- Cricket World Cup, 2011. Mahendra Dhoni hits a helicopter shot as his winning stroke and wins India the World Cup. Accolades pour in and he is feted along with his team.
- Cricket World Cup, 2015. India lose out to Australia in the semi-finals and are out of the tournament after nearly three months of intense preparation in that country.
What is the difference? For one, it is a senior member in the team supporting the captain, mentoring the team members, bringing a new energy and improving morale. In the process he shows the youngsters how to tackle challenges and becomes a glue of the unit.
I call it the Tendulkar Effect. And no, I am not a Tendulkar Bhakt, who sees his hand in all of Indian team’s achievements. It is just that I noticed this effect when studying the principles behind India’s victory in 2011. Any other senior player playing the same role would have the same effect.
Consider what Tendulkar did to Yuvraj Singh who, despite all his talent, had been floundering in the team. Yuvraj had shown flashes of brilliance time and again until that time, and yet, could never deliver consistently. Tendulkar flew over to meet Yuvraj in his hometown, if accounts be correct, spent time with him and mentored him till Yuvraj re-discovered his true potential. Needless, to say, Yuvraj went on to play a critical role in several situations when the team was in trouble during the tournament, went ahead to win the Best Player of the Tournament trophy and became a key member in the overall success of the team.
I still remember the scene when Tendulkar, the 37-year old, dove at the boundary to save a certain four to save a run. What mattered to me was that he was willing to give everything for the team, without being a peacock displaying how important he was given his stature. Tendulkar’s success as a batsman played a key role too. But, perhaps, more important was his constant exhortation of the team to succeed and boosting them when times were challenging. I remember the semi-finals when India played Pakistan and he was finding it difficult to score. Yet, he dug in and motivated others to do the same on a tough wicket.
It is such seniors who provide the leadership, egolessly, support the captain from behind the scenes, enjoy the respect with their expertise and, more importantly, their overall demeanor, who play a vital role in the success of the team.
We could just as well have called this the Dhoni Effect, considering Dhoni’s influence on the team presently after he stepped down from captaincy voluntarily and let Virat Kohli take over. Dhoni has brought a calming presence to the team. He is constantly involved with the bowlers, the fielders and has such respect from the brash Kohli that he still considers him as his captain in spirit. Dhoni has accomplished everything at that level that anyone could aspire for. He is the master of picking up the nuances of the game and gives immediate feedback to the youngsters. We only have to see how he got Maxwell out by working in cahoots with Chahal in a recent one-day match when it seemed that Maxwell would snatch the game away if not stopped quickly.
This is Tendulkar’s and Dhoni’s true greatness and the greatness of any non-leader. As Lao Tzu notes, the best leader works in such manner that his or her role is not even noticed.
Compare this with the challenges Steve Smith is facing as a captain with the Australian Team. There are no senior members worth their weight or experience or skill. And the team with excellent talent is floundering. Similarly, when Michael Clarke was captain of the Australian team, he suffered the same fate. In fact, he was often undercut and criticized by senior members of the team and even those who had been retired for a few years.
Compare this also with when Tendulkar himself was captain of the Indian team. As he has complained bitterly several times, he was never supported by the senior members of the team, including Azharuddin and Sidhu. Rather, he was undercut by them. Thus, one of the most astute cricketing minds and one of the best batsmen to ever grace the game, failed as a captain despite the best talent in the team and no lack of desire to succeed.
To my mind, it is critical to nurture not only juniors but seniors also. For the Tendulkar effect to happen, these are the criteria that should be considered:
- Experience: The senior member should have at least eight to ten years of experience in handling various situations.
- Skill and fitness: The said member must be a subject matter expert and must be able to walk the talk by have the necessary technique and mastery of the game. He should also have relationship management skills and not just the right techniques.
- Self-actualized: The player must not be in a need to prove anything to anyone. He must have achieved enough honours and milestones that his involvement is clear, transparent and without ulterior motives. He should be able to give the other players the space to succeed and be able to work with fragile egos and personae.
- Respect: These above qualities should evoke respect for him from all the members including the captain of the team. A certain aura is essential for the effect to happen and he should be able to involve everyone in a common discourse and be able to elevate it professionally.
- Passion: Without a youthful passion, the senior will not be able to match the juniors in the drive to succeed. That passion should supersede any other consideration of personal gain or success.
The question is can such seniors be nurtured. These are rare birds indeed. But at least such seniors should not be discarded too easily. What they may not have in form at a given time, they may able to supplement with class. And wisdom. There should also be a conscious effort to improve organizational memory and ability to handle pressure which is perhaps more important at times than youth or skill alone. Eventually, it is about creating the right balance.
Perhaps it is not always that one comes across such seniors. But one has to keep an eye out for them. And when they are available, they should not be easily discarded as a matter of policy. It was a mistake by Sandeep Patil to nudge Tendulkar out of the team. Who knows? Team India could have won the Cricket World Cup in 2015 had he been there. Perhaps then, Dhoni should stay in the team as he nurtures his own replacement.
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