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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 48, New Delhi, November 13, 2021

Cricket Provides Valuable Learnings for Inspirational Team Spirit in Sports | Bharat Dogra

Saturday 13 November 2021, by Bharat Dogra


The award-winning film ‘Lagaan’ is an inspirational saga of a hurriedly assembled cricket team of village rustics which by dint of sheer grit and determination manages to defeat a colonial team composed of players who had been playing cricket all their life. The present Indian cricket team, based on some of its recent performances, provides an opposite example of underutilizing a richness of cricketing talent to a glaring extent.
More money is available now than ever before for promoting various formats of cricket, often to the neglect of other equally deserving sports. Already we are hearing of cricket stars investing their money in tax havens and it won’t be long before we hear of cricket billionaires. Some of them already earn massively from commercial advertisements, including for products which do not contribute to good health.

Despite all the big money now associated with higher levels of the game, and to some extent because of this, the Indian cricket team, more frequently than not, has been underperforming at critical times in recent times, whether in the test Championship match against New Zealand earlier this year, or in the last ODI World Cup in 2019, or the most recent T20 championship.

Happily there have been exceptions. During the last tour of Australia earlier this year (2021), after the collapse in the first test match, the team ( minus their top batsman and captain Virat Kohli who returned after this debacle for domestic reasons) showed great resilience in staging a grand recovery and putting up a very spirited performance. It wasn’t just the subsequent victory in difficult conditions that was impressive, it was the inspirational team spirit and the great determination in taking up difficult challenges that was the most heart warming part of this memorable cricket series for India.
This brought back memories of the best moment of Indian cricket in 1983 when India started the one day World Cup as perhaps the weakest team and went on to win the championship. The medium pace of India’s bowlers like Mohinder Amarnath , Roger Binny and Madan Lal was considered almost friendly bowling compared to the furious onslaughts of the likes of Garner, Marshall, Holding and Roberts but ultimately it is the Indian bowlers who prevailed while in batting honours Srikanth and Yashplal could slide pass the great Lloyds and the greatest Richards! It was the team spirit and the bonds forged by players, mostly from modest economic backgrounds, which contributed the most to this Indian team achieving almost the impossible in 1983. The inspiring, leading by example leadership of Kapil Dev of couse helped a good deal too.

Unfortunately this has been increasingly missing in recent times, more particularly at the time of big games and bigger challenges. With all its fast emerging talent India has not been able to win a single world championship in the three formats of the game after 2011. Amazingly poor planning as well as inability to recover from some setbacks has been reflected time and again at the time of bigger challenges. The first two games of the recent T20 championship provided a glaring example of this cluelessness as Indian batsmen, famed far and wide, over-celebrated to the extent of getting spoilt, failed to score a single run on 100 out of 240 balls (42%) they faced and the almost equally famous bowlers could claim only two wickets in two matches!

Persistent neglect of some reliable players and inability to best utilize the available talent have been serious problems. Such glaring failures also indicate that despite all their wealth of talent players tend to panic in difficult condiions.All this reflects leadership problems, poor utilization of rich resources and inability of create inspiring conditions.

A clear lesson—plenty of money cannot achieve what inspiring leadership and team spirit can achieve. If India can take away this lesson from its recent cricketing debacles, this will help not just cricket but all team sports.

It will help Indian sports a lot if football, hockey, volleyball and other team sports get equal support and overemphasis on cricket is avoided. Efforts should be made to reach out to talent in villages and smaller towns, with special emphasis of the talent that exists in economically weaker sections, including tribal communities, dalits, fisherfolk and boatmen. Real talent should get full opportunities to flower. Team spirit should be promoted without any hierachy. Sportspersons should be encouraged to play for the joy of playing and provided tension-free conditions. They should be clearly told that winning is not as important as giving your best possible contribution to the team. Above all, women and girls should get as much encouragement and help in all this, if not more. To conclude with the example of another popular movie, in ‘Chak De India’ it is the efforts for bringing out the best contribution from each member and improving team-spirit which enable an under-rated women’s hockey team from India to emerge as world champions.

(The writer has been close to several social initiatives.)

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