On Lara, Leadership and Winning
Wed, May 31, '06
Usually, at the end of a series, the discussion and analysis centres on why the West Indies team have lost, given the immense talent of many of their players. How pleasing it was therefore to hear the team's captain answering questions on how the team beat the number three ranked ODI team by the wide margin of 4?1.
In certain circles it was unthinkable, given the 1?4 series loss to lesser opponents New Zealand and the Indian journalists went silent and shook their collective heads after each beating.
One answer given is the maturity in batting demonstrated by Ramnaresh Sarwan. His 98 not out in the second match was hailed by Brian Lara as the most important performance and he earned the Man-of-the-Series award. Another is the leaps and bounds made in the fielding after that poor showing in the first match. But perhaps the most crucial factor was the leadership of captain Brian Lara.
Out of the mouths of some came the cry that this had been a retrograde move by the West Indies Cricket Board. It has also been reported that it was an illegal move by WICB President Ken Gordon to appoint Lara as the team's leader. This had the WICB Directors fuming. For them, one wonders if the ends now justify the means.
Leadership can be defined as "a dynamic process in a group whereby one individual influences the others to contribute voluntarily to the achievement of group tasks in a given situation." The leader is supposed to help direct the group members towards group goals, and in an informal group, these goals would have agreed by the group as a whole.
There are many theories of leadership in the world of management. The Trait theory essentially describes leaders as having been born, not bred, and research to substantiate this theory focused on the personal qualities required for effective leaders. Although not conclusive, the traits which popped up more often were intelligence, energy and resourcefulness.
There is no question as to the cricketing intelligence of Brian Lara. His friend, Courtney Browne, has said " I have met a lot of people in life and I think the only other person that I would say that knows as much cricket as Brian is Sir Garfield Sobers." That said, in his previous stints, severe criticisms were usually made about his field placings and use of bowlers. Of course, this was in the context of a losing team. With the wins, descriptive words like "imaginative" and "creative" are currently used.
WAVELL HINDS AS BOWLER
With Lara, scorers now know they can never make assumptions. In the final ODI match, the captain gave Wavell Hinds the new ball with frontline seamers Corey Collymore and Jerome Taylor available. Hinds? What was the thinking behind that? There was method to his madness.
"I thought that if I could get away with two or three overs with Wavell Hinds, Corey Collymore could come after and ensure that we keep it tight within the first 20 overs," Lara explained, noting Hinds' ability to swing the ball. Of course, there was no Collymore to come since he twisted his ankle in the first over. The captain admitted to being very worried. "I thought that Dhoni and Sehwag would launch into Wavell Hinds, but he bowled well, and he is experienced. That is why we had him here," he said.
At 37 years old, it would be unreasonable to expect Lara to have the energy and legs of a spring chicken, and this has been the thinking behind resting him from some of the one day matches. Indeed, when he went for the two runs which eventually sent him back to the dressing room on Sunday, we saw him stoop for a few minutes, probably in an attempt to catch his breath. Before that, he had been matching strides with Dwayne Bravo, about 15 years his junior and one of the fittest athletes on this team, and chasing down balls?.though not as quickly as Asafa Powell.
Brian Lara's energy and passion for the game comes through at team meetings and this had been infectious. You know this when he says that the way those meetings have gone has been most pleasing for him. "You are not there to experience the meetings, but that is exactly where we win the game. We win the game in our team meetings ? the different things we discuss ? nd we come out of those meetings feeling really strong and confident," the West Indies captain said.
VALUABLE TEAM MEETINGS
Ramnaresh Sarwan later endorsed this. He said "the planning that we have had prior to games, I think that is a major importance and one of the things we have been lacking. We didn't get enough contributions in team meetings from the younger players. We don't know if they were scared to say anything but everyone has become very open and I think that is the main reason for our performance."
Before the start of the third ODI in St Kitts, the West Indies Head Coach Bennett King said this about Lara's captaincy. "Brian drove the side really well and I thought he was a key reason why we won that last match. I enjoy working with people who take risks and are prepared to try things to try and win a game of cricket, and Brian is one of those people." He also added that the group was communicating better on and off the field.
There is no need for an official Vice Captain, King says because "there is a natural leadership in any team sport that comes to the fore." Some of these mentioned by Lara are Chris Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and even young Dwayne Bravo, who was seen advising Lara on field placings in the fourth ODI. The captain welcomes initiative and involvement from his players, saying that he expects everyone to be a leader.
Bennett King knows about the resourcefulness that Lara can bring to the team. The West Indies coach said that if the captain gets the back up and support from his players "I think he is going to be very handy for us moving forward." Sir Vivian Richards and Richie Richardson, themselves two former captains, keep suggesting that Lara does not have the support of his players. Could they be still harping on the past, where a younger, indiscrete, self-centred Lara contributed to the tense atmosphere in many a dressing room? Have they actually polled the current players? Have they been around the current players to see the spirit and camaraderie that exists, especially off the field? Did they not hear Lara say that before the start of the home series, many current players encouraged him to accept the captaincy? Would he have dared to make that up?
Pick up a book on management and leadership. It will list these as some of the characteristics of an effective group.
* Informal relaxed atmosphere
* Much relevant discussion with high degree of participation
*Group task or objective clearly understood, and commitment to it obtained
* Most decisions are reached by general consensus with a minimum of formal voting
* Ideas are expressed freely and openly
* Leadership is not always with the person in charge, but tends to be shared as appropriate
Much of this is evident in the current team.
Bennett King and his team have physically prepared the West Indies players for the kinds of commanding performances seen at home this year. Brian Lara has been able to inspire his team mates to achieve the group's goals. With India desperate to win at least a second game to redeem themselves, Lara led a much weaker and more inexperienced side to victory. That is what the team set out to do, to give them the confidence they require going into the more gruelling Test series.
Lara is however not euphoric about the one day series win, citing "bigger fish to fry" come Friday in Antigua. India have beefed up their squad with more experienced players like Anil Kumble. The West Indies captain is being realistic and will now change his leadership style to get the players to focus on the task at hand ? to play five days of competitive cricket in order to win the four-match Test series.
Effective leadership is the catalyst that can turn many failing organizations around, causing those led to motivate themselves to greater performances. Ramnaresh Sarwan has called Brian Lara's leadership "outstanding". Many cricket captains may never have picked up a book on management and leadership. Brian Lara doesn't need to because Pearl and Bunty produced a born leader.