Monday, June 24, 2013

The Great Indian Team Performance Curve: A Thesis

I read a friend’s Facebook status post, wondering about the changes we are witnessing  in the Indian team’s performance. To be precise, his questions were “how so much” and “how so quickly”.

A while ago, I had read an extremely well-conceived article by Cricinfo’s Siddharth Monga on the contribution of the “system” to India’s Champion’s Trophy win last night. Here it is.
Armed with the thoughts that came while reading Monga’s thoughtful piece, I set about trying to construct a quickfire “thesis” to explain the path charted by the Indian cricket team

Part A: how so much?

Ans: The direction that a cricket team – correction, an Indian cricket team goes can be largely explained by measuring the following areas:

(A)   the leadup to selecting the final 15 who set off for the tour – including resourcefulness, non-compromise and vision,
(B)   Captain’s performance as a player
(C)   The captain-coach duo and their (interpersonal) vibes within the team including handling of individual players as well as coaching staff,
(D)   Form of individual stars in the team, if any; and
(E)    Expectations set by the leadership team from the players, series by series (completely on-field stuff, nothing interpersonal here). This includes flexible thinking.

[A, B & D are extremely version specific; hence same set of people can produce different performance curves in different versions of cricket]

  • Ganguly's team, in rebuilding phase of 2000-2003, thrived partly on A & B,  a lot on C & D and little less on E (except uncompromising integrity).

  • During the latter parts of Ganguly era (late 2004-2005) the team form dipped due to partial dips in B, C & D.

  • In Dravid’s (2005-mid 2007) era the emphasis on A & E became supreme; B was very good too, for most parts. However all of that was completely undone by the then coach Chappell's effect in undermining C - so much so that the huge minus in B led to underperformance in D as well.

  • MSD's 1st era (2007--2010), on the other hand, revived team form almost entirely based on C, D & E. In Tests, B almost did not come into picture, such was the overwhelming effect of D [Big four + Viru + Zaheer]!! A got toned down to moderate – which is fine if D is good.

  • Dhoni’s 2nd era (early 2011 to end 2012) saw a virtual disappearance of D, while B did not come up to compensate. This made BIG difference, even as A & E remained very similar and C dipped only marginally compared to Dhoni’s 1st era. [Not by coincidence, Era-2 was the first days for captain with new coach]

  • Dhoni’s 3rd era is just starting. D is not likely to reach the stratospheric heights of his 1st era anytime soon (certainly not in Tests). I agree majorly to this article. By accident or by design, Team India's A has shot up in past 3 months, even compensating for seniors' exodus contributing to instability in D (it is also looking up, thanks to performing youngsters).  In fact, A has fared so well that D (at least in Champion’s Trophy) was a factor of A!!   Decisive A has also led to decisiveness in E. Factor C, while still very good, is now so very different from Era 1. These days we see an animated Dhoni who actually tells youngsters what to do…and I believe he is now in sync with India's "new" coach Duncan Fletcher.

Part B: how so quickly?

A & E are the only components that are largely controlled by intent rather than chance. While teams thrive or perish on ‘culture changes’ in either direction it is foregone that culture changes take a lot of time.

A & E can be implemented in a very short time-frame. It is only the start, though. Any major changes in A & E, implemented too quickly, might create a shock-wave in ‘good’ (read ‘comfortable’) times, leading to adverse impact on results. However in THIS case, major changes in A & E were done when the team performance was close to its nadir (i.e. around when Dhoni’s 2nd era was closing out). Things that would seem to be “upsetting” otherwise...those were perhaps now seen as a “Ray of Hope”.

Everything, absolutely EVERYTHING can happen when people chuck out the resistance and look forward to a change.

That ends my thesis, responding to Shrikant Subramanian’s Facebook question. [wiping brow]

Exciting? Indeed. I was just as excited while force-fitting the pieces of the puzzle. Thanks to you for appreciating. And at this humbling moment of success I would like to thank my…zz-zz-zz-zz

Crappy?? Yippie kay yay…..all theses necessarily are.

Monday, June 03, 2013

20 Greatest Sledges in Cricket

Someone has apparently carried out the hard work of collecting people's opinion on the famous sledges that keep making the rounds, and then publishing the 20 that people voted as the greatest.

Here it is:

Looks good, as it features almost all the memorable ones I have read. 

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Greg Chappell, the cricket visionary: caring(!!) views on Indian cricket

I was going through some of Greg Chappell's articles in The Hindu. They make for intriguing reading, quite far removed from "the guy that rubs everyone up the wrong way", an image that Indian cricket fans make of him due to his negatively eventful 1½ tenure as coach of Indian cricket team (end 2005 to Mar 2007). In fact, on the contrary these articles are a testimony of why then-captain Ganguly thought of him as a personification of astuteness in 2004-05, and strongly recommended Greg to BCCI as next Indian coach.

The articles were especially delightful to read in this tough period for Indian cricket. These are times when fans are not sure if anybody really cares for Indian cricket. If we can detach the much-hated name while going through the content of these articles, these are valuable views and analyses coming from someone with no ulterior motives and wanting to share his knowledge for the betterment of cricket in India.

Sample this one:

Even more than his fine take on Karthik in that piece, the discussion on Sreesanth's cricketing talent was my takeaway - perhaps because Greg kept the section to just that: discussing Sreesanth's cricketing talent (even after the IPL spot-fixing fiasco). However he has also touched upon the latest controversy. Like a wise statesman, he has clearly  hinted at the fact that accepting Sreesanth as an eccentric talent and handling him accordingly JUST might have avoided him from turning into a wasted cricketer with unfulfilled potential. I liked the tone of that comment. 

There is a hint of sadness as he witnesses the fall of Sreesanth, a player that Greg still believes to be a major talent. He suggests that there was scope of improvement in the way Sreesanth was handled, but he makes his point without looking to transfer the blame of the errant cricketer's own indiscretions towards BCCI's incompetence at talent management.

Greg himself was hardly better at managing talent....while he was excellent at spotting talent, he failed abysmally in turning it into finished product. I reckon he still cares for these young guys he backed, if not for Indian cricket. Perhaps he realises today that HE could have done things differently as well.

[BTW, this is not the first time that BCCI's talent management woes are costing Indian cricket of its talents. If they had been even half decent at it, then Yuvraj Singh should have been India's next cricketer to retire with 50+ Test average, and Zaheer would have been our spearhead much before 2007..not to be.] 

And this marvellous piece on what EXACTLY is needed to be done for improving a batsman's concentration:

What I found during this phase, was that I tired very quickly and actually began to make mistakes after a relatively short period of time. If I did succeed using this method, I was usually so tired that I couldn’t relax easily afterwards and I was generally ‘flat’ for a few days.
On reflection, it dawned on me that this method was bound to fail and I had to find an alternative method. The alternative I chose was to train myself to concentrate for one ball at a time.
Concentration is the ability to focus on what is important at that moment.
From that point, my practice sessions became a contest with myself to see how well I could manage the conflicting messages in my head. Training was no longer an exercise in polishing my technique, but a mental exercise in engaging with the bowler at the appropriate time.
What I learnt to do was to switch-on to the bowler once he reached his bowling mark. The fiercest concentration was saved for the time that the bowler reached his delivery stride until that particular play was finished.
In between balls, I had a quick look into the crowd to give my mind a break before returning my attention to the field of play. I re-engaged with the bowler again once he got back to his mark.
The look into the crowd was an important part of my concentration routine. If I was playing at home, I would pick out someone whom I knew to look for. I astounded my family and friends when, at the end of the day, I could tell them what time they had arrived at the ground, who they had spoken to and what time they had a drink or something to eat.
Once I perfected this routine, I was never fatigued during play nor was I exhausted at the end of a long innings. Effectively, I had only concentrated at full intensity for a matter of minutes, even if I batted all day.
This is a pearl of wisdom coming from one of the finest batsmen ever. I wish to take printouts of this article and share with cricket crazy kids in our backyard. It is a must read for anyone who wants to become a better batsman at longer versions of the game (i.e. longer than 20 overs).

Last but not the least, Chappell’s article celebrating Sachin on his 40th birthday:

What did surprise me was the meticulous attention that he gave to his bats.
I had seen others who were quite protective and caring of their bat, but I had never seen anyone who showered their bat with such loving attention. He constantly altered the batting grip and spent hours with a scalpel scraping and cleaning the blade so that it was pleasing to his eye.
As he explained it, he did not want anything out of place when he looked down at his bat when standing at the crease. I can’t say that I ever noticed my bat to that degree. It was an implement that I used, and as I often had to get used to another one, I did not want to be too attached to my current bat in case we were separated, for any reason.
Sachin built a symbiotic relationship with each bat that he used. Batting, I began to realise, was why Sachin lived and he was taking every part of it very seriously indeed.
A special and sensitive insight from a great batsman admiring another within the sacred confines of the Test match dressing room. Another section of that article discusses about the changes Sachin made in his batting stance and preparatory movement over his career.

I am looking forward to his Hindu articles hereafter, expecting those to be the best insights into Indian cricket that I am going to get on print or web in coming months.

Update: Here's another offering from Greg - discussing the reasons for India's cricketing upswing (barring those two 2011 away series) coinciding with Australia's downswing: