Sunday, September 23, 2012

Dhoni or Ganguly: The better captain?

A cricketing debate these days is incomplete without the inevitable comparison: Dhoni or Sourav Ganguly? Who is the better captain? Who is the better leader?
Undoubtedly, Dhoni and Ganguly were world class leaders in their own right. Dhoni and Ganguly were both top-class individual players who added their bit to the team, as players as well. But like any other pair, they had their positives and negatives, similarities and differences. Here’s an attempt to analyse their pros and cons! And no, this is not a statistical piece that compares win percentages in India and abroad or batting averages when they were captains!

Where they differed
It was in the ability to communicate with teammates in a game like cricket – where team chemistry is of paramount importance. You cannot afford to have two players, especially the captain and a player, at odds with each other as it will affect the fabric of the team at large. The major downside for Dhoni, which has been pointed out by experts time and again, is his inability to communicate properly to a few of his teammates which has led to a feeling of isolation for some. A key example could be the recent incident with Laxman where Laxman confessed that it had been impossible at times to reach out to Dhoni regarding certain issues. This led to a major confusion even during Laxman’s retirement as he was picked for the team despite his plans to retire before the series. On the other hand, Ganguly has always been a sound communicator, a fact that is reiterated by his post-cricketing career choice of being an expert commentator on TV. Ganguly always ensured that he took his team mates into confidence before making any major decision- something that wouldn’t have been possible without his exceptional interpersonal skills.

 A captain is to lead his team mates from the front and his demeanour on and off the field has a major impact on the team. It affects the psyche of the team to a great extent as could be seen with the earlier Indian team who were tigers at home but pussies abroad – an attitude that could be extended to some of the ineffective captains of those days like Sachin Tendulkar, Mohammed Azharuddin etc. There is only a thin line to be crossed between being expressive and being arrogant, and a similar thin line between being cool and composed vs. disinterested. Both Dhoni and Ganguly have tread this thin line of difference and at times have been accused of having crossed over to the other side as well. While Ganguly has always been an expressive leader, who stands up for his team mates on and off the field, Dhoni is the ice-man – the calm and composed leader who never loses his cool under any circumstances. Ganguly has been accused of taking his expressiveness a little too far on the field by expressing displeasure at players on the field. But the same has been used as an effective motivation tool by him to great effect. When you talk of Ganguly and expressiveness, nothing can top the image of Ganguly twirling his shirt on the balcony of Lords which became the image of Indian Cricket till Dhoni rewrote it with his T20 World Cup triumph and later the World Cup 2011 victory. Dhoni, on the other hand, has been at times accused of being too calm that he looks lost and disinterested. It becomes tough for a player to stay motivated and inspired in a situation when defeat is staring at him in the face when his captain looks calm/disinterested. On the other hand, a player also knows that his captain will not admonish him for any mistake that he does, which in a way motivates him to do better in order to pay back the leader’s trust in him.
 
Though it would reek of bias to accuse Ganguly of not being a mature leader, it would take a blind person to ignore the rebellious streak either. Ganguly has been a controversy magnet even after retirement! The only positive is that the rest of the team is way from the spotlight as the main attention of the press is focused on him. Dhoni, on the other hand, has slowly culled his rebellious streak that saw him burst on the cricketing arena with coloured long hair and a technique that was the anti-thesis of a purist cricketer then! With passing time, Dhoni did mature. Since then, the way he has handled sticky situations with the press and the board show his growing maturity as a person and a leader. “With great power, comes great responsibility” and in Dhoni’s case, with responsibility, came maturity and a sense of discipline – a marked shift from the rebel with long hair who loved his fast bikes to the married, composed man who handles the music from the demanding press.

The quintessential characteristic of any leader is the fact that he always rises to the occasion, when his team needs him the most. It is this inherent ability to contribute when all chips are down that acts as the biggest motivating factor to his team – the fact that they know that their leader will rise to the occasion and contribute. A weak leader, who chickens out on the big occasion, will not inspire confidence due to the sheer fact that the team know they cannot bank on him to perform when they need him the most. Dhoni has always risen to the biggest occasions. The innings in the World Cup Final was a shining example of the same or the plenty of knocks under pressure while chasing big totals in important matches. On the other hand, Ganguly presents a sad picture on this front with a tendency to slip away when the pressure is highest. An example would be the sudden injurybefore a crucial test match against Australia at Nagpur. In terms of contributions, one can highlight his dismal show in the final of the 2003 World Cup when the team needed contributions from all players in order to achieve the tall order of winning the trophy. Even if we do not talk of major occasions, Ganguly has failed to contribute much to the team during his tenure as captain, other than with his exceptional leadership and team building skills. Dhoni, on the other hand, has been a strong contributor during his tenure as leader of the team which can be seen from his contribution both as batsman and wicketkeeper during his tenure as captain – a feat that has been matched by few in the world and a feat matched by no one for this long a duration!

In terms of nurturing talent, which is a major quality for any leader, Ganguly scores a major plus with the quantum of talent that he nurtured in the team like Yuvraj, Kaif, Harbhajan (in his heydays), Zaheer etc. While it could be a little too early to write off Dhoni as he has had his picks in the form of Ashwin, Ojha etc., it can comfortably be said he isn’t a Ganguly when it comes to this either!

The ability to call a spade a spade is something that many a sportsperson lacks, including the ones who play a role as a leader too. They tend to resort to populism at the cost of reality and end up fooling both themselves and the people who look up to them. While this helps in maintaining the fabric of the team to a great extent, identifying your weakness as a team in public is something that is appreciated by the other stakeholders in the system like fans.

Where they were similar

 
When it comes to personal issues in a team, though, being outspoken is something that is avoidable – which both Dhoni and Ganguly failed at – by bringing forth issues between players in public. Washing dirty linen in public, in such cases, ends up being highly detrimental. The ability to inspire and motivate people to perform better than their best is a special quality that only natural leaders possess. Both Dhoni and Ganguly have been great motivators who have been able to extract game-changing performances from ordinary cricketers. An example of this would be the performance of Joginder Sharma in the all-important last over against Pakistan in the T20 World Cup final or the performances of Rahul Dravid as wicket keeper – a role that he was not a natural talent at. Dhoni was able to inspire the team to punch above their weight during both the T20 World Cup and the 2011 World Cup, leading it to victory. On the other hand, Ganguly was the major reason that India was able to push itself up in the rankings. He was the inspiration behind removing the Indian Team’s reputation as “Tigers at home but Pussies abroad.”

While a leader is expected to be unbiased an objective, both Dhoni and Ganguly had their own personal favourites and trusted lieutenants during the course of the time they lead the team. While for Ganguly, it was Harbhajan Singh, Mohammed Kaif etc, at the cost of others; Dhoni has been accused of being biased towards Ravindra Jadeja, Joginder Sharma etc.

The Context
All said and done, context plays a major role when it comes to making a leader – at times, playing a role more than even the person’s inherent qualities. The years prior to Ganguly’s leadership period were marked by the match-fixing scandal that rocked the entire cricketing world with the mainstays of the previous team – Azharuddin and Jadeja at the centre of the scandal. Life bans for them and a few others led to Ganguly leading the team into a stage of forced transition with a few new players being a part of the team all of a sudden. At the same time, the team was not performing too well either and had suffered humiliating losses at the hands of Australia in 1999. Ganguly lifted the team from this rut with the attitude of a fighter and took it to the cusp of glory in 2003 with the World Cup final appearance. This can be attributed to the determination and the leadership qualities of one man who was able to motivate his players to perform at their best every single time. Dhoni, on the other hand, was bequeathed a talented team in better circumstances. But he brought in the winning mentality that led to a team that choked in the finals of the tournaments triumphing in two of the biggest cricketing tournaments under him and creating history by winning test series’ abroad.

Both Dhoni and Ganguly were leaders of a kind – having their own merits and demerits. Indian Cricket has been lucky to have them and both played a very significant role in bringing Indian Cricket, where it is today.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Indian Premier League: A sustainable ball game for franchisees?

When Lalit Modi said “Let the games begin”, following a glitz ceremony at Bangalore with superstars of Bollywood in the audience, the luminaries of Indian cricket in the field, the biggest of Indian Corporate Honchos owning teams; no one would have imagined this would be the state of the league five seasons down the line. What started off as a league where money was thrown around is now a league in deep trouble: Two teams (Kochi and Deccan Chargers) have been terminated; One team had trouble paying wages to its players (Royal Challengers Bangalore). Pune Warriors India left the league, and then came back on board after assurances. Not to forget Kings XI Punjab and Rajasthan Royals have had their own set of issues with BCCI as well. The former chairman of the league was ousted and is now living outside the country, and continues to throw allegations at the IPL from time to time.

Where did things go wrong? Was it the hurry in which the league was conceived as a reaction to Zee’s ICL? Was it the urgency to have something in place that led to a non-sustainable business model for franchisees being put in place? Or was it lack of due diligence in bidding for franchisees that has led to owners being unable to manage their finances with the teams? Was it the auction model that led to a major wage budget for the franchisees despite the wage cap? Or is it just the fact that the holding companies have been having trouble with their core business and has nothing to do with the IPL as such?

The IPL, when it was conceived was not designed to be a short term money spinner for the investors but promised to be a major revenue generator once the league was well established. But consistent controversies have plagued the league (including those of fixing) that lead to questions about the sustainability of the IPL. The recent bidding for the Deccan Chargers franchisee saw only one interested bidder: PVP – a film production house in Andhra Pradesh. While Videocon was rumoured to be interested, they did not express the same with an official bid. It appears that the days of the sky rocketing team valuations are long gone by, and reality seems to have sunk in about the actual money that IPL generates for a franchisee.

Why some have got it right
Undoubtedly, the IPL has been a tremendous money spinner for the BCCI in itself. A few of franchisees like KKR and Chennai have even started making profits according to reports that have been doing the rounds. The success of Chennai can be attributed to the extraordinary spell that the franchisee has enjoyed in the 5 seasons in the league. It has established a solid and loyal fan base in Chennai. Chennai Super Kings have also managed to engage the ‘knowledgeable Chennai crowd’ in a way that no IPL team has managed to do –  a fact that is reiterated by the variety of fan videos that have sprung; flash mobs across the world, team songs etc.


 KKR, on the other hand, prides itself on a strong marketing base that sees ever bit of the value available to be mined, being extracted through endorsements & tie-ups. Kolkata Knight riders also enjoy the unquestionable brand pull of the owner who is none other than the Bollywood Badshah himself.

Chennai has also maintained the core of the team consistently right from season 1, unlike most other teams, that has led to a greater fan connect – the most important factor for any sport club. Other teams (excluding Mumbai) have consistently chopped and changed their teams that lead to a situation where the non-hard core audience has difficulty in relating to the team. The ‘local’ aspect that was central to the development of the franchisee and the fan connect seems to have gone missing with very few teams having local players who are central to their team.

What has gone wrong
BCCI’s initial idea to establish a football like Champions League tournament hasn’t quite succeeded with lead sponsors changing for the Champions League T20, thrice already. There is an imbalance of team strengths in favour of the IPL teams in the Champions League. While other countries send in the winners of their national T20 championships, India is represented by the cash-rich IPL teams (instead of say a Rajasthan or a Tamil Nadu Ranji Team). There have been many situations where players from foreign countries turn up against their own state teams, while playing for their IPL team!

 The establishment of alternate local revenue streams from merchandising, local advertising (other than the central sponsorship pool) has not taken off as expected during the conception of the league. TV Revenue, Central Sponsorship still form the major chunk of the revenue streams for a majority of the franchisees – which makes their sustainability as a stand-alone business for owners questionable. Another unfortunate issue has been the untimely financial issues in the core businesses of a few owners that made the cash-crunching maintenance of the franchisee – a non-starter.

TRP ratings have fallen (or stabilised based on whether you see the glass half full or half empty) and IPL is no longer the scary entertainment giant that put off movie releases during the summer. The IPL does not seem to be a money making investment for most owners and is more of a ‘pride factor’ – that they own an IPL team. The reputation of the IPL has taken a major hit where fans (and owners?) believe it is more about the partying than cricket or the business.

What needs to be done
The IPL needs a fresh format that is not as long drawn out. Playing 76 matches in a span of two months no longer seems the right approach. It causes boredom to the fan and results in a stupendous amount of matches that have no consequence. It needs a format where players are not burnt out and give their best shot in every match.

IPL will have to reinvent itself, in order to stay relevant to the cricket fan in India. It needs to inject some transparency into proceedings to prevent controversies like the match fixing scandal during the previous season. This is essential in order to appear honest to the fan who watches the games. After all, the IPL and as a proxy, Indian Cricket, cannot afford to lose the fan who is central to the entire business model, due to sheer disillusionment.

Note: This was first published in Sportskeeda.com here: http://www.sportskeeda.com/2012/09/15/indian-premier-league-a-sustainable-ball-game-for-franchisees/

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Of broken hearts and stunning eyes!

I climbed up the iconic staircase, trying hard to chase her as she walked away in a huff. My life had always been about chasing her, ever since that moment – that treasured moment when I first saw her. I had always thought it was impossible to find true love at a place with the best brains of the country. After all, beauty and brains are a hard enough combination to find. 

But the moment I saw her, walking down the lawn dripping with the dew from the previous night, trying not to get her flower-patterned skirt wet; I knew she was the girl for me. The sparkle in her eyes as she tried catching a butterfly that fluttered past her, like a kid and her radiant smile! The smile that I could die for! The first rays of the early morning sun accentuated the glow on her face, and made it all the more striking. How can someone look so appealing in a normal top and a skirt, I wondered. Those eyes! That was the best thing about her. The melange of emotions that her eyes could portray in just a few minutes was incredible.  Those hazel brown eyes that drove me mad from time to time … just like the case today. 

As I finally caught up with her outside the library, I put my arms on her shoulder only to receive a revolting stare in return. She had always been a staunch challenger of public displays of affection. Though I had always wondered why, I had never mustered the courage to ask her the reasons behind the same. I persisted, and I soon realised I shouldn’t have, as she pushed my hand away and started walking faster. My mind was blank. My deepest fear had always been the possibility of her moving away from me. But I had never imagined it would be because of a fight with me. It was always the thought of her finding someone better looking that drove me mad. A thought that haunted my dreams so much, that I told it to her one day to get it off my back, only to be laughed off by her! After all, why would the prettiest girl on campus want to be with a bumbling guy who was the complete anti-thesis of the perfect guy!

She had always been the driver of our relationship, right from the beginning. I didn’t mind that either, atleast in the beginning as I did not want to be seen as overly zealous or unbearably dreary. The solitary step I had taken in our relationship so far was to tell her that I liked her. Even this was a step too far for me, as I had to fight off nerves and fever in my fright of being rejected if I told her that I harboured feelings for her. That fright of being friend-zoned or even worse the ignominy of being bro-zoned forever! 

My old friends had always teased me about the possibility of finding my ‘Ananya’ (with reference to Chetan Bhagat’s Two States); a thought that had never crossed my mind at all, given my eternal fear of even opening my mouth in front of girls. But with her, it was all natural. Frankly speaking, I never had to even talk as she yapped away to glory all the time. She always had an interesting story to say. Always! And I all I had in reply was ‘Hmm! That’s nice’ or the occasional ‘Oh! Wow’. Her stories about her previous relationship, though, were a turn off. But I had always been curious to meet the guy who dumped her. I couldn’t even imagine the thought of that, leave alone thinking of the after-life. 

But here, it was all unfolding in front of my eyes! She was fast approaching her hostel and once she went in, there was no way of getting her to even talk to me, leave alone mending broken bridges and salvaging the relationship. What could I say that would help me present my side of the case to her! I had never tried to even argue with her. I would always try to skirt over any uncomfortable situation that arose between us, as I did not want to risk things! After all, in any argument with a woman, there is only one winner. 

I walked behind her racking my brains, thinking what I could do to salvage a lost cause. Even at this point of desperation, I could help admiring her hair from behind. Those velvety tresses which I loved to let my fingers sense! She looked a million bucks today as well. Her slender legs were carrying her as fast as they could towards her destination, but my eyes kept shifting elsewhere, with my vision blurring with tears as reality slowly started to sink in. ‘We’ were no longer a ‘we’. Those walks around the red bricks that helped me retain my sanity would be a thing of the past. The bike rides on the highway with her hugging me from behind would never happen again. Would I even be able to find another girl like her? Even if I did, would I love her as much? More importantly would she love me!

Alarming thoughts kept crossing my mind, when it all struck me. Why did this never occur to me earlier! …

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Note: This is completely fictional and has no resemblance whatsoever to anyone! This is just the output of a sleepless night, when I was in a heavily 'creative' mood.

An ode to Rafael Nadal

This article was first published on Sportskeeda here: http://www.sportskeeda.com/2012/09/13/an-ode-to-rafael-nadal/
It later spawned a Russian translation here: http://rafanadal-king.ucoz.com/news/an_ode_to_rafael_nadal_eng_rus/2012-09-13-619

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It all started with this video yesterday; when a friend of mine and fellow Rafa fan shared it saying it was the best montage he had ever seen. As I watched it, a plethora of memories ran past me. Tennis for me, started with Andre Agassi. I wasn’t a Pistol Pete fan. And once Agassi started fading, it was Rafa. Hard to remember why I became a fan but vivid are those memories of reading about the Spanish Armada in The Hindu in late 2003 and about Rafael Nadal, the new kid on the block. Ever since, I’ve been a fan.

The unending rallies, the everlasting energy, the top spin and the ‘grace-less’ game as many of the Tennis purists put it. But Rafa to me has been more than just the Tennis. Every point is a never-ending struggle, and it is never over till the ball is out. Chasing the ball like your life depended on it, from one end of the court to the other. Running like a mad bull towards the net to retrieve a clever drop by the player at the other side of the net and converting that otherwise defensive position into a point with an unbelievable passing shot. Sliding, falling and getting yourself dirty as against the graceful Federer who with his single-handed backhand belonged more to an artist studio than on the Tennis court!

It was always about looking to better yourself, about setting targets that had never been topped. About pushing yourself to the edge as much as your body could possibly take … And sometimes even more than it could. From the time he came into the public eye, it was always apparent that someday, his body would no longer be able to hold up to his incessant running and the effort that went into every single point. But for Rafa, the tennis player, it was always about the journey. About achieving something that was a dream, from the time he started playing. There were plenty of naysayers who mocked him and still brand him a clay-courter. But he set about his goals and achieved nearly every possible achievement in the world of Tennis. All 4 Grand Slams, a record number of Masters Series Triumphs, The Olympic Singles Gold, the Number 1 ranking and the Davis Cup, something that other contenders for greatest of all-time like Federer have tried and failed at.


The humbleness, the constant underplaying of his achievements no matter how large, having good things to say about all his rivals made me fall in love with him. The ability to come back from nowhere; in matches with two sets down, staring down the barrel of defeat, saving match-points, breakpoints. And that fighting attitude was not just with life on the tennis court, the qualities that extended to his life outside it, as you fought from the point of no return with your unique foot ailment. From not being able to walk properly without pain, to come back better than ever before, completing the career slam and triumphing against all odds.

Rafa, is a role model. A person I respect for the values he portrays and standby – the family he always go back to. The perseverance and the tenacity to achieve something even if things look impossible. The ability and the strength to keep improving himself and push towards achieving the then seemingly impossible goal of the Spanish clay-courter winning on the grass of Wimbledon.  The passion on the tennis court, every single time.


Tears roll down my cheek as I read his autobiography and all these articles that are writing him off. I hope they are wrong once again, like they were a few years back. Like they have always been. But guess only time will tell, if he will be back on the tennis court. Chasing that ball, that seemingly eluded him before he put it back in play with yet another of his unbelievable returns.

One thing is for sure: if there’s someone I will show my kid, in case he/she is even mildly interested in tennis, it will not be videos of Pistol Pete, Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg or Roger Federer. It will be of Rafa. The one who showed me time and again, that it is indeed possible to triumph against all odds.

What a sportsman. What a fighter.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Summer with the Aloo Obsession & Scary Gurgaon!

I had been looking forward to summer for once (Despite the high probability of spending it on the streets of Delhi!) Given the fact that the last four were spent in the noble act of paunch development, it doesn't seem to be any benchmark to level against. But with a summer internship at HT Media - in a sector which I thought was a perfect fit - it had the potential to end up the being the summer of my life! But guess like the average Bollywood movie, expectations ended up being the bane of things. 


Like always, the honeymoon period was sweet. (That it lasted only a day is a completely different issue altogether!) Actually, even that can be contested given my fears that the cab driver was attempting to kidnap me when he suddenly decided to put to use the latest contraption in his car to rise the tinted window shades, and refused to answer my questions about where we were headed, in a comprehensible manner! The chap couldn't understand my Southie-tinted Hindi and I couldn't understand a word of his Hariyanvi or Punjabi or whatever that was. Honeymoon, though, actually ended at Rajdhani who decided to wipe our pockets clean off 350 bucks, following a Summer Intern 'lunch party' and despite multiple requests refused to serve the only tasty item on the menu - Aamras - multiple times; giving me a feeler of things to come of the city. The intern though gave me plenty of memories!
  • The orientation trip with a confused driver, an ever more confused fellow intern. 
  • Acco-hunting at Gurgaon where we met a broker/agent who asked me more questions about my role at HT (Aap Reporter ho kya?!) than I asked the HT people during my intern-interview!
  • Getting thrown out of a hotel with nowhere to go on an hour's notice on a Sunday, and still managing to find accommodation due to very resourceful friends. 
  • My first visit to a pub where I drank Sprite to maintain the "dignity" of the table and was forced by buzzed friends to ask for a second Sprite as it was happy hours!
  • Being offered a 'job' by the owner of a tiny rice mill in Delhi who mistook me for a job aspirant as I stood waiting outside his ''factory'' gate for 3 hours for an interview for my project. 
  • The iPad-app-assisted trips around Delhi on the Metro, and the fun we had teasing the owner of the iPad!
  • 'That' terrifying ride on a Delhi Auto well past midnight with two auto-wallas, a dreadfully dark lane with no lights what-so-ever. 
  • Lunch at an Italian Restaurant where the only items I could recognize on the menu were a Pasta and a Pizza.
  • Sweaty, Mosquito filled nights that were made memorable by our fights with the caretaker of the PG!
  • Food at the PG that made food at MANIT's Hostels look like a 5 star hotel dinner! The guy was so obsessed with Aloo that I became averse to it for a few weeks after leaving Gurgaon!
  • The desperate attempts at weight-reduction that culminated in trying to walk up and down the 17 floor HT building only to emerge as a sweaty mess at the top
  • The '24 hour power back up' promise that turned out to be 24 second power back up for one fan and a light. 

  • A friend, who now, reminds me of Sheldon Cooper from Big Bang Theory! 
  • The sessions with my boss/mentor/guide where I ended up nodding in  the negative but saying 'Yes'; much to his exasperation! 
  • The desperate hunt for a TV on Derby Night, finally recharging the PG TV out of my own pocket and finally watching United lose the game and the league. 
  • The unforgettable trip to Rishikesh - the Schumacher-ish driver who drove at 30 kmph on the Expressway and at 90 kmph on a narrow single lane road
  • My attempt at swimming (read getting into the water) and losing my slippers in the Ganges! 
  • The Gurgaon autowallahs who made their Chennai counterparts look like Angels in comparison 
  • Helping the Hindi speaking RJ record a Tamil Ad and rolling over in laughter at the way he pronounced Horlicks' jingle
 Most of all, the bunch of friends that I stayed with; the bunch of colleagues that I worked with and finally, the satisfaction of receiving your first ever pay cheque!
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