Cricket Can Be Like That

Long ago, I was working on a difficult project. The analysis had been difficult, the recommendations not too obvious, the storyline not so coherent. One of those engagements where V75 of the deck looks completely different from V01, and quite different from the final version of what is shared with the client. Intense debates happen. All the time.

At about 4 in the morning, we finalized the presentation. After 2 hours of going through pennies and dimes and the lines and the fonts and the colors and the boxes and the flows and words and the sentences, we sent it to the client. We were all sure about the great job we had done. We had couple of hours left to lighten up and get refreshed. We had a plan. And we felt good about it.

First 20 minutes were by the book. It was a good feeling. Then we hit the third insight on the sixth slide, which made us refer to slide 192 of the appendix section. That number was wrong! Shoulders dropped. We all lost a bit of our altitude and attitude. From that point onwards, for the next 1 hour 40 minutes, things were on the tenterhooks. We could not be sure any more. And the client was not sure. They double checked everything. They had a feedback about almost everything. We felt bad. We were not ready to concede our mistake so easily. They were not ready to acknowledge the work that had gone in. Everyone was unhappy. And we get into that mode of well, give us another chance and we will set it right. But some problems are just difficult. Sometimes.

Critics often remind me of clients. They are the gatekeepers of the collective insights, through their (right or wrong) opinions. A mistake, that nudge or that poking of that ball that you should have left, the ambitious loft, the failure to get your act together in the face of crisis, are dissected in every possible way. And if nothing else, the leader. Uneasy is the head that wears the crown.

What did I do when it was all over – I was terribly upset. I got all defensive initially. Angry in a bit. And finally… I don’t remember :-).  I would have liked to remind myself – Shit Happens!

Do they even want to play?

Several years back, when I played competitive sports for the last time, I was still in school. I did not play a lot, but like every cricket playing kid in the country who focused on studies, I truly believed (at that time) that I sacrificed a fledgling cricketing career at that time.
Nevertheless, I was playing the school league cricket tournament back then. When I started representing the school, I was only a fringe player, waiting for someone to get injured or unavailable so that I could get a chance to play. Practice seemed a drab affair and the matches were the real deal. And occasionally I got my chance to play. It were those chances that I wanted to make my own. I knew that I would not be the strike bowler. And for most part, when I was playing the first match ever, people expected me to not bleed runs, rather than take wickets. However, on my part, if I wanted to play the next game sooner, I needed to be better than that. I needed to take wickets and not bleed runs. I was eager. I was tense. I had planned things in my head many a times and things were supposed to work perfectly. And I had no idea who I was bowling to. But as long as I bowl the perfect delivery I would get the wickets. I had a plan.
Except, the plan did not work. The plan was dependent on my ability to bowl a particular line and length with the appropriate amount of turn and flight and drift, and my expectation of what the batsman would do. First over, the plan did not work. For more than one reason. And that’s when I had my first realization. The need to adapt. The second realization came in a little later. You need to setup wickets at times. Its about playing it in the batsman’s head as much as its about planning it in your head. And more importantly, its quite possible that the dude on the other end is going through similar emotions. So, you will get hit. A swallow maketh not a summer. Neither a boundary destroys your career. However, with every run scored off me, I wanted to fight harder. I would sometimes flip into the run saving mode. At other times, I would want to get that batsman out the very next delivery. And I made mistakes. And of the many that I made, there was one that I did not make – I did not stop trying. I did well occasionally, and not so well on other occasions. But I was satisfied. Objectively speaking, I’d not have made a good cricketer, but I was not an unsuccessful one while I played (with all the boxes ticked while I was still playing).
Why am I writing all this today? Because when I watched the bits and pieces of the previous test match at Sidney and the one before that, it seemed like we had a perfect side capable of winning the test matches, but we were not trying. Not hard enough. And I know that’s not a good place to be, if you really want to win. It seemed like I was watching a team going through the motions. I remember a funny window. Gautam Gambhir in the second innings seemed positive, and got a few nice drives and strokes in. And then Dravid was clean bowled. We had a drought after that. For 50 odd deliveries, not a single run was scored. I can believe that the bowling was good (even though the pitch was flat and had nothing to offer to the bowlers). What I cannot believe is that if you want to rotate strike every now and then, you are not able to. Not the kind of batsmen who were on the crease at that point. We sent out a message. That we could be dominated. And we were dominated. Again.
Are we a bad side? I don’t believe it. Is Dhoni a bad captain? I really don’t believe that either. Let the analysis paralysis happen. I actually believe that he is a great leader, and there is more to come from him. Did we play bad cricket? Yes. Individual or collective? Collective.
My saddest observation right from the England series is that our team does not want to be on the field. The matches we won in India were also not because our team suddenly wanted to be there. It was because the other side was playing bad cricket. And with the crowd rallying, sometimes the theatrics kick in when they are playing at home. But, as a team, most of them would rather be at a beach drinking cocktails than be sweating it out. That’s a dangerous mindset. Oversimplifying it, it’s the same feeling that I’d have about going to office every now and then. But oversimplifying it again, I know that once I am on the job, I better be on the job and not elsewhere.
I really don’t see the team coming out of this rut for the next two tests. It will continue in the one-dayers as well. Once we are back home, we will win some. And we will lose some. But this team needs a psychological conditioning more than the athleticism that Harsha Bhogle is recommending. Or maybe, a break. Sometimes, you’ve got to let Lee Germon be the captain.

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