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Cricket, professionalism and management


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Cricket has evolved into a very competitive sport in the world not only for monetary concerns but also due to advanced technology and the level of excitement and entertainment it creates, especially with the development of T20 cricket. 

Auctioning players for millions of dollars, appointing cricketers as brand ambassadors, boards securing corporate sponsorships and the way individuals strive to manage Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) amply rationalise the alluring nature of the game in the contemporary world. In Sri Lanka and India, cricket has become the “blood” of the nation where the exigency and the pressure to perform as cricketers are extremely high.

1Cricket in Sri Lanka has been on the decline during the last several years, and the latest ICC rankings of all three formats of cricket confirms this declining trend. Losing to Zimbabwe further confirms the pathetic situation of cricket in Sri Lanka

 

Strategic thinking

Contrary to such high expectations, cricket in Sri Lanka has been on the decline during the last several years, and the latest ICC rankings of all three formats of cricket confirms this declining trend. Losing to Zimbabwe further confirms the pathetic situation of cricket in Sri Lanka. 

Needless to say, when the competition becomes stiff and fierce among cricket playing nations, not only the performance of the players, but also the strategies, professionalism and the way the SLC directs and manages cricket become crucial. In this regard, strategic thinking, strategic direction and meticulous planning are of paramount importance in order to achieve and maintain the competitive advantage over other cricket playing nations. 

During the ’80s, the Windies under the leadership of Clive Lloyd were the clear leaders among the cricket-playing nations. In the ’90s and up until late 2010, the Aussies under Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting had the distinctive competency over other cricket-playing nations. However today, no nation enjoys the distinctive competence, but simply strives to enjoy at least the competitive advantage, which demonstrates the extent and degree of competition of the sport across the world. 

The main reason for the current declining trend in Sri Lankan cricket is the lack of long-term planning, poor player commitment, exorbitant payments without achieving the results, “politics” and external influence. Even as a nation we plan only for the next election. Hence, an in-depth brain storming session culminating in a meticulous plan up to next decade or so, with well-thought and comprehensively designed multi-dimensional strategies encapsulating directly and indirectly integrated arenas of the game are required to take Sri Lankan cricket to greater heights. Having a vision without pursing action is a daydream, and taking action haphazardly without a vision is a nightmare, therefore planning ahead for the next decade or so at least is a must.

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Succession planning

Sri Lanka should have a succession plan for every batsman and bowler depending on the position the player holds in the team. When the great Greg Chappell retired from test cricket long ago, Cricket Australia (CA) had earmarked three players namely Greg Ritchie, Dirk Wellham and Dean Jones to replace Chappell and CA deliberately created competition among them for that crucial No. 03 position in the batting line up. Dean Jones outperformed the other two, and we were lucky to witness the batting prowess and the competences of Dean Jones. 

Did we have a strategy to replace the great Sangakkara? The recent replacements for Sangakkara have not been consistent at all, and the team is still struggling to fill that crucial No. 3 position. The same problem can be seen in filling the No. 04 position to replace Mahela. 

Succession planning stems from school cricket which is the backward integration for National Cricket. One strategy is to completely revisit the school cricket structure, Under 23 and Division One structures and to create competition among schools on long term basis inculcating, not only the technical facets and the infrastructure, but also the traits and the intangible skills such as mental toughness, professionalism and fitness keeping the futuristic approach of the game. 

It is advisable even to monitor and guide the coaches at school level to be congruent with the requirements of the game at International Level. As a result, coaches will also have a hierarchical structure and succession plan for their career as instructors or coaches. Presently a significant gap is observed, between our school cricket, club cricket and at National level cricket. Having a pool of about 100 equally competent cricketers at national level would naturally enhance the degree of competition and the basis should be “perform or perish”.  

Performance-based remuneration

It is a common secret that the world has already transformed to a performance-oriented culture. Closer scrutiny of our cricketers’ remuneration reveals that they draw packages larger than a CEO in a bank or a listed PLC. In the corporate world, a CEO in a PLC is compelled to perform under stiff competition and extremely difficult circumstances, always on bad wickets and they are answerable to all shareholders and the stakeholders. Bad weather, dew factor, losing the toss, injuries and whether the wicket is fast, slow or spin are not excuses for stakeholders. Players should practice under such circumstances and master the scenarios and perform better by applying their experience gained under various circumstances. 

When the CEO and the corporate management team perform and exceed expectations, under trying circumstances, that CEO and the team is not only recognised for performance and professionalism, but also rewarded with an impressive bonus. The same theory can be applied to our cricketers as well. Also, a CEO’s package is purely designed on objectivity based on a Performance Management System (PMS) aligning with the overall objectives of the company and the Board of Directors. 

From an antithetical perspective, even if an undergraduate wants to obtain a “Distinction”, they have to maintain an average of over 70%-75%, and only then would they be awarded a “First Class” degree. Do our cricketers as a team or as individuals maintain a performance consistency rate of 70% to get into the “A category” for remuneration? Or, cricket being a game of uncertainty, at least 60% of consistency rate? 

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In this competitive sport it is not the seniority that matters, but the performance. The legend, Aravinda scored seven consecutive test centuries for Sri Lanka and Sangakkara scored five consecutive centuries for Surrey recently. Murali consistently took five or more wickets along with Rangana Herath in the recent past. No other cricketer has been consistent as the above rate. Hence how can we include them in “A” category? Players who fail to perform continuously score a sudden century just to retain their place in the line-up if they are about to get dropped. This level of performance is totally unacceptable. Hence designing a performance-oriented culture and classification of players as per the above rate of consistency is appropriate. 

Cricket being a team game, the PMS has to be designed allocating 50% for individual performance and 50% for team performance, objectivity and generation of synergy. More importantly, there should be a significant gap in remuneration between winning a match and a tournament and losing a match and losing a tournament.

When designing a PMS, it’s advisable to penalise the players for missed catches and missed run-outs. Back in school, we were coached by the late Marian Cooray, Roger Wijesuriya, Susil Fernando and Kingsley Fernando. These great personalities taught us that “catches win matches”, “one by one, a century comes”, and to “play the ball in ‘V’ shape until you get the eye”, all of which accentuated common sense appeal, good behaviour and maintaining discipline on and off the field. If one allows that missing a catch at an international level does not matter, that cricketer’s attitude and level of professionalism towards cricket is questionable. 

Discipline

Whatever the kind of sport, maintaining discipline is of paramount importance. One may be the best in the given sport, but if one discipline and does not adhere to the accepted norms of the game, action should be taken without any hesitation.

For instance, we recall the tough action taken against Ben Johnson and Marian Jones in athletics. Controlling anger and disappointment in the field demonstrates the level of Emotional Intelligence (EI) that a cricketer possesses. A prime example of this is the erroneous “out” given against Sangakkara, after scoring 192 in the Test Match between Sri Lanka and Australia. 

Sangakkara displayed amazing EI, calmly accepting the umpire’s decision and walking to the pavilion with his head held high; he accepted that there can be human errors as umpires. From a different perspective, this is where the ICC can also display their impartiality towards all test playing nations implementing the Decision Review System (DRS). 

In certain instances, the ICC was also not ethical and professional. For instance, the stance ICC taken in the 1995 match between Sri Lanka and Australia, when Umpire Darrel Hair no-balled Murali in 1995 reflected the ICC having different yardsticks for different nations.  

Success is the enemy

When the Sri Lankan team performs well, especially in a unique way in a particular match, they fail dramatically in the next few matches. For instance, when we won the test series against Aussies recently, we were completely outperformed by them in the One Day and T20 series. Another is when we scored 322 and beat the Indians in the recently concluded 2017 Champions Trophy, but lost the next match to Pakistan in a pathetic way. This is due to complacency. 

No doubt our cricketers are aware of this fact; however the team is not psychologically equipped to handle such instances. Hence the team, coaches and the management should focus on such intangible and psychological matters in addition to their assigned tasks. This is why a suggestion was made earlier to enlighten the cricketers at school level to avoid complacency. Members of the management team should also be professionals who can think “beyond cricket”. 

Efficiency vs. effectiveness 

The efficiency of our cricket team is made redundant by their lack of effectiveness. A famous quote by a particular Captain was that “The boys batted well, bowled well, and fielded well but we lost the match”; this captain and the team were efficient but not effective. A more recent Sri Lankan team captain conceded that “there were some lapses in the field, but ultimately we won the match”; thus proving him more effective.

Effectiveness is aimed at achieving the ultimate objectives. For any captain and any team, the objective should be to win every match and every tournament. This continuous lack of effectiveness has resulted in our team not being able to win a single major tournament within the last years (except for the T20 Tournament few years ago), although they managed to advance to the finals several times. 

From another perspective, any team and any cricketer can reach the top overnight. But once you reach the top position, it becomes difficult to maintain it, as all the other teams and players are eyeing that position. As such, consistency plays a pivotal role in this regard.

Cricketers have to evolve with the progressing world. Those who evolve will survive and perform for about two decades, while the others perish. This is due to the fact that opponents constantly analyse the weaknesses of the bowler or the batsman. Once they study them that would be the end for the player unless they change and evolve at least once in three to five years. 

This is what exactly happened to a particular mystery spinner in the Sri Lankan team who created quite a stir during his debut matches. When the mystery was closely analysed however, the bowler was pushed to the declining stage. Murali was able to overcome this danger by developing and evolving with the “Doosra”. Hence, similar to the way corporate companies re-design their strategies once in three to four years with the evolving world, those who are in-charge of cricket should focus on these aspects to guide the players to ensure their sustainability in the long run.

Attributes of professionalism

Professionalism encapsulates attributes such as integrity, technical expertise, total commitment, accountability, ethics, ability to advance in one’s profession, consistent performance, and integration of professional and personal life. We can call a cricketer as a “professional cricketer” if he possesses such sterling attributes only. 

Managers, who manage several cricketers simultaneously, not only create a conflict of interest against each player and the player’s employer, but also possess higher degree of bargaining and influencing power which is detrimental for the game from many dimensions. Hence there should be a threshold with a maximum number of players if the authorities want to re-engineer this game to achieve better results in time to come. 

Finally the greatest psychiatrist Prof. Sigmund Freud once stated “human behaviour is primarily controlled by its consequences”. Hence as a proactive measure, having a proper set of rules for unethical behaviour such as direct and indirect match fixing and other unacceptable activities can be an astute move especially in this money driven cricketing arena. 



[Dr. Trevor Mendis (Ph.D) is a Senior Management Consultant and the Member of Board of Study at PIM. He is a Strategist, Management Consultant, Banker and an Academic. He has played cricket for St. Sebastian College Moratuwa from under 13 to 1st Eleven, then Mercantile ‘B’ Division and a few Under 23 and “Sara” matches for the Sebastianites. He has also played along with Arjuna, Aravinda and Thilanga for Under 17 in the same era against their respective schools. Hence this article is penned from an independent viewpoint by an individual who has played competitive cricket, to highlight certain aspects from a strategic and professional perspective with the fervent intention of taking Sri Lankan cricket to greater heights.]


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