Tuesday, September 23, 2003

The Core Competency model and Indian Cricket

When C.K.Prahalad and Gary Hamel proposed the concept of core competency in 1990, little would they have imagined that it would take at least a dozen years or so for their pet concept would have such a bearing on Indian businesses! They should be disappointed that, while a focus on core competency helped companies like Cisco in the even in the early 1990s, it has just slowly started getting prominence in India, with the rise of so many call center operations and R&D hubs in the last year or two. But one area where it still does not play any role what so ever, is Indian cricket.

Australia is just one fine example of a number of teams that have reaped the fruits of the core competency model. Ok, my use of the phrase “core competency” here (in a cricketing sense) can be defined as follows – every player does what he does best. In that sense, in Australia, you shall definitely not see Andy Bichel open the innings in the place of Hayden (though I am sure that the versatile team man that he is he would rather do well). Regardless of how good an ODI opener Gilchrist is, he shall not be asked to open in Test matches. He does what he does best – come at the fall of the 6th wicket and thump the ball around and set/continue the good platform for declaration. So, as far as Australia is concerned, the openers pick themselves by virtue of several record partnerships and fine individual performances. The numbers three and four are attacking batsmen who can pulverize any attack into submission. Number five is a dour fighter who always takes the fight into the opposition. Number six has always been fighting unsuccessfully for a place into the team and when his chance came, has been a great success. Number seven is a wicket-keeper and perhaps the worlds best all rounder. The lone spinner (traditionally) has picked himself and when he's unavailable due to either cricketing reasons or otherwise, his perpetual understudy has performed so well that critics of the master spinner wonder why he keeps his place. The three pace bowling places have been traditionally rotated between two/three permanent fixtures and a pool of 4 to 5 second stringers who have always justified their inclusion making it tough to leave them out when the regulars come back. On top of this pool, there are at least half a dozen no-shows who make us wonder every time on why they were excluded. Some of them are a regular part of the one day team and would be a part of any other test team barring this one. A couple of them are captains of their state teams as well. Now with a team like this, where at least 10 out of the 11 pick themselves automatically (with two or more claimants for each spot, barring perhaps the wicketkeeper's), the selection panel can afford to leave the selection of the captain to the last moment, till the 12 has been picked. But can it happen with India? Certainly not!

What happens in India would leave Prahalad and Hamel shaking their head in regret. People are moved about in the order perpetually to “find the right balance". But wouldn’t balance come by itself if people are picked to do their own job? The latest news is that people like Yuvraj and Sodhi decide that they can be openers and people are prepared to listen to them. Why should a batsman practice bowling out-swingers and why should the tail-ender focus on his footwork against the spinners. This does not go to say that McGrath does not bat in the nets, only that he does not have to do it as seriously as Hayden or Langer.

So here is the “core competency” model for India. Pick two openers from a pool comprising of Das, Jaffer, Ramesh and any other hopeful who has opened for his state team for at least a period of two years now. And if their first class career has not been that long, then at least the hopeful should have been opening for his state for the whole of his first class career. This should be acceptable because with Das, Ramesh and Jaffer having played decently, there is a need for the selectors to back these people now. Number three and four would be Dravid and Sachin who would pick themselves. Numbers five and six should be a choice between Saurav, Laxman and Sehwag. If these three are not satisfactory then people like Kaif, Yuvraj, Bangar, Badani, Sriram etc. should be brought into the pool. The wicket keeper should be chosen from a pool comprising of Ratra, Parthiv Patel and any other wicket-keeper who has kept wickets for at least two seasons for his first class team. Again capability should be the key and hence people like Dasgupta with proven faults should not be chosen just because they can bat. The spinner’s pool would comprise of specialist spinners like Harbhajan, Kumble, Kartik, Sarandeep etc. Pace bowlers shall be Zaheer, Nehra, Balaji, Agarkar, Srinath etc.

There are some eternal questions that will be answered by this model. To summarize, for an away tour, we should pick 4 pace bowlers, 5 batsmen, 3 openers, 2 spinners and 2 wicket keepers on each tour, which leads to a 15 member squad. If it is a home series, we pick three pace-men and 3 spinners. Alternatively, we could pick just two specialist openers (which will not go well with our selectors) and pick an extra batsman. This is true of any international team except India. I am leaving Pakistan out of this equation because in terms of volatility, Pakistan ranks much worse and there is change every second. By the way, did you notice that in this model, I have mentioned neither the word “all rounder” not the word “captain”, which I will now.

The “all rounder” is dead as far as cricket is concerned. But was there ever a description similar to that what the BCCI was always looking for? The word for that kind of “all rounder” is superman. In cricket, there are only men, no supermen. Well, if you exclude the likes of Tendulkar, Lara etc. So why are we still looking for someone who can do a number of jobs. The age is of the “bowling all rounder” and the “batting all rounder” – people who can one job very well and the other without looking stupid at it. So while Bichel would be a bowling all rounder, Bangar will never qualify in that respect.

As for the captain, when the team picks itself by virtue of current form (we can use current form as a yardstick because of the pool of talent that we are dealing with), then the choice of captain is not critical. You need an aggressive (or in-the face, as Saurav has been described) captain only to balance the non-functioning of some of the arms of the team. If the bowling/batting is below par, aggressive moves from the captain could make the opposition vary. This happens a lot with India and hence we need such a captain. But if the team does live up to its individual potential, the team does not need a Saurav – an introverted Tendulkar would do just fine, but only because the team does what it needs to do without being prompted to do so.

But none of the above has been happening so far. Right from the selection of the team to the performance of some of the players, things have not been going that well (the World Cup performance not withstanding). So India needs a Saurav Ganguly, more for the “in the face“ captaincy than for his batting. Speaking of his batting, it has suffered, but his average is still just below 35 and if the other batsmen play to their potential, this would still be enough in the long run. But other than all this, the best reason to let Saurav stay on as captain is the fact that one major rule in anything is that you never disturb a winning combination. And even though we have not won everything in sight, we have actually been doing better than ever. For that reason, Saurav will still be a part of my team – yeah, only till my version of the "core competency model" is adopted.

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