Saturday, 11 August 2012

I is the most important letter in a cricket team

By Girish Menon

In a recent article in The Telegraph, Geoffrey Boycott mentioned, there is no I in a cricket team and hence implying that Kevin Pietersen should kowtow to the diktats of the team's leaders. In this piece I will argue that I believe the individual, I, is the elephant in a cricket team's dressing room and by ignoring it won't we be behaving like an ostrich burying its head in the sand?

In cricket there are three principal activities viz. batting, bowling and fielding and in each activity the individual player is the most important actor. Let me try to explain this idea by contrasting it with football. In football, a defender can ask for help from another teammate to police and control a forward from the opposite team. Other players can pass the ball, run into open spaces etc to help a team mate come out of a sticky situation. The goalkeeper appears to be the only individual in this team sport.

In cricket, while batting no team mate can help a batter combat the aggression of a Morkel or the wiles of a Murali. The individual has to face the ball delivered by a bowler. A team mate may take a single of the last ball of each over and shield his partner, but there is no way he can face the ball for his partner should he find himself at the receiving end. In contrast, defenders in football can act in pairs to ward of an  attack by an opposing forward.

It gets even more individual when it gets to bowling. The bowler has to run up and deliver the ball on his own accord. The rest of his teammates enter the game only subsequently after the batter has reacted to the delivery. In football, a forward can pass the ball to a team mate thereby beating the goalkeeper and creating an open goal situation for his teammate to score.

Similarly whilst fielding too it is the individual who is responsible for delivering the goods and any discussion of individualism in cricket will not be complete without a discussion of the role of the most important individual in a cricket team viz. the captain. The captain's individual idiosyncrasies affect not only the fortune of the team but also the careers of the other team members in the squad.

In the book, One More Over, Erapalli Prasanna talked about how under Bishen Bedi's captaincy he was brought on to bowl only after the batsmen were well established at the crease. I'm sure that cricket watchers and players will have innumerable stories about the decisions of captains that have affected a game as well as individual careers.

In a recent article Ed Smith talked about TheBresnan Effect on the English team's outcomes in recent cricket matches due to the inclusion of Tim Bresnan in the team. While admitting the difficulty of measuring Bresnan's impact on England or more famously that of Shane Battier on the Houston Rockets; Smith implicitly recognises the individual's role in the fortunes of a team. My thesis therefore is that the absence of an adequate tool to evaluate an individual's performance should not therefore lead us to conclude erroneously like Boycott that there is no 'I' in a cricket team.

After all if there is no 'I' in a cricket team; then why are some individuals from a losing team retained while the less fortunate ones dropped. If there is collective responsibility then like the voting out of a political party all members of a cricket team should be dropped in case of failure. Since that does not happen it would be  foolish for anybody, and especially Boycott, to argue against individualism in cricket.

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