Advance preparation

In the final analysis, the Indian cricket team managed a respectable showing in the recently concluded World Cup Cricket for One-day Internationals (ODIs), ending up as one of the two losing semi-finalists.

How that happened cricket pundits are still trying to figure out. Pretty much the same team that did not win a single game in the two months they spent in Australia prior to the World Cup, their undefeated progress to the semi-finals has become a bit of an enigma. Knowledgeable analyses like “they would have felt at home after so many days in Australia”, “playing Pakistan in the first match was the key”, “the team management helped them focus on the game” have been offered, giving us deep insights into winning cricket games.

But this is the hallmark of great teams. Up one day, especially when playing at home. Down the very next. Frequently giving up without a fight. Being consistent, especially when on a losing streak, particularly in unfamiliar conditions overseas.

While the armchair pundits continue their efforts at unravelling the mystery behind the team’s showing, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), claiming responsibility for the World Cup performance, while maintaining a dignified silence on performance prior to the Cup, is not letting the cat out of the bag. Instead, demonstrating the leadership that has made it India’s richest sports body which apparently generates 80% of the revenue generated by the game all over the world, it has already hunkered down to the task of preparing for the next World Cup.

Their actions in the immediate aftermath of the recently concluded World Cup might also provide some clues on the turnaround in the team’s performance.

 As a start, the BCCI has lost no time in issuing guidelines to the Advertising Standards Council of India, the apex self-regulating industry body for advertising companies, that when a pretty girl calls a cricketer in an ad, she has to give him at least an hour to reach her. Five minutes will just not do, as was the case with a TV ad of a tyre company where a girl had the cheek to ask the vice-captain of the team to reach there in five minutes, and which, one can conclude, was the reason for his lasting no more than five minutes on the pitch in a crunch game.

Thankfully (or was it pre-planned by the Board? Perhaps we will never know) the next edition is in England and Wales, where our teams have had spectacular lack of success in the past, though a couple of teams in the past did buck the trend. A long series of matches has been scheduled just prior to the tournament, involving the home team and, for additional insurance, the other best team in the world (India is always one of the best teams; sometimes one of best four, sometimes one of best seven, sometimes one of best twelve). Matches will be scheduled on pitches that require skill and fitness. After this series against fast pitches and competent opposition before the Cup, whatever performance the team is able to put-up in the World Cup will be like manna from heaven.

The number of teams participating has been reduced to ten. Who can argue that even if the team involved is Afghanistan or Ireland, or even Fiji and Chile, who have never claimed to play cricket, for that matter, the possibility of defeat always looms, such glorious uncertainties is what the game of cricket is made up of. Gradually, the number of teams will be reduced in future editions, till we are left with two, one of them India. From then onwards, the winner will be decided based on the toss of a coin. If we lose…well, who can argue with the caprices of a coin.

Even management of supporters has not been left to chance. Selection policies have been updated to ensure that at least one of the major players has a girlfriend who is a well-known actress, so that knowledgeable fans know who to blame for the team’s poor performance.

In an inspired move, the selection committee has asked for the duration of T20 cricket’s India Premier League to be extended so that the top overseas players who participate in it can qualify to play for India and eliminate the problem of Indian players not performing overseas. There need to be teams and players overseas to lose to, stupid! In any case, it is a much more controllable and easier method to deliver results than the alternative, which is to get people to adopt fitness and sports as a way of life. 

Eagerly looking forward to the next World Cup.

FIFA World Cup 2014

Determination is a key ingredient for success.

One needs to be flexible to be successful.

Keeping your goal in sight helps in reaching it.

Past success means nothing.

Talent does not always win.

Strategy is important. In fact, it is the ultimate weapon.

Never stop. Even when you are ahead.

An Action Plan will win against No Action plan.

An underdog can spring surprises.

Isn’t it is amazing what the FIFA World Cup 2014 has done?

So many things we would never have known but for the World Cup.

Whichever way you turn, you come across “What the FIFA World Cup taught me” stories. About winning. About goals. About strategy. About success. And the pitch has become even higher since the mauling of Brazil by Germany. The world has been learning even more things after that.

There are lessons for senior executives. There are lessons for HR Managers. There are lessons for entrepreneurs. There are lessons for Sales people. Even for startups, which is where I currently count myself, there are learnings. Who would ever have thought startups can learn anything?

I have been unable to look my friends in the eye ever since the start of the Cup. After the Brazil-Germany game I have even been unable to look people in the street in the eye. How could I look into the eyes of people shining bright with knowledge gained from watching matches in the FIFA World Cup 2014? I have enjoyed watching some matches. Got bored watching a few others. But never did I learn anything from these games. Whenever I am out on the streets, I feel like the only person in the world who did not learn anything.

But it was not always so bad. I have been a quick learner in the past. In fact, regular readers of this blog might recollect the insightful sessions I had in front of the TV watching advertisements in Educating Ankur.

Deep inside, I knew I had it in me. I knew I could do it again. I shook myself out of the funk I had got myself into by watching FIFA World Cup matches merely for the pleasure of watching fine young athletes compete, and sat down with a pen and paper and started to reflect upon the learnings I had received.

In case Benjamin Franklin did not, someone may well have said, “you can do anything you set your mind to”.

This is what I learnt…

There are numerous knowledgeable people who know how a match was going to turn out, but choose to reveal their knowledge only after the match has finished.

There are World Cup tournaments where participating teams are from more than one nation.

Strategy plays an important part. It is important to have a winning strategy. With a winning strategy you could end up winning. With a losing strategy also you could end up winning. You could also end up losing.

After the discovery that there is human life outside the country, said to have happened over a hundred years back and that took a century to be verified and accepted, the discovery that there is a sporting event more popular than the Superbowl and World Series has again set the dovecotes aflutter.

I have not been able to establish if people still watch sport for the joy and emotional high of watching fine young athletes in action. It is rumoured that there are, but has not been conclusively confirmed.

I know the learnings are few and I have only the final and the third place game before that to redeem myself. Though I promise to try, a big challenge lies ahead for me.

I have been an ardent Argentine fan since I saw Maradona create magic in 1986 with his weaving, solo runs. It is great they have made the finals, though not in the prettiest manner. The problem is that they face Germany in the final. No, not because Germany destroyed Brazil in the semis. But because both my teenage sons are long-time fans of German football. And they have planned to invite an army of supporters over to watch with them. And we will probably be watching the match together.

At least for the duration of the match I must learn to keep my emotions in check.