also prefer him as captain probably because he is a pliant individual. He has received more chances than anyone else in the entire history of Indian cricket, but has failed to capitalise on them. A gifted batsman of rare grace and charm, and an agile fielder to boot, he is indispensable as an important member of the Indian team. But what we need is a genuine leader on the field.

Lack of strategy: Here is an example worth quoting: The first, and the last, man to boldly adopt strategy and execute it skillfully on the field, by suitable tactics woven around it, was Ajit Wadekar. His attacking, close in-fielding technique and bold, aggressive, pure spin attack was an original attempt in the absence of fast bowlers of international quality in India then. It surprised and baffled the best opponents in the world.

Sadly, it was soon negated by the then BCCI president and secretary, who had no technical knowledge of cricket. And, prompted by the English, he agreed to restrict the total number of fielders on the leg side to only five before the commencement of the disastrous 1974 tour to England. This was done without consulting skipper Wadekar, and, in all probability, no other cricket brain, of which there was no dearth.

That killed Wadekar's strategy of spin attack and close-in fielding. Add to that the specially prepared green top wickets - favourable to spin attack and adverse to spin bowling - plus an unusually cold spell faced by unacclimatized Indians, and we suffered a whitewash. That, unfortunately, led to the resignation of Wadekar, our only captain, who combined aggressive cricket with original thinking. We require a strategist to lead our team.

Lack of flexibility: Tactics suitable to changing conditions are essential in every game, more so in cricket, which is a game of glorious uncertainties. When Tendulkar and Mongia were going great guns, and the target had been reduced to about 20 runs, all they had to do was stay in the middle and take no risks. The runs could have, or rather should have, come in ones and twos, by well-placed pushes in the spread out field. What was the need for those lofted shots? Tendulkar himself could have got some relief by getting a physiotherapist to massage him on the field, and then used the pain-killing spray. He could have asked for a runner or, in the worst case, retired temporarily from the field to rest on account of his injury, only to return later. In fact, with ample time available, safe batting by the entire team should have been the order of the day, as the condition of the pitch was in favour of batting. But there appeared to be no direction from the top and the players failed to apply themselves. We need a tactician to win matches.

Absence of team spirit: Surely our players failed to show the kind of fire that the Pakistani players displayed. Only dynamic leadership can enthuse. Such a spirit and only a highly competitive captain will be able to generate it. That means Azhar must go.

Paucity of motivation: Our fielding points to this factor repeatedly. Only spirited leadership and strict discipline can build up motivation to the required level. The lethargy among our players must be put down ruthlessly. We have many talented players waiting in the wings. What Clive Lloyd and Imran Khan could get from their respective teams could not be achieved from the same teams by others. That is indicative of the difference an effective leader can make. We need a high task master as a leader at this stage.

Absence of aggression: Victory is a reward of the brave man, while risk is an inherent factor of aggression. Defensive tactics mostly lead to draws and defeats, not wins. Our game is generally seen to be devoid of aggression. Naturally, our chances of a win are slim even before a single ball is bowled. Let me elucidate: Gavaskar scored well, but his batting, being defensive in nature, did not result in as many wins proportionately, as is the case with Tendulkar, who bats aggressively. Also, while Gavaskar was a thinking captain, his thinking was too defensive in orientation to enforce wins, else he would have left back a remarkable record as a victorious captain as well. We need to develop aggression and the 'kill' spirit in the team as a whole and, particularly, in the captain.

Lack of professionalism: Think tank activity, post mortems after matches, and net practices, with devised strategy in mind to overcome the weak points of players, are the need of the day. What have we done to remove our weaknesses of running between the wickets? Some of our players continue to be prone to run-outs. Same goes for our habit of fishing outside the off-stump needlessly,as also the reluctance to use our feet while batting. We as a team, are neither agile fielders nor safe catchers. Yet we see no emphasis being given to fielding practice, net practice and training to improve judgement as to when to go for runs, improve understanding between the partners for running between the wickets, blocking lightning-like shots and superior catching. We must inculcate professionalism.

Absence of genuine criticism coupled with reluctance to accept truth: I recollect Gavaskar having attempted to criticise Azhar once for his captaincy. Azhar hit back publicly, throwing his record of wins and losses at Gavaskar's face. That has probably resulted in silencing him, and has also had a similar effect on other experts, like Ravi Shastri and Dilip Vengsarkar, both former captains. Statistics tell only half the story. Even in this match, besides Pradeep Vijayakar, in the Times of India, no one else has made an honest attempt to point out the leadership failure.

"Pak deserved to win," said Ravi Shastri. "India have themselves to blame," said Sunil Gavaskar. "Pakistan tide over Tendulkar typhoon," screamed one headline. Yes, nice sporting spirit that! Nothing wrong with it; but where is our competitive spirit?

Tendulkar's century was great and praiseworthy, but shouldn't we criticise him strongly for failing to just stay there and steer his country to victory? It was so easy at that stage. Mongia, and the rest of the players that followed too, should be literally hauled over burning coals. The tail just failed to wag. We must not fight shy of genuine, hard-hitting criticism, else we will never succeed in waking up our cricketing fraternity, from the high and mighty to the lowermost player from the reserves.

Development of leadership skills: Last but not the least, as a student of management science, I must point out that the idea of having a 'cricketing manager' is flawed in its concept. This gives rise to dual leadership. The team now has two bosses in place of one; in fact three, if you include the administrative manager. Worse, the captain automatically gets a secondary position. And that must never be, for it prevents the captain from blooming into a confident leader. He develops dependency on his manager for his decision-making function. Also, the manager enjoys all the authority with little responsibility and the captain is left with full responsibility while he finds his authority has been eroded away. Thus, two of the cardinal principles of management stand violated: Authority commensurate with responsibility, and unity of command.

Out there in the field, the captain alone can take decisions. His decision-making ability, therefore, must be allowed to remain unimpaired. He must be brought up to be, and allowed to function as a self dependent leader in full command. You can have a coach, purely in advisory capacity, for think-tank functions etc., but certainly not with executive powers, as is the case presently, under the cricketing-manager concept. Decision-making is a fundamental function of leadership. Therefore, leadership training can induce a superior game from the players and will aid in producing excellent leadership material for captainship.

Proper selection system: That, of necessity, brings into focus the selection system. The captain must be chosen on account of leadership qualities as an important attribute, in addition to his cricketing expertise and experience.

We have abounding cricketing talent in our country at present. All we need is strong and charismatic leadership that will inspire professionalism and discipline. Then victory after victory will come our way.

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