A Champion Coach

A Champion Coach

The recently concluded 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup has turned-out to be an experience of a lifetime for most Indians.  The 45-day extravaganza culminated with Team India regaining the most-coveted prize in the sport after a gap of 28 years. Besides fulfilling the dream of a billion people, this win is the crown jewel in the crown worn by Sachin Tendulkar, arguably, the greatest to have played cricket.

Unlike most other professional sports like basketball, soccer and American football, in cricket the coach does not do much to influence the outcome of the game, all he does is to get the players match-ready.

May the ‘best prepared’ team win

Prior to the start of the tournament, the Indian media called this team the ‘best ever’ to take part in a World Cup. Before each edition, members of the media and their panel of ex-cricketers and journalists make clichéd statements based on their analysis of players’ skill and team balance. However, post the win, when I sat down to make an assessment of what differentiates this team from the ones that have taken part in previous editions, I knew it was not the talent, skill or balance, but the fact that this was the ‘best prepared’ side going into a World Cup. Preparation started right from identifying a pool of players and was followed by appropriately grooming every one of them. Each player was provided with customised and meticulously planned training and put through smart drills – I believe that since Coach Gary Kirsten and his support staff executed this piece to perfection, we looked a different unit in 2011. Unlike most other professional sports like basketball, soccer and American football, in cricket the coach does not do much to influence the outcome of the game, all he does is to get the players match-ready. I cannot recall any other Indian cricket coach being eulogised as much by the cricketing community – what makes Kirsten different is rather than imposing his style and ideas on the team; he allowed each player the freedom to think for himself. Simply put, borrowing a phrase from American professional sports, the competing teams were ‘outcoached’ by Kirsten.

When it mattered

Another unique facet of this Indian team was their ability to come up with the big play and deliver when it mattered. Though it is unfair to call them chokers in the South African-sense, it is fair to say that they have not been able to close out in key matches like series deciders and knock-out games. The team battled pressure exceptionally well and peaked at the right time. Players came into form and turned-in clutch performances at crucial junctures – the fact that we saw one of the best-ever fielding performances in the final is the biggest testament to this point. Hope Indian teams of the future continue to play with this mentality and become big match players like the Australians of the last decade.

Ode to the ODI

One of the biggest story-lines for me is that this World Cup has re-iterated the popularity and relevance of one-day cricket (ODIs) in today’s times and rejuvenated interest in ODIs.  Thanks to some terrific individual performances, we got to see games filled with exciting drama; swinging fortunes and nail-biting finishes.  During many of those games we heard the commentator echo similar thoughts on-air – ‘such games are an excellent advertisement for 50-over cricket.’ I have felt a personal sense of disgust while reading some of the obituaries of ODIs by sections of media where the format was virtually written-off without any solid reason. Just because the 2007 World Cup was a flop; few matches in some parts of the word did not attract crowds; a couple of players said they loved only T20s and the Indian Premier League culture caught-on, it is wrong to decide ODIs have no future and call to do away with that format. I believe this World Cup has silenced critics of the format –many non-India matches too attracted decent crowds and average television viewership and kept them on the edge of their seats for almost 100-overs. ODI cricket has its own charm and players require special skills to be successful in this format; the real cricket fan understands and acknowledges these and that is why the ODI is here to stay.

Big boys in the big league

I have always been an advocate of the associate nations participating in such high-profile tournaments as it gives them enormous exposure and the chance to compete with the best in cricket at the highest level. Further, the more opportunities these teams are given to play against the big boys, the more it aids in the development of their game and also, the growth of the sport in their respective regions. We must not expect much from these teams and remember that the chances of an associate nation causing an upset is as low as one per World Cup and this World Cup saw Ireland put it past England. Having said that, it is upto the ICC to draw these teams into appropriate groups and ensure the contests are fair and interesting.  But, it seems like the ICC is failing to do the same and has taken a harsh step of not allowing any of the associate nations to take part in the 2015 tournament – an unfortunate act that has not gone down well with the cricket community and is certainly not good for the growth of cricket.

All said and done, the 2011 edition is being hailed by some as the best ever World Cup. For sure, the 2011 tournament was everything the 2007 tournament was not – close matches, sustained interest through the final, excellent crowd turn-out and stadium atmosphere, unprecedented viewership and the sweetest of ‘em all, an Indian World Cup win that we will all savour for life.