Editor’s note: This excerpt from ‘The Winning Sixer’, as the book itself, is a conversation between author WV Raman and journalist Ramesh Kannan.

Faith works wonders

‘I am reminded of the lecture I gave a few months ago, about World Cup cricket. I think I will take that theme to elaborate on team building, because the World Cups happened in different decades and make an interesting case study,’ I said.

Ramesh agreed that it was indeed a good idea.

I kicked off, ‘The greatest of team builders are visionaries, driven by enormous passion. They are not flyby- night operators. They start their team-building exercise only after they have sat down and assessed what they are working with and the outcomes sought. They question themselves: What is it that I am looking to achieve? What resources do I have to achieve the ultimate objective? What kind of talent is required to form a winning team? What should be the culture of the team? What if I don’t get the talent that I require? How do I assign roles to my team? Do I bank on their talent alone, or give weightage to other attributes? Once leaders make this initial assessment, they look for resources to fulfil their requirements. I said “initial assessment”, because a great leader is one who is not averse to revising his assessment as and when required.

‘Let’s take the example of Clive Lloyd, the former West Indies captain. He should go down as one of the greatest leaders in cricket. In the mid-1970s, he went about building a team that would dominate world cricket. Every captain would perhaps want to do the same when he gets the job, but Lloyd’s case was different. He was leading a team that comprised players from different nations.’

‘That’s unique with West Indies cricket, something that usually escapes people’s attention,’ Ramesh quickly butted in.

‘Yes, different nations, as each island in the Caribbean is a nation in its own right. Peculiarly, all the nations play under one banner “West Indies”, only in the game of cricket. To make the exercise more challenging, they had to supposedly contend with racial discrimination as well!

‘West Indies needed someone who was not only a respected cricketer, but could be a statesman, a leader who could build a team and a diplomat to deal with the politics and politicians with dexterity. Lloyd possessed all these attributes and proved to be the complete package.

‘He was convinced that the key to supremacy in world cricket was to have a battery of fast bowlers. The Caribbean islands had produced some superb spinners in the past, but they somehow had a steady pipeline of high-quality fast bowlers too. He scouted for fast bowlers and when he had identified four outstanding pacemen, he let them loose on the cricket field.

‘Initially, Lloyd was accused of intimidation and not adhering to the spirit of the game, because cricket was and still is reckoned as a “gentleman’s game”. But he never wavered from his objective. The result was that his strategy of banking on fast bowlers helped West Indies dominate world cricket for more than 15 years. The West Indies team under his captaincy played a brand of cricket that was unique and spectacular. The greatness of Lloyd is appreciated more now given that they are yet to find someone to halt the slide which started over a decade ago.’

‘Yes. If only the West Indies could revive their cricket, fans across the world will throng the stadia everywhere to watch them,’ Ramesh said with great dejection.

I agreed, ‘Of course, but it is rather unfortunate. Anyway, life goes on.’

‘I suppose so. Who is the next leader on your list?’

‘Allan Border,’ I said without any hesitation.

‘The gritty Aussie, of course.’

‘The greats of Australian cricket had retired around 1982–83 and Border was left to build a side almost from scratch. He was made captain and with the additional responsibility thrust on him, his task became twice as
difficult. But he was tough and resolute enough to battle it out with a young and inexperienced side. Yes, it was a sapping period for him between 1983 and 1986, both mentally and physically.’

‘Who would you rate higher, Lloyd or Border?’ Ramesh quickly asked.

‘No comparisons please. Border waged a lone battle for several years till the youngsters that he had invested in came of age. When they came to India for the World Cup campaign in 1987, the Australians were not given a chance at all. But Border, along with the coach, Bob Simpson, arrived with a mission—to prove a point to the entire cricket world that the Aussies were back in the game.’

‘They perhaps had no pressure, not being the favourites or even a fancied team.’

‘Sometimes, starting as an underdog helps, but the Aussies were backing themselves. Imagine an Aussie side not having a beer 48 hours prior to a game! That was the kind of commitment and dedication that was demanded of the team.’

‘Forty-eight hours? Can’t be!’ Ramesh said, raising his eyebrows.

‘Yes, it was, according to the press reports then. Which just showed how badly Border wanted Australia to get to the top of the ladder. No better way to prove a point than with a World Cup triumph.’

‘It was a great achievement for that relatively young and inexperienced side.’

‘Of course, it was. However, four and a half years later, a very demanding captain showed that unflinching faith could work wonders.’

‘I see a bit of sparkle in your eyes. Care to tell me why?’ Ramesh quipped.

‘You know that is because I am talking about one of the most charismatic cricket captains, Imran Khan,’ I said without hesitation.

Ramesh said with a smile, ‘Was just teasing you, my friend.’

‘Oh, never mind. Imran epitomized guts and a fierce drive to excel, which made him a highly demanding captain.’

‘He does have an admirable record, and that too outside of Pakistan.’

‘You may perhaps think that you can imagine the kind of pressure that the captain of a subcontinent nation is under, but you have no idea at all, my friend. Imran demanded that he be given the team that he wanted, which obviously compounded the pressure. But his logic was that he would rather go down by his own diktat rather than someone else’s cock-up.’

I paused, which provided Ramesh the opportunity to say, ‘I must confess that he has picked some absolute winners such as Inzamam-ul-Haq, Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram, to name a few.’

I responded with a nod and continued, ‘However, everything depends on the results as far as the subcontinent is concerned. To demand the go-ahead to have his own way requires phenomenal courage and self-confidence. Most importantly, he produced results by winning Tests abroad.’

‘That’s right. But as far as I remember, Pakistan never looked like it could even qualify for the knockouts of the 1992 World Cup.’

‘True. That’s exactly what I meant when I said Imran proved that unflinching faith was a potent tool. His own teammates felt they had no chance, but Imran was constantly telling them they were good enough to win the title. Eventually, it happened. They came out of nowhere and won in great style, didn’t they?’

‘Yes, some sensational stuff from Akram in the final,’ Ramesh said.

‘Yes, of course. And the last hurrah for Imran as well.’

‘He went into the sunset in style too.’

‘Yes, Imran achieved what he set out to.’

Role Allocation and Gamesmanship

‘What about Arjuna Ranatunga and his winning Sri Lankan team of 1996?’ Ramesh asked.

‘I was going to come to that, but you were quick to press the buzzer. Ranatunga was no less a leader than the others, but he had lesser number of players to choose from, as compared to his contemporaries,’ I said quickly.

‘You are right on that score, because cricket was big time only in Colombo those days. Hence, there were few options for him to choose from among the other provinces or districts.’

‘Ranatunga had limited options, but high pressure to succeed, failing which he was bound to face the consequences like any other subcontinent captain. But the inherent leader in him was creative enough to redefine tactics on the cricket field. Ranatunga excelled in role allocation and job description. Encouraging his opening batsmen, Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana, to go after the new bowlers, proved to be a master stroke. Also, if you remember, there was not an iota of doubt or
dithering on his part once he set foot on the ground.’

‘I remember Aravinda de Silva smashing away even when the score was 0 for 2 in the semi-final,’ Ramesh said.

‘You got it, my friend. On-field tactics apart, Ranatunga resorted to off-field manoeuvres with equal dexterity as well.’

‘What do you mean by off-field manoeuvres?’ Ramesh asked.

‘Leading up to the final of the 1996 World Cup, Ranatunga was obviously feeling the pressure. He decided to divert attention from himself and his team by resorting to gamesmanship. In the process, he put the Australians on the defensive by saying something to the effect that there were many bowlers in Sri Lanka who were better than Shane Warne! The Australians were taken by surprise and they had no option but to retort to Ranatunga’s taunts. This was a distraction the Aussies could have done without, prior to a big game. Ranatunga’s prematch verbal ambush not only eased the pressure on the Sri Lankans but also created a big distraction in the Aussie ranks. Normally, the Aussies are the ones to do this, but Ranatunga ensured Sri Lanka were one-up even before they took the field for the big game.’

The Five As of Team Building

‘Really? Can’t remember this episode. So, is this the point where you reveal the mnemonics?’ Ramesh said.

‘You still have the chance to coin them,’ I countered.

‘Let it be your call, it is only appropriate that it emanates from you,’ Ramesh said.

‘If you wish. OK, here it is. The leaders possess and look for five As—aptitude, attitude, altitude, agility and absorption—while building a team. It is difficult for anyone to possess a well-balanced concoction of all the five As, but each quality will be present in any great leader in different degrees.’

‘This is the reason I wanted you to list it out. I would have not been anywhere close,’ Ramesh said.

‘It always comes down to the lens through which you view the world.’

Ramesh didn’t let up. ‘And by that, you mean?’

‘Ideally, a leader will want his teammates to have all the five As. But realistically, these attributes may exist in different measures in different people. For instance, Lloyd had the aptitude to effortlessly engage in multitasking and he looked for those with the aptitude to fit into the specific role he was going to assign the members of his team.

‘Border was one with great commitment and a never-say-die attitude. He looked for guys who would fight hard, come what may. Therefore, he expected team members to fight all the way and not throw in the towel at any stage in their pursuit of reviving Australian cricket.

‘Imran was extremely courageous and always sought to target a peak and climb. When he reached that peak, he looked for another peak to climb. He was constantly seeking excellence and challenging himself to achieve more the next time around. This is altitude or scaling heights, as an attribute, at its zenith.

‘Ranatunga was an epitome of mental agility and by that, I mean being on the ball all the time and thinking on his feet. He looked for guys with the agility to play any role they were assigned. The explosive manner in which Kaluwitharana and Jayasuriya batted is a case in point. To start off with, both were not openers, but he gave them the freedom to be explosive.’

Ramesh put up his hand to indicate he wished to ask me something. I nodded, following which, he asked, ‘Am I to infer that leaders look for people who are spitting images of them, so to speak?’

‘No, not really. They look for all the five As, but their pathway is more or less decided on the basis of their core strength. As a result, they pick guys who possess that attribute as dominant, along with the other qualities. Even otherwise, the team generally reflects the core character of the captain.’

‘Oh, I didn’t see it that way. However, I am surprised that you haven’t spoken about our own guys,’ Ramesh said.

‘Which leader, according to you, was a good team builder?’ I asked casually.

Ramesh paused for a while before resuming, ‘As you spoke about World Cup-winning captains, what about Kapil Dev or Dhoni?’

‘Just those two? No one else?’ I quipped.

Ramesh grinned sheepishly and said, ‘You know whose name I would bring up.’

‘I know. But with regard to your question, Kapil did not build a team leading up to the 1983 World Cup, although the one thing he did differently is not really highlighted.’

‘What do you mean?’ Ramesh asked.

I countered this with a question of my own, ‘Do you remember the approach with which teams played the One Day Internationals—ODIs—around 1983?’

‘It was conventional. Batsmen who were traditional in their approach and specialist bowlers were played in the eleven. The field placing was similar to that in Test matches,’ Ramesh said.

‘Touché!’ I exclaimed. ‘You are doing well. Cast your mind back to our Indian team. How was it different from other teams?’

‘Once again, I think I know, only vaguely, but cannot pinpoint.’

‘Kapil brought in a novel concept which has since been adopted by other teams. But somehow that was never highlighted.’

His curiosity piqued, Ramesh asked, ‘What was it?’

‘Kapil stressed on having as many multidimensional cricketers in the team as possible. The likes of Roger Binny, Ravi Shastri, Kirti Azad, Madan Lal and Mohinder Amarnath were all-rounders, which gave a lot of flexibility and depth to the team. I don’t think any other country played as many multidimensional cricketers as India did in 1983.’

Ramesh thought for a while and said, ‘Oh dear! Now that you point it out, it is actually true.’

‘Inasmuch as he was a trendsetter in that respect, he can’t be credited for building that team, even though he inspired that team enormously.’

‘Fair enough. Are you going to say the same with respect to Dhoni and the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011?’ Ramesh said.

‘My friend, there is a distinction between building a team and handling a team. Dhoni handled the team extremely well in 2011. On the other hand, there is also something called passive team building. Some leaders may be forced by circumstances to resort to this technique.’

Ramesh was genuinely surprised when he asked,

‘Passive team building?’

‘Yes, my dear friend. This is where absorption, as in interest, comes into play. A captain might have some highly accomplished individuals in his team. Dhoni had legends such as Rahul Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly and others. He allowed them to help him build a team that could become
world champions.

With a resigned look, Ramesh said, ‘You are never short of surprises.’

‘It wouldn’t be a surprise once I tell you what I meant,’ I said in a pacifying tone.

‘Go on,’ Ramesh gestured.

‘A leader needs to be a team player. Similarly, a team player can become a leader too. Additionally, a leader may not always be required to build a team. He might inherit a well-equipped team at times due to various reasons.’

‘It becomes more and more intriguing,’ Ramesh said.

I smiled and responded with, ‘No intrigue. A team player could become a leader who contributes to team building. The likes of Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, Javagal Srinath and Dravid always had the best interests of the
team (absorption) at heart. This particular attribute helped them to inspire others, especially when they played under other captains, which benefitted the team immensely. They realized that they didn’t need the title of a captain to focus on the larger picture.’

‘We generally talk about their deeds on the field, but this work gets overlooked when one talks about their careers,’ Ramesh said.

‘To me, their biggest contribution was in redefining the attitude and culture of Team India.’

Excerpted with permission from The Winning Sixer by WV Raman, published by Rupa Publications India Pvt. Ltd.