Rasheeda Bhagat

In true spirit of the game

Rasheeda Bhagat | Updated on December 14, 2011

The spontaneous and honest adoration for a deserving Sachin says it all.

The Indian cricket team's World Cup victory holds out excellent lessons on inspiring leadership and team management.

At a time when we've been having in-house discussions, training sessions, et al, on leadership, the Indian cricket team's magnificent World Cup victory on Saturday, which has electrified the entire nation as only a great cricketing event can, holds out such excellent lessons on team management, sharing credit and leadership.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni's tactics and strategies as a great captain have been questioned as often as they have been celebrated. When it comes to cricket, rare is the Indian who does not have a view on who should be selected; who should open the innings; how the field should be arranged; which bowler should be called in when; and a host of such “critical” decisions related to the team.

In fact, nothing can be more irritating than watching cricket matches such as the semi-final between India and Pakistan in Mohali, and the final between India and Sri Lanka in Mumbai, where the high tension and nail-biting finishes were marred by expert comments from fellow viewers.

So the Saturday game began at home, with some expert comments on why Sreesanth should not have been played. The poor lad being whacked by the Sri Lankan batsmen, even justified this lecture.

Calming a billion nerves

And, then, India lost Virendra Sehwag to the second ball from Lasith Malinga who soon claimed the wicket of Sachin Tenulkar. Along with the hush in the Wankhede stadium, where a shocked Aamir Khan stood beside a devastated Nita Ambani slumped on her chair with her head down, there was gloom in every home, club, bar or restaurant in India relaying the match. Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli raised hopes, but when Kohli too left, instead of Yuvraj Singh, the Captain himself walked in .

Cricket pundits have analysed this move of Dhoni threadbare; but for me, one nervous fan biting her fingernails, the chilled Carlsberg beer that had gone flat suddenly regained its zing.

What Dhoni did was to calm a billion nerves. The message was simple: “Yes, Yuvraj is in form, and I am not. As far as getting runs is concerned, the World Cup has been a damp squib for me. But hang on, I can do it; this is the mettle I am made of.”

Now, that was a leader leading from the front. The time for selection, strategy, field placement, juggling of his bowlers, and so on, was over. Of course, all these are important functions of a leader; in this case the captain of a cricket team. In military warfare, generals no longer go to the front and win battles. But just as the most skilled and experienced surgeon of a cardiac teamchosen to lead the team for his expertise and experience, does the most critical part of the surgery, or a master chef who takes responsibility for the most intricate part of the culinary operation that makes the delicacy so special, the captain of a cricket or any sports team, or for that matter any other team, has to prove at the most critical juncture that his skills with the bat or the ball — the very reason for which he has found a place in the team to begin with — still sparkle.

Leading from front...

At that juncture, as India chased a formidable score of 275, Dhoni had to do so much more than score runs off his own blade. He had to calm the nerves of a very talented, but much younger and less experienced, Gambhir at the other end, and after he got out, pass on the same vibes to the next man, Yuvraj.

As India came near the brink of defeat after getting so close to the coveted World Cup, the best of managerial strategies taught in Ivy League management schools would not have served the purpose.

… and stepping back

To be respected, adored, hero-worshipped, a leader has to lead from the front.

If you lead a team of correspondents, yours should be the best story. If you lead a team of chefs, you can't allow your knife to rust.

Of course, you don't need to do this everyday; but when it matters, when it's a matter of victory or defeat, you just go out and do it. There is no other way.

And, after the deed is done, a great leader steps back. After scoring the priceless 91 runs; after hitting a majestic six to wrap up the series; the Indian Captain seemed to vanish from the television screens for a little while.

It was Sachin Tendulkar, the icon of Indian cricket, the darling of a billion-plus hearts, who was mobbed by television cameras, who was lifted on the shoulders of his younger team mates as they took the victory lap around the stadium.

As one player after another — Kohli, then Yuvraj and then Zaheer Khan — stepped forward to say they had put in excellent team work and won the cup for Sachin, for whom this will be the last World Cup match, Dhoni remained in the background.

At the end of the day, the great leader in M. S. Dhoni was left holding so much more than a mere trophy even if it was the World Cup.

The decorations on his lapel were numerous… a team where the youngsters were confident enough to step forth and express openly their adoration for the cricketing legend called Sachin.

They did not have to mouth platitudes to please their team leader and point out how great he was. They could be spontaneous, honest, bubbly and cheeky…lifting Sachin on their shoulders one moment and then giving the same treatment to the very shy team coach, Gary Kirsten.

As the bubbly flowed out of uncorked Champagne bottles on the field and later at the Taj Mahal Palace, the strongest image left in the minds of delirious and exuberant Indians was of a team that was, of course, talented, but so much more than that.. happy, well-knit, inspired and sans petty infighting and politics. When was the last time you saw such perfect body language in the Indian cricket team. Or, for that matter, any team… on a sports field or an office?

Response may be sent to blfeedbach@thehindu.co.in and rasheeda@thehindu.co.in

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Published on April 05, 2011
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