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February 5, 2000


India Down Under

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A tale of two captains

Armchair Expert with Prem Panicker

ONCE UPON A TIME in Australia, Steve Waugh takes over as captain from Mark Taylor. Many people think he's the wrong choice. The charismatic Warne is touted as a better captain. A more adventurous captain. More popular with his team mates. Easier to get along with. Gregarious. And, most of all, has shown that he loves the job. And can't have enough of it. (While standing in for Steve Waugh, recuperating from injury.)

Steve Waugh When Steve Waugh returns, there are mutterings of dissent. Of players not being entirely happy with his style of leadership. Questioning the decision of replacing a man who was very visibly enjoying the job and responding even better to the extra pressure. A man with more flair. The right man to continue Mark Taylor's attacking style of leadership. A better risk-taker than Steve Waugh.

Unknown to most, is the fact that the older of the Waugh twins, unlike his brother, never gambles. On horses, cards, anything at all. Shane Warne on the other hand, loves the thrill of a gamble and will always accept a bet. (He said so himself in a recent interview.) Qualities that were considered, by some, necessary to be a good captain. Qualities that some looked for, and did not find, in Steve Waugh. To make matters worse, all this was followed by a series of disappointing openers in the World Cup. Pretty soon, the knives were out. Well, not quite, but all was not hunky-dory. Not helped in the least bit by an ever-active media sharpening their pens and preparing to write their obituaries to Steve Waugh's short, uninspiring tenure. Except that the older Waugh had other plans.

At a time when he was being crucified, when the Australian media and fans were questioning Gilchrist's capabilities, Ricky Ponting's sanity, McGrath's retirement age, an out-of-form Warne's presence in the side at the expense of Stuart McGill (does all this ring familiar?), Waugh suddenly announces that Australia is not out of the competition, that all they have to do -- this, for a team that at that point didn't seem capable of beating their own second string -- is win 7 games against the best teams in the competition, and that he had the team which could do it.

First, he let's his bat do the talking. (With a breathtaking innings against South Africa.) Then, he gathers his team around and, this is what's really important, he makes it very clear to them what's expected of the team. "Very simple, we've got to win all our matches from now. Or else, we're out." Not 'we have to play better'. Not 'we have to pull up our socks'. 'Not 'we have to try and improve'. Not 'we have to bat better, bowl better, field better'.

Not. What the Australian team in England got was a straightforward, easy to understand message, sans hyperbole.

'We have to win!' Not even 'We have to play session by session, evaluate our chances as we go'.

A firm, crisp, clear enunciation of a goal. No compromises, no ifs -- 'If we get a good start' -- no buts -- 'But even if Srinath doesn't bowl well...' -- no maybes -- 'Maybe the result could have been different if the schedule was better planned and wickets in Australia were more like wickets in England...'

And then, having said his piece and done his bit with the bat to inspire from the front, he sits back and lets them carry the can, and grab the Cup against the odds. And suddenly, Steve Waugh is a hero again.

ONCE UPON A TIME in India, Sachin Tendulkar takes over as captain of India from Mohammed Azharuddin. Everyone is sure he's the right choice. They say he's a more adventurous captain. More popular with his team mates. Easier to get along with. More open to ideas. Full of ideas. Gregarious. And, most of all, he has been given the job before and has therefore learnt from his mistakes. Because this is Tendulkar. He never repeats mistakes. And on this upbeat note, he and his men embark on a mission to the land Down Under. Full of hope and enthusiasm.

Sachin Tendulkar The situation then, when the Indian team landed in Australia: One man with a mountain of criticism and animosity to climb. Another man with the unqualified mandate of 1000 crore people.

The situation today, at the end of the Australian tour: One man with a mountain of criticism and animosity to climb. And the other with the unqualified mandate of his people.

The difference: they've switched places.

What went wrong? What did one man do so right? And the other man do so wrong? Why can't Tendulkar motivate his men in much the same manner Waugh did? Does?

Perhaps if we try and understand what Waugh was doing wrong, it might help us understand where Tendulkar is going wrong. After all, Tendulkar and Waugh are not very dissimilar.

Of course, they don't play alike. But there's one thing that makes them more similar to each other than different. And that is, the pride with which they wear their national colours. The value they attach to the honour of leading their respective teams. The inspirational qualities they bring to their jobs as leaders.

And yet, Sachin hasn't managed to inspire. While Waugh has ended the season being touted as one of the greatest ever captains of Australia. This, in a short span of less than two years. And despite being on the verge of being stripped of the job less than six months after having been handed it. (All it needed was for Australia to lose one more match.)

So why was Waugh a failure at the start? Because he, like our very own Sachin, thought everyone was like himself. During his decade-plus in the game, Sachin has never needed anyone to tell him how important it was to give 100% for the country -- he does it on his own, it is to him as natural as breathing.

Sachin never needed to be told to work on his batting flaws. Thus, when Fanie De Villiers got him out twice on the run with the slower ball, he went to the nets. And worked on that aspect. And in game three, flicked the slower one through midwicket, and as he ran down for the single, grinned at the bowler and said, 'Not today, Fanie!'

He has never needed to be told to practise running between wickets. Or work on his fielding. Or do whatever it takes.

Waugh in his extended career has never needed to be told the value of giving one hundred per cent to his team. Waugh throughout his career has been the first into the nets and the last to leave it. Waugh has never needed to be exhorted to work on his fielding, or his throwing, or his running between wickets.

Waugh never needed a captain's exhortations to produce. As Tendulkar has never needed it.

Waugh, then, in the early days of his captaincy, thought everyone was like him. Tendulkar, today, in his second stint as captain, thinks everyone is like him.

Waugh realised his mistake. Tendulkar hasn't.

Waugh found a way to rally his players around him. He talked to his players. Or rather, listened to them. And heard what they told him. Learnt that he needed to let his players fly free, show them he had faith. Set them goals, then back them to deliver. Not try and do it all himself. And put more pressure on himself under the mistaken belief that he would be lightening the load on his team. (Hullo, Sachin, you listening?)

And while we've rarely heard even a semblance of clear goal-setting for the team from Sachin, Waugh is a regular and relentless goal setter. He makes it a point to state up-front, and in precise terms what the task on hand is. Thus, immediately, setting a tone of responsibility and continuous achievement in everybody's mind.

His clearly stated objective for the season was simple. We want to beat Pak 3-0. We want to beat India 3-0. We want a clean sweep for the summer. We want to surpass Warwick Armstrong's Australian record of 8 successive Test wins. We want to continue the good work done in the Tests by winning the first few run-up games in the one-day series. We want to win 7 straight games and with it the World Cup. We want to target the top three batsmen in the side. We need to play overs 20 to 40 really well.

We need... we want... we have to... we must...

>He never stops.

Like Oliver Twist, he always wants more. And will not settle for less.

As a captain, he is a predator. Remorseless. Pitiless. Relentless. There is no let up, ever. He is like the heroes of Western novels. Like Dusty Fog and Sudden and the rest of them. A gunslinger, crouching in his fielding position, hands loose, fingers curved -- his presence a visible threat, a reminder to the opposition that if they so much as blink, the guns will be out and blazing, that the hail of bullets will not stop till you are a corpse.

Contrast this with Tendulkar's waffling in the first match of the series. He has Australia on the ropes and down for the count. What does he do? He opens the second session with Ganguly. Why? Perhaps, because Ganguly had gottten him a wicket in his first over. But doesn't he know that Ganguly is just that, a partnership breaker? (The whole world know that Ganguly is just a partnership breaker.) That the start of a session is when batsmen are vulnerable? That they have to start the process of settling in, all over again? That this is precisely when to attack with your best bowlers?

Evidently, Sachin thought otherwise. And let his best bowlers sign autographs on the boundary line. While he tossed the ball to Ganguly. Who went for 30 in five overs, before Sachin woke up to the fact that the match was being taken away from him. By which time the match had been taken away from him. Australia were 74/4. And thanks to that momentary lapse of reason (thank you, Pink Floyd), the home team got back into the match, steadied ship, then sailed away to a winning total. This, in the series-defining first Test.

And thus was set the tone for the series. (I can bet my last typing finger that Waugh wouldn't have opened with Blewett. Not unless Ganguly was batting.)

Or try this for a comparison of leadership styles. Tendulkar has his bowlers bowling to a new batsman, just in to the crease, with one slip in place. The name of the batsman? Damien Fleming.

An Indian batsman walks to the wicket. Steve Waugh sets a field of three slips, gully, short square leg, short backward square leg, shortish midwicket for the uppish flick, a shortish, squarish cover for the drive on the up. The name of the batsman? Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar.

Tendulkar's field was set with this mindset: Hell, if I attack and the ball flies, off the middle or off the edge, for a few fours, we are in bigger trouble. Waugh's field is set with this mindset: Hell, so what if they are calling Sachin the best batsman in the world, what if he has singlehandedly demolished us on Indian soil and in Sharjah? All it takes is one edge, one miscue, to get him back in the hut -- I need to put men where those edges, those miscues, will go to hand, and we are home free.

The one attacks. All the time. Not caring a hoot for reputations. The other defends. Worried that his bowlers may not be up to the challenge. Worried that his batters may not be able to make back the runs the bowlers give away.

One is confident, the other, hesitant.

Just to put the above in perspective, that's Sachin giving more respect to Damien Fleming's batting than Waugh gave Sachin's. (Yes, do take a minute. Let that monumental lack of cricketing sense on the part of Sachin sink right in.)

Evidently, it's not always the skipper being only as good as his team. Sometimes the team ends up looking real bad because of the skipper.

Now consider this: Waugh - at one point being dismissively compared to Taylor - is now confident enough to say "Mark seems to have become a better captain after he became commentator."

Tendulkar - who came in with goodwill, good wishes and a unanimity that his predecessor never enjoyed - is now looking down the barrel of a gun that might have Azhar at the other end.

Today, Waugh is bold, intuitive, backs his judgement, more importantly backs his players. Would a Langer have survived his bad form and lived to play that match winning innings, in any other team and under any other captain? Would Mark Waugh be playing today? Would Ponting, after 6, 7 ducks?

Today, Sachin is cautious, defensive, unsure, unhappy, under pressure, and under the gun. His judgement is laboured. Not surprisingly, his lackluster leadership shows in his and, more crucially, the team's performance.

So how should Sachin react to this dismal performance?

As always, it might help to see what Steve Waugh did in a sort-of similar position. (After losing a stressful series to the Lankans.) He talked the ACB into sponsoring a holiday for the whole team, made them all get together, laugh, play, write, bond! Suddenly, the team is a unit again, everyone is outperforming everyone else, they are backing each other up to the limit and beyond and if one fails, the others try doubly hard so that they don't lose and by losing, highlight the individual failure.

How about the Indian team? On New Year's Eve, some players are stuck in their rooms because they don't know where to go and what to do. Others are off on their own, doing their own thing. There is no bonding, no attempt to bring the team together to celebrate, to put the ghosts of the past year behind and, metaphorically and physically, to come together in a new beginning.

The Australians are a team of friends. When Damien Fleming is on a hat-trick and Warne drops a dolly, the bowler (who, you would have thought, would have had a few choice words for the fielder) runs up to Warne and consoles him, tells him it is no big deal, not to let it get to you.

The Indians are a team of loners, each going their individual ways, each talking ill of the others behind their backs, none sharing good vibes.

The Australians became a happy team because the captain took the trouble to turn them into one. The Indians remain a dispirited, disunited, disjointed outfit because the captain hasn't learnt that lesson yet.

Steve Waugh is lucky, so they say. And Sachin is unlucky.

Mohammad Azharuddin once, towards the latter phase of Tendulkar's first essay as captain, told a friend: Nahin jeetega! Chote ki naseeb main jeet nahin hai!

Naseeb! Fortune. Luck. Some have it. Some don't.

If it were only that simple.

Steve Waugh tosses the ball to Blewett. Wicket. Mark Waugh? Wickets!to

Tendulkar tosses the ball to Ganguly. Runs!



Not. Blewett came in to bowl, focussed on doing his damndest for his team, for his captain. Because that is the spirit Steve Waugh has incluclated in his team.

Do your damndest, under any and all circumstances, and Luck will come sit in your lap. Forget the basics, and Luck will look the other way.

So do we have an answer for Tendulkar? Yes -- look at your counterpart. And learn.

Moral of the story: Acute has to be the head on which rests the crown.

Armchair Expert

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