What does a coach really do?

The Indian cricket team’s dressing room sports a new head coach: Anil Kumble. The Indian head coach’s job is a prized one. Evidenced, if not by the frenetic minute-by-minute media attention, then by the sheer number of applicants for the top job: 57!

The Kumble coaching appointment saga took me back 10 years. It was 2006-07. John Buchanan was the coach of the Australian cricket team. The undisputed champions then, the team had earned a fearful reputation of clinically decimating opponents. Buchanan was a poster boy of sorts and I followed all what he spoke and wrote, and read all I could about his unconventional methods and the routines that he put the Australian cricket team through. It was another matter though that the team itself was star-studded: Shane Warne, the Waugh brothers, Ricky Ponting, Glenn McGrath, Matthew Hayden among others.

It was a random search fuelled by a liking for cricket, a passion for (and a job in) the people development domain and being a complete sucker for stories of “transformation” and success.  Buchanan and his boys kept reinforcing the stories that the media played out with success stamps from the cricket field. It was fascinating enough for me to decide that it was a success story that I had to get to the bottom of.

I remember reading and talking to other enthusiasts about his unconventional methodologies from pilates to public speaking. From prescribing Duncan Fletcher’s Ashes Regained as a mandatory read to dipping into Sun Tzu’s The Art of War for evolving the strategy he called “Everest”. And of course, the incisive deployment of data and analytics for team strategy. It was fascinating to say the least.

This is an extract from a piece that I wrote for Founding Fuel. Read the full piece here. 

The piece was published on 04 th July, 2016 and appeared in the Mint on the 5th July 16 and sported the above image along with the piece. 




Its Finally Over !

Small huddles of people stand on the pavement. Peering into phone stores. Restaurants. Offices. Pubs. Et el. At the same time. At pre-appointed hours.

Peering into a restaurant having glass for walls, can be unsettling. Especially for those that eat inside! But they dont seem to care ! And the crowd outside only swells. A foreign eye can mistake this for anything. Including a food deprived nation that gratiates itself by looking at others eat.

The answer however, lies in the TV that’s on. In a corner of the restaurant , phone store et al. No. Wrong again. The interest is not in the TV but on the cricket match that’s on ! The Indian Premier League is on.

And animated conversation floats in the air. Will Chennai beat Kolkatta? Will Bangalore overrun Hyderabad? Will Mumbai win ? How can he sip beer in the middle of a match ? It is all rigged. Dont you thinks so…etc !

Answers and perspectives on this, will of course bring a paradigm shift to our lives and makes such a big difference to our daily living. But, this is cricket ! And as some cliched pundit astutely puts it…this is religion. OK?

A religion.

Where the same chap, is riled or feted for the same shot he played. Depending on whether the team won or lost.

Where funny coloured costumes, strange team names, wonderful astute commentary from the likes of a certain Ms.Bedi are centre stage

where an 4 year old acquaintance commented on a match, ‘ i haven’t seen this kind of a match in my entire lifetime’. And yes. All of a four year life time.

Where the dance of the cheer leaders is only matched by the beer belly of a certain Mr. Mallya,

where ‘square leg‘ has got nothing to do with anatomy or geometrical shapes. And ‘third man’ does not point to political machinations of cabinet formation.

Where the requirements of winning the cup ( with the history of the two tournaments thus far) are restricted to having an Australian captain pulled out from retirement and the team labeled ‘underdog’!

where the sulk of a certain Mr. Khan is best matched by bringing of the blog world more fame

huh !

What a waste of time. Thankfully, its over. The finals. As they say. And this circus top will fold up. And there are talks of one more season coming your way soon. Thankfully its all coming to an end.

And those soap operas on TV can resume again. Tomorrow strange family issues that would resurface. Stuff that was talked about just before the opening ceremony… And from tomorrow onwards, when the boss asks how was last night, remember he is talking about the meeting and not the match.

Our lives return to ‘normal’ status from tomorrow. Thank God this is all getting over. What madness. Huh.

By the way, did you see how Mathew Hayden batted ! Phew it was worth the Orange cap with a strike rate of 144. And i guess the purple cap will stay with RP. Singh. And if Chennai with +0.94 run rate are any way a better team. And man this Manish Pandey has been a discovery…

Any idea if the dates for the next series has been decided ? Just asking..

Listening to Harsha Bhogle !

I had an opportunity to listen to Harsha Bhogle at a conference. And it was an insightful discussion. Harsha threw open the floor to questions in sometime, and as much as i marveled at the spontaneity and ease of his answers, i couldn’t help but notice the depth of some questions that came from the audience. Young minds and their passion exhibited best through and innate understanding of cricket and its nuances.
I found this on ABC’s website : “Harsha is regarded as Indian cricket’s first non-player celebrity. He hosts television programs such as Harsha Online and Harsha Unplugged and refreshingly combines the talents of Oprah Winfrey and Richie Benaud in the roles of presenter, quizmaster, interviewer, panellist and commentator.” After listening to him, i cant help agree more !

The IIM-A grad metamorphising into the cricket commentator that we all know of, was quite insightful to understand. So were some of the vagaries of cricket,from somebody who is up-close and personal to the pitch of the game! As i sat listening to him respond & push the audience to think and keep the conversation relevant to context, i couldn’t help but notice that Harsh has grown & evolved as well.

He talked of Ravi Shastri as somebody who grew into a commentator. I would imagine that Harsha himself has unlearnt and relearnt quite a few things to be where he is : a household name in Indian cricket. Yet not surrounded by talks of retirement or the odd controversy that seems to invariably tag players!

When asked about some of the best times and people that he had worked with, he talked about his liking of working with people who ‘provoke’ him, that caused him to be ‘on gaurd’ and ‘better prepared’ ! Naturally, its the aussies that he loves working with ! And it is ‘earnest’ cricketers like Anil Kumble that he admires quite a bit.

To me, the most enjoyable parts of his presentation were the quips that flew like a water from half closed hose pipe ! Some his and some quoted. Here are a few :

‘Bowling to Azhar would be like bowling to a revolving door. You never knew where the ball was going to be despatched to’

Laxman treats the ball with a certain degree of kindness. A kindness that the bat talks through a friendly caressing of the ball, to the boundary !

Sehwag’s reported comment : “Am playing the ball. Not the bowler’ If you dont grow, your standing actually comes down !

Shane Warne comes up with lines on his SMS that he perhaps cant come up with a ball !

McGrath’s reported comment after turning up, tired for a game : “I dont have petrol in the tank. I am running on fumes”

The learning was metaphorical. And extremely relevant and impactful ! Some parts of the interaction with him stay with me. Here is a small sprinking.

  • Humility wins & how the real champions are proud of who they play for, yet very humble.
  • Champions staying respectful of the opposition, yet being fiercely competitive.
  • On how important it is set big targets and go towards them.
  • On how the real champions let their game do all the talking.
  • On why trying too hard sometimes can be our undoing.
  • And how different times require different leaders.

These are universal truths. But the fact that it came packaged in the guise of a chap who comments on a game that the nation follows, has impact. The fact that he has got me think and reflect on broad connects is in itself an indication that the pathway to learning has been well created.

The cherry on the cake was this quip, that cracked me up so much that i had a hard time stopping myself from rolling on the floor !

“Siddhu cant do commentary anymore, because in commentary you have to pause” !!!!

I am still laughing !