Life of a Shadow
The field of dreams…
It’s hard to be an Indian and not be romantic about cricket. Especially when IPL is in the air; think of cricket and it is there. We passionately route for our hometown teams even though most of the players are not natives, many don’t even share our nationality. For, such diagnostics unnecessarily shatters our make-believe world. It’s like watching a movie, if you really want to enjoy it—just forget about the ‘actors’ and connect only with the ‘characters’.
That’s why tens of thousands of smart Punekars like me desperately want Pune Warriors to win; we don’t really care where the owners ‘buy’ their players from. But alas, our warriors are losing the war! As my nephew aptly puts it, “Pune Warriors seem to have an uncanny ability to repeatedly snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.” But somehow it’s not adding up. We are the most expensive franchise in IPL, so surely it can’t be the poorest quality of players? Then perhaps it’s just an extended streak of sheer bad luck? But getting crushed to the bottom—three years in a row? How come the law of averages just refuses to catch up with Warriors? Obviously, there is more to the predicament than meets the eye. The complexity of the problem deserves a deeper scientific evaluation. And who better than the technology CEO of a hometown success story to undertake this mission. So before I knew it, I had enthusiastically talked myself into hiring myself only as a savior of Warriors.
Unfortunately, the honeymoon lasted only a few minutes on my reporting day at work. It was time for a reality check… My childhood claim to cricketing fame are two games in which I stood steadfast at the 2nd slip position representing Std. IV D on the grounds of Kendriya Vidyalaya No. 1 in Ranipur. My adulthood subject matter expertise is even more pitiful: one that of playing the role of an animated coach in front of the TV—left hand all fisted and fired up, the right one holding an icy can of beer.
But then, most CEOs are routinely exposed to escalations on matters they are clueless about. “Innovate”, management gurus are forever coaching the stumped executives “think outside the box”. Fortunately such old thinking-outside-the-box wisdom now belongs to stone-age. As one of our planet’s greatest thought leader, Steve Jobs, once summarized, “I am actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying NO to 1000 things.” The apple-age dictates – “Think inside the box”. In fact, ponder about “the box within the box within the box….”. Focus on the building blocks, not on the wrapping gift paper. Treat the cause, not the symptom. Unbox the basics. Think like a child who starts with a clean slate on the first day of every academic year.
Apple energized, I moved on to the next hurdle: so how do children ‘think’ these days? That’s simple silly, I chided myself—they have smartly outsourced this job to Apple’s co-brother Google. So following our children’s illustrious footsteps, l googled “Pune Warriors”, and landed on the team page of the franchise’s official website. And there they were, the battle lineup of Warriors—The Glorious 15—who’s who of the cricketing world. Then there was this scroll bar tucked away on a side for anybody who cared to browse through the rest of the team members. I wondered whether anyone had ever used this button before me. Bemused, I scrolled down the list as names and pictures of seventeen more players were unveiled.
Many of the supplementary names didn’t ring a bell. Why even bother wasting money on some of these buffers when the management has no intention of putting them in the starting lineup? Disillusioned, as I was just ready to log off, one name abruptly caught my eye, the only Pune lad in Pune Warriors team. I vaguely recalled this player, for about ten years back I used to frequently encounter his name in the sports section of TOI local edition. Puzzled that this entertainer continues to hover in the circuit, I inquisitively googled to figure more of his story. And as I explored further, one of the most startling secrets of the Indian cricketing world began to unfold in front of my eyes….
Dheeraj Jadhav. DOB 15 Sept, 1979. Wikipedia intro: “a solid middle-order bat who transformed his career by recasting himself as a stroke-playing opening batsman”. He entered the Indian selectors radar after an excellent domestic season in 2003-04, and continued to impress for India A. His impressive century in an India v India A warm-up game just before the series against Australia in 2004-05 earned him a call-up into the Test squad for the fourth Test at Mumbai. However, he was not put in the starting lineup and was never recalled again to play for India in any form of the game. Frustrated, he joined the ICL and played for Mumbai Champs before cancelling his contract in 2009 as ICL went down. In his 14-year career, he has represented Air India, Indian Board President’s XI, Maharashtra, Mumbai Champs, Assam, and now is busy warming the bench of Pune Warriors.
That’s it, the story of yet another wannabe. But wait a second, why does the narrative feel so incomplete? That’s because it’s only one-half of the story—the outside half, the gift wrapper. If Steve Jobs were alive, would he have accepted this half-baked version? Probably not, he would have insisted on peeping inside the box to check out the missing pieces. To complete the story, we need to move our cameras away from the roaring stadiums to the quieter workshops where the cricketing legends are manufactured…
Far from the maddening crowds…
All professional players in cricketing nations play an excessive amount of domestic cricket (such as Ranji, Duleep Trophy, among others, in India). These matches are played in highly competitive environments and selectors monitor these games closely for runs and bowling-figures to assemble the national teams. Interestingly, the statistical numbers delivered by national players in the international arena are astonishingly close to their measured performances in domestic tournaments. In India, a statistical variation of only 5% is observed in the performance of top players in the domestic vs. international circuits. The two highest levels of domestic cricket are: a) First-class cricket, the format is equivalent of five-day International Test cricket; and b) List-A cricket, which is similar to One Day International. For reference, I am citing below the average runs per inning scored by India’s leading batsmen of recent past in the domestic cricket. The roll call is in the descending order of number of International matches these players went on to play. The listing is limited to only top 10 of the 50 batsmen who have represented India from the turn of the century.
|(Avg. Runs)||(Avg. Runs)||(Test Matches + ODI)|
|(11 to 50)……………..||x||y||At least 1+|
So here is where the concluding stats for Dheeraj stand: 2nd Best in First-Class, corresponding number of International Test Matches: ZERO. 4th Best in List-A, corresponding number of One Day Internationals: ZERO
Of course, the cynic within us will argue that stats do not accurately reflect the player’s predicted performance in the higher-pressure international circuit. But that’s our perceptive ego talking, not logic. Because scientific logic dictates that given a chance, Dheeraj would have delivered his international numbers within 5% statistical deviation of his domestic performance. In his career, Dheeraj has played more than a hundred domestic matches, a number big enough for all the good and bad luck factors to even out. In fact, we are pursuing a wrong argument here. For the right question we should be asking is “If a de-spirited Dheeraj could so extraordinarily excel in domestic circuit, then in all probability wouldn’t an international exposure and the resulting confidence catapulted him as one of the all-time cricketing greats?” Grippingly, if you were to throw out numbers from pre-Dheeraj 1990-2000 batsman-friendly-pitches era, Dheeraj’s first-class stats are better than the God-of-cricket himself, Padma Vibhushan Sachin Tendulkar!
Dheeraj’s big duck opens up a disturbing debate. Is the thought process of excluding such an accomplished stroke-playing local lad from the starting lineup an indicator of Pune Warriors’ flawed approach to the game? Is Pune Warriors’ problem a subset of a bigger virus that has infected the health of our national cricket team? Is the Indian cricket team only a sampling representative of the wider epidemic that plagues the business world? Is it even worth wondering how many Dheeraj’s must be lost in corporate webs of deceit the world over? There seem to be too many disjointed pieces inside the box; we need a strategic time-out to assemble these divergent clues. However, before the game resumes, I will urge the spectators to contribute by sorting out a key puzzle for me:
Which of the following entities should be held more accountable for softly killing Dheeraj’s dreams? a) Our innocent society who is moonstruck by ‘star auras’ with negligible appreciation for ‘technicalities’ in all walks of public life—be it politics, bollywood, or sports; b) Our powerful role models who are forever preaching about giving back to the sport while refusing to abdicate their throne for a more deserving talent; or c) Our vastly experienced but sandwiched selectors whose rope-walk between fans, stars, politicians and fellow selectors ends up ruining their righteous risk-taking appetite.