02 Feb 2021 16:44 IST

Leadership lessons from the Australian tour

Indian batsman Cheteshwar Pujara plays a shot at The Gabba in Brisbane on January 19, 2021   -  David Kapernick | AFP

Business leaders need to plan succession and foster mentorship, given that they, too, face new competitors

The Sydney test offered management lessons largely tactical in nature. The Brisbane test should not be looked at in isolation instead as a culmination of a process over three decades that offers strategic lessons in management.

Strategy execution

Till the 1980s, the BCCI was engaged in routine administration and did precious little to market and develop the sport or reward players, one recalls the paltry remuneration of ₹500 per test match till the 60s. The first major developmental initiative was the MRF Pace foundation established in 1987 in Chennai to discover, train, and nurture fast bowlers. Spearheaded by Dennis Lillee and now Glenn McGrath, who regularly trains fast bowling aspirants, India now has a pipeline of pacemen that has contributed enormously to our overseas success. The National Cricket Academy(NCA) set up by BCCI in Bangalore in 2000 to train young cricketers with potential, which also manages rehabilitation of injured players, was the next major initiative. BCCI with NCA then propelled junior cricket - India A and under 19 programmes —the nursery feeding the senior team.

BCCI is the only sports body in India that has been run by visionary individuals with business acumen (Dalmia, Lalit Modi - often maligned) who have marketed the sport and marshalled resources to make it a financial powerhouse that is the envy of other nations.

Clearly, the strategic differentiators formulated were (a) enhancing scale and reach through customer (spectator) focus by marketing the sport to the masses pan India (b) financial resources from advertising revenues (c) augmenting earnings of the average cricketer and (d) high performance graded performance based fixed remuneration and variable payment contracts to incentivise stars. This strategy executed by leaders with a global outlook reinforced by a robust institutional structure and system, has led to consistent performances and success.

Importance of coaching

While the players have rightfully got the credit for the series win, the role of the coaches has been phenomenal. Ravi Shastri instilled self-belief, confidence and aggression. The bowling coach Bharat Arun, over the past four years, built a world-class bowling attack with inbuilt cushion to substitute injured players which was amply demonstrated in the Brisbane test when India’s five bowlers with a combined experience of four tests and 13 wickets against the 246 tests and 1,013 test wickets of the famed Australian attack did the job creditably.

The greatest of individual sportsmen like Nadal and Djokovic have coaches. Coaching as an instrument to support executives who have potential and enhance leadership effectiveness has been borrowed from sports by corporates in the US but this is still in the virgin territory in India. Marshall Goldsmith the foremost leadership thinker says, “only five to eight per cent of leaders are effective; what got you here won’t get you there; and coaches can see things which individuals cannot.”

Competition analysis

The process of studying the scoring pattern of the Australian batsmen, particularly Smith and Labuschagne started sometime in June by Ravi Shastri and Bharat Arun using past videos and analytics. They found that 70 per cent of their runs were from the offside. Bowlers were accordingly asked to execute a straight-middle to leg stump line which bottled them up, decreased the scoring rate and had a significant impact on the outcome.

Analytics is being used extensively to study customers, promotion techniques, and pricing. But how much of it is being employed to study competitors and come out with a counter strategy. This is a moot point that merits examination by corporates.


Cricket is bereft of nepotism promoting family succession unlike in filmdom, family business or politics; or class when once princes patronised cricket. Besides, it is also not a middle class preserve, the net is cast far and wide to tap the talent from schools and colleges as also the underprivileged lacking educational opportunities (like Mohammad Siraj, Natarajan) can aspire to play for India. Competition across all classes of society makes earning an India cap extremely difficult and reinforces meritocracy.

Corporates may learn from the Indian cricket team as to how to source raw talent from the masses even without ingredients of modern education and transform them with knowledge and skills to professionals; as also develop multi-skilled (all-rounders) and bankable people with right attitude (equanimity Rahane, Pujara).

Succession planning

Succession planning does not necessarily mean replacing a person after retirement but also substituting a person who is injured because with the workloads from different formats, injuries are a major source of risk. With eight of its top players injured, at Brisbane there were only two players who had played all the previous three tests and yet rookies like Shardul Thakur and Washington Sundar were able to stand up to the challenges of playing a Test match in Australia against the best bowling attack in the world. This is the epitome of succession planning.

Corporates and more so academic institutions are generally found wanting in regard to risk planning on the manpower front to build second and third lines of defence to combat attrition; and building teams with a blend of youth who are hungry to succeed, and experience.

Product innovation

In management terminology, the IPL symbolises product innovation. There is no denying that the IPL which is now worth $160 billion and is one of the best recognised brands from India, and has conferred substantial economic and social benefits. While our best fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah is a product of the IPL, it has been a boon to many others. Whereas there was limited scope for young aspirants to get into the test and ODI teams, the eight teams in the IPL offer greater scope for aspirants to play cricket at the highest level.

If after one year’s decent performance in the IPL, a cricketer can earn close to ₹2 crore, it speaks volumes for transforming lives. The icing on the cake is the acknowledgement by purists of the game regarding the contribution of T-20 to making test matches interesting. The experience of the IPL has energised other federations such as badminton and kabaddi to create their own leagues although on a much smaller scale, but with definite economic and social benefits.

Product innovation is few and far between and Indian industry needs to be creative, identify areas of social need, and create products around them to help themselves and the economy.

Individual social responsibility

A person who has received glowing encomiums for India’s success from cricketers, experts and the media in India and even Pakistan is Rahul Dravid. His quiet understated contribution to developing the under 19 cricketers — Pant, Gill, Sundar — who have graduated to the highest levels of test cricket and will carry the baton into the next generation, is to be celebrated. Individual social responsibility (ISR) is not only about charity but putting one’s heart, mind, and soul to a cause.

We all utilise the resources of society often depriving others more deserving. Hence, after having met most of life’s goals, self-actualisation for individuals’ in any field could be ISR like what the modest Dravid has exemplified.