If you’ve no idea what cricket is, well, maybe it’s a good time to skip this one!:)
Every now and then, in sports, you see these highly anticipated showdowns which on the game day turn out to be real dampers! I was really looking forward to a Tebow (god’s child) vs Tom Brady (god when it comes to football) matchup this weekend. Turns out the god in reality was just too much for the kid (Tebow). The final storyline of 45-10 only reflects the disparity in the quality of quarterback play but it did damper the evening as it was a one-sided affair. However, if you look at the talent on paper, there was a genuine mismatch on the field of play. Tebow should be given benefit of doubt as well, everyone knows he can never elevate his game to the level of Brady! To some level, I can live with that…..
However, what I can or will never be able to accept is, lack of will when it comes to game time. If you have even followed Indian Test Cricket recently, that’s what stands out and hurts you as a ardent cricket fan. I’ve played the game myself, and captained a team, and I fail to understand how a talented team can go so, I mean, so wrong! When I played the game, for me failure of team meant, MY failure as a captain. No one else was to blame. However, I took every defeat, didn’t matter the margin, personally and vowed I would do everything in my capacity to fix what was wrong or make sure I put the team in a position to win! Here is an example…
It was I believe close to a bit chiller times (60 F in Nagpur is chilly:)), we were organizing the yearly “Cric Mania” event. GS college was as usual the favored team to win, they had the best talent I had seen in my 4 years at college, no wonder 8 of those ended up playing for Vidarbha at some point. Bottomline, the most talented team. The tournament was well revered and was a big deal to win in this one apart from the university tournaments played later on in the year.
At the start of that year, I remember distinctly, when I was appointed the captain, not by vote, but by reputation(:)), even though I had failed miserably in my previous year. I mean miserably equals (0,0,5,23,54,16) as my last scores. I agree, I didn’t deserve, but then it was a case of who else was more deserving. No one else was, so, it was I guess an easy choice for the administrators to put me in charge. When our boss called me to hand over the keys for the store room where we had all our equipment, I distinctly remember him saying “Paha kahi karta yeil ka” == Try what you can with this team. He basically meant, he didn’t expect us to win at all. Well, agreed on some level, we had lost the most talented guy I played with Ambarish Desai as he graduated, and along with him 8 seniors. Basically, the new team only had 5 regulars and others, bunch of well, triers!
That statement though, HURT! I mean, I get it, we don’t have talent, doesn’t mean we can’t compete? My thought process as a captain is like a complete spectrum end of a thought process as a player. Agreed, not ideal, but let’s say it is what it is. Being the most important part is motivation personified for me. I took that bait, and off went on the captain hat. My everyday routines for practices were unorthodox to the limit. I wasn’t a disciplinarian when it came to fitness, my message to my teammates was simple, you are old enough to understand to work on fitness. Do as you please. I just don’t need an excuse during game time. The net sessions were executed like none other, instructions like – you’ve a bat in hand, but you cannot hit the ball (practice leaving the ball), I would give a batsman a field placing and then say – you are supposed to score 13 runs in this over. If you don’t the next guy comes in and bats. For me, mundane net sessions didn’t allow people to think. I tried to simulate game time as much as possible during net sessions. My biggest emphasis was always fielding though. I believed, that is one thing you do not have a dependency – as a batsman you might get out with a good ball, as a bowler you can be hit by a good batsman, when it comes to fielding, you’ve no excuse! People have accused me of putting too much pressure on fielders. My explanation is simple, if you cannot handle this pressure, you don’t deserve to be in! I was just fortunate, that over the few months, I had a team with great character, will to fight to the last, more will over talent. Shyam Deshpande (will), Sumit Pathak (brains), Ketan Kaore (skill), Sandeep Kopulwar (nack of fields), Atul Ballal (deputy) …..everyone had developed their own mantra for success.
Back to cric mania, well, we ended up being in semi-finals against GS. Being hammered would be putting it mildly. We were hit all over the park, it was boys against men! 312 in 40 overs. The match pretty much ended right there. We tried our best, were bowled out for 180. Now that to me, hurt. Since I was the organizer as well, put on a brave face, eventually they won the tournament, congratulated them etc etc. But inside, I could never forget it. I had decided, I needed a revenge, I knew we didn’t match on paper. But were were smarter when it came to brains! Let’s use what we got!
For the next 2 months, I scouted pretty much every game these guys played making notes of what every players likes to do, how he gets out, how he scores runs. All mental notes. We didn’t even have the kind of softwares these people run these days. I came back, in practices, I would simulate a specific batsman or a bowler and try to see if I could come up with a plan.
Then game the big game, again. It was the quarter finals for the university tournament. We batted first, did decent 169 in 40 overs. Everyone thought, well game over. Not me. I had a weird confidence, I knew how each batsman played. The openers come out to see the most weirdest field setting on plant, had a leg slip, only one mid on, everyone else including two wide gully filders. This was their opener, great at off side. I was basically trying to say, look dude, if you think you are that good on the off, try it out. For two overs, the guy kept on hitting straight to fielders on off, no runs scored. Third over start, I told my bowler, dude, pitch it a bit short but on the 5th stump. Let’s see if he tries to drag it to hit on the leg. Walah! short ball, moving away, guy tries to execute a pull way from the off stump – bowled!!!! And from there on, it was one after the other, the match eventually as tied!!! We took a team that had hammered us for 312 to mere 169 in, well just one game!
Point is, as a captain, you don’t need statisticians, you need pure cricketing brain. My mantra always has been, if you cannot win it on the field, win it in the head! Beat them up there. That’s what I call “Gamesmanship”. Every defeat has got to “hurt”. A captain is the linchpin for everything. What do they say, with greater authority comes greater responsibility or something like that. Not too many people were fan of my gamesmanship or a disciplinarian approach to captainship. For me, being a captain was never about pleasing people, it was all about results. Period! I wasn’nt handed over the captain to be popular, but to win games.
Dhoni, a captain of India, not a college cricket team, is totally unaware of such a term! Look back at all the wins we had, it has been about individual brilliance including himself. He never did something that turned the game. Gamesmanship is more important when you side has lost once and how you make a comeback. Look at what’s happening in Australia and England. Did you ever see something different in any test even though we looked like minnows? Nothing. Well, sorry captain, you got no game.
If you’ve never captained a side, you shouldn’t have an opinion. I’ve been there and done that. The stage is miles or milky ways apart, but the concept doesn’t change. When Clarke was shredding for 300, I would’ve made sure he has to earn everything. You’ve to learn an art of negative bowling. Ranatunga did that successfully against Tendulkar. Yet we see, spread out fields as a mechanism to stop runs. I beg to differ, what you do is, bowl a leg stump line, pack the leg side field and say – If you think you can score on us, go ahead, hit it against the line. if not, we will give you 300, you’ll just take 5 days to get there. Screw the critics, you are not going there to lose. Secondly, if I found out well we are making 160 every innings, I would’ve gone to Tendulkar and said ” Dude, cut the crap. You are the most talented batsman, you are opening the innings. If you don’t want to, sit out. Team First, Country first!” . As a captain, you’ve got to have the guts. I remember the last game, my vice-captain was late. He walked in and I said “sorrry dude, grab the scorer sheet. you are not in playing 11”. Everyone was stunned, no one agreed. But it’s a guts call. You’ve to have the ba**** to lead. Else, be one of the other 10! Sehwag has no clue right now about what’s going on with new ball in play, i would’ve said, look dude, be padded up, you go only if 30 overs have been bowled. I want to use you between 30 and 80 overs. If that means he bats at #7 so be it. He is not going in to bat unless he is the only batsman remaining.
Drastic times require Drastic measures, and our captain has no clue of what needs to be done! Charisma and lady luck can only go so far. These are the times for gamesmanship! Sorry captain, you got none!