Sunday, 30 September 2012

How do you play cricket without becoming a machine?

The challenge for most cricketers- and other sportsmen - is to retain their personality while getting better at the game
September 26, 2012
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Shapoor Zadran reacts after taking the wicket of Craig Kieswetter, Afghanistan v England, World Twenty20 2012, Group A, Colombo, September 21, 2012
Afghanistan haven't yet had the joy ironed out of them by the cricket grind © Getty Images 
Related Links
Series/Tournaments: ICC World Twenty20
Teams: Afghanistan
"The challenge is to play cool without being cold." That was the assessment of the great jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. What he said of playing jazz is also true of playing cricket. A sportsman cannot be at the mercy of his moods and emotions. And yet sport becomes dull and lifeless when it is drained of warmth and spontaneity. Sportsmen must search for the right emotional bandwidth: they want enough coolness to feel in control, and yet sufficient rawness and authenticity to feel excitement.
There is no doubt where the Afghan cricket team lies on that continuum. They are joyful, volatile, emotional, unpredictable and deeply expressive. That is why they are wonderful to watch and have lit up this T20 World Cup, even without winning a game. Their performance against India was deeply moving because you could see how much it mattered to the Afghan players. Every six was joyous, every fielding error was agony.
These were not the learnt, mannered responses of professional sportsmen playing to the gallery. The Afghan cricketers have not yet learned how to hide their feelings. In time, they will become more controlled and clinical. But hopefully not too much. Indeed, we can all learn something from the spirit and the naturalness of the Afghan cricketers. Joy - even vulnerability - has its practical uses, too.
There is a counter argument to my view, of course. Some argue that sport is not about self-expression or enjoyment at all, but rather resilience and reliability under pressure. I've never seen this view better expressed than by Chad Harbach in his excellent novel about baseball, The Art of Fielding. (I make no apology for quoting it at length):
The making of a ballplayer: the production of brute efficiency out of natural genius […] This formed the paradox at the heart of baseball, or football, or any other sport […] Baseball was an art, but to excel at it you had to become a machine. It didn't matter how beautifully you performed sometimes, what you did on your best day, how many spectacular plays you made. You weren't a painter or a writer - you didn't work in private and discard your mistakes, and it wasn't just your masterpieces that counted. What mattered, as for any machine, was repeatability. Moments of inspiration were nothing compared to elimination of error […] Can you perform on demand, like a car, a furnace, a gun? Can you make that throw one hundred times out of a hundred? If it can't be a hundred, it had better be ninety-nine.
It is a wonderful passage, full of insight. But while I agree with many of the steps, I cannot follow all the way to Harbach's final conclusion. Sport is not quite about the elimination of human individuality, or the progress - if that is the right word - towards machine-like efficiency. True, a good player cannot be too vulnerable, he cannot allow his human weaknesses to surface so often that they undermine his performance.
But nor do the best sportsmen, I believe, allow themselves to lose touch completely with their human dimension. We must think carefully before trying to turn ourselves into machines: we may find we lose more than we gain. There is a balance to be struck: between naturalness and pragmatism, between voice and efficiency, between joy and control. Crucially, that balance is different for every player (and every team).
Inevitably there are outliers on that continuum - some players are exceptionally self-denying where others are extraordinarily natural. Rafael Nadal's game is based on the fearless elimination of error, the repeatability of relentlessness. In contrast, Roger Federer's is freer and more intuitive. Federer has said how he cannot bear to "play the same point twice". He needs to be trying something new, at least to some extent, in order to fully engage his talents.
There is a balance to be struck: between naturalness and pragmatism, between voice and efficiency, between joy and control
It is a myth that sportsmen can simply choose to adopt the best strands from the personalities of other players. Instead, they must search for the right balance that suits them. The natural, laconic David Gower would not have benefited from trying to become more like the dedicated professional Graham Gooch - nor vice versa. The quest for self-improvement must be tempered by the retention of authenticity.
The same balance applies to teams as well as individuals. Every team has an instinctive personality, a natural temperament. The challenge is to develop and strengthen that collective personality without losing what makes it unique. Over decades as a rugby fan, I have noticed that France play best when they keep their innate flair but harness it within collective discipline. They are much less successful when they rely too much on flair or when they travel too far in the direction of self-denial. To win, France must be France - they cannot pretend to be England.
This logic has consequences for the way we think about getting better at sport. Development - for both the individual and the team - is only partly about honing skills and perfecting techniques. Perhaps the bigger part of the story is learning how to be yourself. This can become harder, not easier, with experience, which explains why many players do not improve with age, but regress. The more they try to become machines, the worse they become. That is why the art of coaching - yes, the art, not the science - is at least as much about understanding people as it is about imparting technical knowledge. What kind of player might he become, what kind of person?
Where does all this leave Afghan cricket? Yes, they need to become more consistent. Yes, they will need to become better at controlling their emotions. Yes, their techniques will have to become more polished and reliable.
But all those things must be developed within a context of remaining true to themselves. They should not lose sight of the spirit and innocence that makes them such a compelling team to watch, and such a dangerous team to play against. In the lovely phrase of ESPNcricinfo writer Sharda Ugra, they "bring to a somewhat tired global community the fresh, bracing air of the mountains".
Afghanistan's cricketers are so refreshing because they aren't like everyone else. It would be a shame if they merely become part of the crowd.

We need a revolution in how our companies are owned and run

The second of this series on a new capitalism calls for a culture dedicated to long-term, ethical goals
Rolls Royce: almost our last remaining great industrial company. Photograph: Simon Stuart-Miller/
Twenty years ago, Britain's greatest industrial companies were ICI and GEC. A third, Rolls-Royce, secured from hostile takeover by a government golden share, had a board that was boringly committed to research and development and to investing in its business. ICI and GEC, under colossal pressure from footloose shareholders to deliver high short-term profits, tried to wheel and deal their way to success. Neither now exists. Rolls Royce, free from concerns about hourly movements in its share price, has gone on to be almost our last remaining great industrial company.
Britain, as the Kay review on the equity markets reported, has far too few Rolls-Royces. Instead the report identified a lengthening list of companies – Marks and Spencer, Royal Bank of Scotland, BP, GlaxoSmithKline, Lloyds and now BAE – which have made grave strategic errors, taken ethical short cuts or launched ill-judged takeovers, hoping to benefit their uncommitted tourist shareholders. Their competitors in other countries, with different ownership structures and incentives, have survived and prospered.
It is an unreported crisis of ownership that goes to the heart of our current ills. Over the last decade, a fifth of quoted companies have evaporated from the London Stock Exchange, the largest cull in our history. Virtually no new risk capital is sought from the stock market or being offered across the spectrum of companies. A share is now held for an average of seven months. Britain has no indigenous quoted company in the fields of car, chemical or building materials. They are all owned overseas, with design and research and development travelling abroad as well.
The stock market has descended into a casino, served by a vast industry of intermediaries – agents, trustees, investment managers, registrars and advisers of all sorts – who have grown fat from opaque fees. It has become a transmission mechanism for highly short-term expectations of profit driven into the boardroom. Directors' pay has been linked to share price performance, offering them the prospect of stunning fortunes. As a result, R&D is consistently undervalued.
British companies are now hoarding some £800bn in cash, cash they would rather use buying back their own shares than committing to investment. We have allowed a madhouse to develop. An important reason why Britain is at the bottom of the league table for investment and innovation is the way our companies are owned or, rather, notowned.
It is a crisis of commitment. Too few shareholders are committed to the companies they allegedly "own". They consider their shares either casino chips to be traded in the immediate future or as no more than a contract offering the opportunity of dividends in certain industries and countries; this requires no engagement in how those profits and dividends are generated. British law and corporate governance rules demand the narrowest interpretation of investors' and directors' duties: to maximise short-term profits while having minimal associated responsibilities.
The company is conceived as nothing more than a network of short-term contracts. Any shareholder – from a transient day trader to a long-term investor – has the same standing in law. American directors' ability to defend their company from hostile takeover or German directors having to live – horrors – with trade union representatives on their supervisory boards are seen as obstacles to enterprise that Britain must not go near. But companies and wealth generation, as Professor Colin Mayer argues in his important forthcoming book Firm Commitment, are about co-creation, sharing risk and long-term trust relationships: Britain's refusal to embrace these core truths is toxic. Companies were originally invented as legal structures to enable groups of investors to come together, committing to share risk around a shared goal and so make profit for themselves, but delivering wider economic and social benefits in the process. Incorporation was understood to be associated with obligations: a company had to declare its purpose before earning a licence to trade. There existed a mutual deal between society and company.
No game-changing improvement in British investment and innovation is possible without a return to engagement, stewardship and commitment. Limited liability should not be a charter to do what you like. It must be conditional on a core business purpose, along with the creation of trustees to guard it. Directors' obligations should be legally redefined to deliver on this purpose. What's more, every shareholder should be required to vote, with voting strength, as Mayer argues, increasing for the number of years the share is held.
To solve the problem that individual shareholders – even savings institutions – do not have sufficient muscle nor sufficient incentive to engage with managements, voting rights could be aggregated and given to new mutuals. These would support directors in delivering their corporate purpose, a proposal made by the Ownership Commission I chaired. Companies would become trust companies, with a stewardship code. The priority in takeovers would be the best future for the business, not the ambition to please the last hedge fund to take a short-term position.
Stakeholders should also have a voice in how the company is run. In Germany, a company's bankers and its employee representatives have seats on the supervisory board. Why not copy success rather than continue with our failed system? The Kay review's proposals to stop quarterly profit reporting, while a useful first step, do not address the core of the problem. The company has become a dysfunctional organisational construct that needs root-and-branch reform.
As part of the reform, Britain also needs more co-operatives, more employee-owned companies and more family-owned firms. It needs to be more attentive to which foreign companies own our assets and for what purpose. It is an ownership revolution to match the revolution in finance proposed last week. Together with an innovation revolution – see next week – the British economy could at last begin to deliver its promise.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

The root of Europe's riots

No wonder the protesters are back. They are angry at the backdoor rewriting of the social contract
Greek rioters beat policeman
Rioters beat a policeman during a rally against government austerity measures in Athens. Photograph: John Kolesidis/REUTERS
Throughout the 1980s and 90s, when many developing countries were in crisis and borrowing money from the International Monetary Fund, waves of protests in those countries became known as the "IMF riots". They were so called because they were sparked by the fund's structural adjustment programmes, which imposed austerity, privatisation and deregulation.
The IMF complained that calling these riots thus was unfair, as it had not caused the crises and was only prescribing a medicine, but this was largely self-serving. Many of the crises had actually been caused by the asset bubbles built up following IMF-recommended financial deregulation. Moreover, those rioters were not just expressing general discontent but reacting against the austerity measures that directly threatened their livelihoods, such as cuts in subsidies to basic commodities such as food and water, and cuts in already meagre welfare payments.
The IMF programme, in other words, met such resistance because its designers had forgotten that behind the numbers they were crunching were real people. These criticisms, as well as the ineffectiveness of its economic programme, became so damaging that the IMF has made a lot of changes in the past decade or so. It has become more cautious in pushing for financial deregulation and austerity programmes, renamed its structural adjustment programmes as poverty reduction programmes, and has even (marginally) increased the voting shares of the developing countries in its decision-making.
Given these recent changes in the IMF, it is ironic to see the European governments inflicting an old-IMF-style programme on their own populations. It is one thing to tell the citizens of some faraway country to go to hell but it is another to do the same to your own citizens, who are supposedly your ultimate sovereigns. Indeed, the European governments are out-IMF-ing the IMF in its austerity drive so much that now the fund itself frequently issues the warning that Europe is going too far, too fast.
The threat to livelihoods has reached such a dimension that renewed bouts of rioting are now rocking GreeceSpain and even the usually quieter Portugal. In the case of Spain, its national integrity is threatened by the separatist demand made by the Catalannationalists, who think the austerity policy is unfairly reducing the region's autonomy.
Even if these and other European countries (for other countries have not been free of protests against austerity programmes, such as Britain's university fees riot and the protests by Italy's "recession widows") survive this social unrest through a mixture of heavy-handed policing and political delaying tactics, recent events raise a very serious question about the nature of European politics.
What has been happening in Europe – and indeed the US in a more muted and dispersed form – is nothing short of a complete rewriting of the implicit social contracts that have existed since the end of the second world war. In these contracts, renewed legitimacy was bestowed on the capitalist system, once totally discredited following the great depression. In return it provided a welfare state that guarantees minimum provision for all those burdens that most citizens have to contend with throughout their lives – childcare, education, health, unemployment, disability and old age.
Of course there is nothing sacrosanct about any of the details of these social contracts. Indeed, the contracts have been modified on the margins all the time. However, the rewriting in many European countries is an unprecedented one. It is not simply that the scope and the speed of the cuts are unusually large. It is more that the rewriting is being done through the back door.
Instead of it being explicitly cast as a rewriting of the social contract, changing people's entitlements and changing the way the society establishes its legitimacy, the dismembering of the welfare state is presented as a technocratic exercise of "balancing the books". Democracy is neutered in the process and the protests against the cuts are dismissed. The description of the externally imposed Greek and Italian governments as "technocratic" is the ultimate proof of the attempt to make the radical rewriting of the social contract more acceptable by pretending that it isn't really a political change.
The danger is not only that these austerity measures are killing the European economies but also that they threaten the very legitimacy of European democracies – not just directly by threatening the livelihoods of so many people and pushing the economy into a downward spiral, but also indirectly by undermining the legitimacy of the political system through this backdoor rewriting of the social contract. Especially if they are going to have to go through long tunnels of economic difficulties in coming years, and in the context of global shifts in economic power balance and of severe environmental challenges, European countries can ill afford to have the legitimacy of their political systems damaged in this way.

Not picking the wrong 'un

Shane Warne demonstrates his bowling skills, London, July 2, 2010
In the '90s, Australian kids who tried to bowl like Shane Warne often wore themselves out because they weren't built like him © PA Photos 
Shane Warne's first real victim wasn't a batsman, but a fellow legspinner - a fellow Victorian legspinner, in fact, with a wrong 'un so brutal it would crash into the chest of those who lunged blindly forward; a legspinner who ran in like a graceful 1920s medium-pacer, but who then produced a dramatic twirl of his long arms and ripped the ball off the surface like few teenage legspinners before or since. This legspinner was so good that Warne said he had more talent than he did. His name was Craig Howard. And if you've never heard of him, it's probably not your fault: Howard doesn't even qualify for a single-line biography on ESPNcricinfo.
By December 3, 1995, Warne - who was by then closing in on 200 Test wickets - had already saved legspin. If the date sounds random, then for Howard it was not: it was his final day of first-class cricket. He was 21. Howard retired with 42 wickets in 16 first-class games at 40 apiece, which was no great shakes. But to understand how good he was, you had to be there - you had to see him hit a batsman with his wrong 'un. Aged 19, he had returned second-innings figures of 24.5-9-42-5 at the MCG against the South Africans.Wisden noted: "Only Rhodes, with 59, made much of Howard's leg-spin second time around." Darren Berry, who kept to Howard at Victoria, said he would have named him in his all-time XI of those he had played with or against if it hadn't been for Warne. Yes, Craig Howard could definitely bowl.
Plenty of others have been bit parts in the story of Australia's post-Warne spin apocalypse, but no one has been a more intriguing bit part than Howard. He is the only Australian bowler to go through the Cricket Academy twice, once as the artistic legspinning prodigy from my teenage years, later - after one of his fingers packed in - as a 28-year-old, made-to-order journeyman offspinner. And now Howard is back, plucked from his office job in telecommunications to coach Nathan Lyon, currently Australia's No. 1 tweaker.
Howard, as it happened, did play alongside Warne in four Sheffield Shield games in 1993-94. The comparison is unflattering: Warne took 27 wickets at 23, Howard - who bowled 100 overs to Warne's 247 - three at 108. But in between, with Warne away on international duty, Howard finally got a decent bowl: he took 5 for 112 against Tasmania, including the wicket of Ricky Ponting. More than 15 years later, when another leggie - Bryce McGain, who was almost 37 - was making his Test debut for Australia, the 34-year-old Howard was playing for Strathdale Maristians in Bendigo, up-country Victoria.
He is philosophical now. "Had I played Test cricket, my life would have turned out different," he says. "I probably would have ended up in some sextext scandal and lost my wife and kids and ended up a lonely bum. Although, yes, playing Test cricket was the dream."
There are many reasons why Howard didn't make it: injuries, bad management, terrible advice, over-coaching, low self-confidence. But had he played in an era when Australia were desperate for a spinner, he might now be a household name - or at least someone with a decent blurb on the internet.
"At one stage, there were headlines saying I was going to play for Australia," he says. "I remember being about 20, and at the top of my mark at the MCG. Instead of thinking, 'How I am going to get out Jamie Siddons or Darren Lehmann?' I'm thinking about a small group of men in the ground who are judging me. It wasn't like that all the time, but when I was struggling this is how I felt. In the back of my mind I know the captain of my side doesn't like me, and has told me to f*** off to Tasmania. The coach believes that, because I can't bat or field, I am never going to be that useful. It was a dark time."
In the mid-1990s, no one needed to look for Warne's replacement, because he would play for ever and inspire so many kids to take up legspin that any who fell through the cracks wouldn't be missed. Junior sides each had four or five leggies - often with peroxide hair - and they all walked in slowly, ripped the ball hard, and barely bowled a wrong 'un. But they weren't Warne. None had his physicality: Warne was built like a nightclub bouncer, not a spinner. Massive hands led into awe-inspiring wrists, the whole lot powered by an ox's shoulders. But kids who try the same quickly wear themselves out.
Howard knew how they felt: "My body never backed me up. I couldn't feel my pinky finger, had part of my right arm shortened, tendinitis in my shoulder was operated on, a wrist operation, stress fractures in my shins, tennis elbow in my knees from excessive squat thrusts, a spinning finger with bad ligaments, and barely the fitness to get through a two-day game, let alone four. There was no million-dollar microsurgery in the US for me. In the '90s, you still had to pay for a massage and work a day job.
"There were suddenly legspinning experts everywhere - not ex-spinners but just ex-cricketers, coaches and selectors who spent years ignoring legspin. No one ever came up to you and said: 'You should be more like Warne.' But every bit of advice seemed to be about making you more like him. It wasn't subtle. Everything just created doubt in your mind. And with legspin, if you have an ounce of doubt, you're cactus."
Warne's retirement sparked a desperate search for his replacement. One spinner simply begat the next: Stuart MacGill, Brad Hogg, Beau Casson, Cameron White, Jason Krejza, Nathan Hauritz, Marcus North, Bryce McGain, Hauritz again, Steve Smith, Xavier Doherty, Michael Beer, Nathan Lyon. Never mind Simon Katich, Michael Clarke or Andrew Symonds.
MacGill should have softened the blow of Warne's departure, but his knees gave way, his career as a lifestyle-show TV host took off, and it was clear he just didn't want to bowl any more. Even then, there was Hogg, the chinaman bowler with two World Cup wins to his name. But after one horrendous home summer against India, he retired as well - only to make a bizarre return to international cricket during the Twenty20 home series against the Indians once more, in February 2012, aged all but 41.
Along came Casson, another purveyor of chinamen, but a boyish one who seemed too pure for international cricket. His first (and only) Test was uneventful, and within 12 months he would be out of the Australian set-up altogether after an attack of the yips. A brief comeback was ended by tetralogy of Fallot, a congenital heart defect.
White was captain of Victoria, where he virtually never bowled himself, but suddenly - a product of injuries to others and weird selection - he was Australia's frontline spinner. He was awful. Krejza eventually got a chance and, on Test debut in Nagpur, claimed 12 wickets. The problem was he also gave away 358 runs; he played only one more Test. Marcus North became a Test batsman because he could bowl handy offspin, some said better than Hauritz. But despite a flattering six-wicket haul against Pakistan at Lord's, North's offbreaks were gentle; and they weren't much help when his batting faded.
McGain made his debut amid plenty of jokes about Bob Holland, who was 38 when he first played for Australia. McGain was an IT professional in a bank, who had never really been especially close to state selection. But he wouldn't go away. And while the search focused on big-turning kids, McGain sneaked into the Victoria side. In the 12 months before his Test debut, a shoulder injury had limited him to four first-class games. When the day finally came, at Newlands, McGain was roadkill: 18-2-149-0. That was it. McGain now plays part-time in the Big Bash League.
Hauritz was not deemed good enough even for New South Wales. He was a timid offspinner from club cricket with a first-class bowling average of more than 50, but he fought hard and improved regularly. The trouble was Hauritz was neither an attacker nor a defender, and Chris Gayle said it was like facing himself. By the time Hauritz was dumped, he was in the best form of his career.
A young allrounder named Steve Smith bowled legspin, and was brought in to play Pakistan in England. He madea dashing 77, was dropped and then later recalled in the Ashes as a batsman who bowled a bit - just not very well.
Xavier Doherty was given a go because Kevin Pietersen kept falling to left-arm spin. He got his man - but for 227. So in came Michael Beer, who admitted he probably wasn't ready for Test cricket, and then proved it.
Mighty big shoes to fill
BowlerStyleTest debutMatchesRunsWktsBBAvgSREcon
Shane WarneLBG1991-9214517,9957088-7125.4157.492.65
Brag HoggSLC1996-977933172-4054.8889.643.67
Stuart MacGillLBG1997-984460382088-10829.0254.023.22
Nathan HauritzOB2004-05172204635-5334.9866.663.14
Beau CassonSLC2007-08112933-8643.0064.004.03
Cameron WhiteLBG2008-09434252-7168.40111.603.67
Jason KrejzaOB2008-092562138-21543.2357.154.53
Marcus NorthOB2008-0921591146-5542.2189.852.81
Bryce McGainLBG2008-09114900-149--8.27
Steve SmithLBG2010522033-5173.33124.003.54
Xavier DohertySLA2010-11230632-41102.00151.664.03
Michael BeerSLA2010-11111211-112112.00228.002.94
Nathan LyonOB2011-1210832295-3428.6855.723.08
The first anyone in Australian cricket heard of Nathan Lyon was when Kerry O'Keeffe mentioned him on radio. At that stage, Lyon was part of the Adelaide Oval groundstaff, and was travelling to Canberra to play for the second XI. After some good performances in the nets, Darren Berry - now Adelaide's Twenty20 coach - took a punt on him. Lyon suddenly looked like the best spin prospect in the country - which wasn't saying much.
Howard really had come along at the wrong time. But there were moments, before I finally spoke to him, when I wondered if he actually existed at all. Finding someone who remembered his name was hard enough; finding someone who'd seen him play next to impossible. I'd talk to a guy, who'd tell me to contact a guy, but that guy would also tell me to contact a guy. The leads never went anywhere. Craig Howard wasn't the missing link of Australian spin bowling: he was just missing.
Then I asked Gideon Haigh about Howard, and he gave a long stare, as if he was searching through his billion-terabyte memory. I had my breakthrough. Haigh talked about how Howard looked like an otherworldly artist - long shirt buttoned to the wrist, billowing madly in the wind; incredibly gawky, like a schoolkid. Howard didn't fit into Haigh's, or anyone else's, imaginings of an athlete. But it was the Howard of my youth. Someone else remembered my poet leggie.
After that I cornered O'Keeffe, legspin's court jester. He had coached Howard at the Academy, probably twice. O'Keeffe's eyes were full of regret: he said Howard had a biomechanically flawed action, and O'Keeffe hadn't tried to fix it. But that didn't stop him happily reminiscing about "a wrong 'un batsmen had to play from their earhole".
I collared Damien Fleming, Howard's Victoria colleague. Fleming seemed surprised to hear the name again. He told stories about how he thought Victoria had a champion on their hands, but said his skin folds were thicker than those of Warne or Merv Hughes: "Basically bone and fat." He could have gone further with a more supportive coaching structure, said Fleming. He added, almost lustfully: "The best wrong 'un I've seen." Then came the clincher. "If someone like him came on the scene now, he'd be given everything he needed to succeed. Like they treat Pat Cummins."
Haigh, O'Keeffe and Fleming all seemed to think Howard was a Test spinner we had missed out on. They could be right. But Howard was caught between two eras, relaxed and regimented. And Australia had Warne.
"My career is long over," says Howard. "It finished with me out of form and mostly injured. It wasn't one thing that ended my career, and I'm not coming up with excuses, but this is what happened to me. Due to my finger, I can't even bowl legspin any more - I have to bowl offspin, but nothing can ever compare to being a legspinner. I'm younger than Hogg, McGain or MacGill and instead of preparing to play in my 100th Test and thinking about retirement, I am working in an office in Bendigo."
Craig Howard went from a freakishly talented wrist-spinner to a boring club offie. Australian spin did much the same.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

It's not just about the results

Paddy Upton
September 25, 2012
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South Africa coach Gary Kirsten leads catching drills, Nottingham, September, 4, 2012
Gary Kirsten: "When the heat is on in Test cricket, it's not your skill but your character that is being tested" © PA Photos 
Related Links
Players/Officials: Hashim Amla | Gary Kirsten | Sachin Tendulkar
Teams: South Africa
As cricket advances into the entertainment industry, so the celebrity limelight shines more brightly on the players. Cricketers today enjoy more money, more glamour, more exposure than ever before. It's fun, the party is on, but are they sufficiently prepared for the hangovers that lurks in the shadows?
These come in many forms and manifest themselves in the form of scuffles in nightclubs, drink driving, sexual indiscretions, drug abuse, cheating and match-fixing - sometimes driven by a celebrity's sense of being above the law, invincible, and sometimes even immortal.
Cricket stars are easily seduced into defining themselves, their self-confidence and their happiness, by their name, fame, money and the results they produce: happy when they do well in these regards, grumpy and anti-social when not. A darker shadow of the limelight is where players buy into the image of fame (of being a special person) that fans and the media create for them. As they do this, they become more alienated from themselves, losing touch of who they authentically are. They begin to see themselves as superior to ordinary mortals, not only better at the skill that made them famous but also better and more important as people. They struggle to be alone, uncomfortable in their own company. Yet while surrounding themselves with others, they become incapable of genuine relationships.
A loneliness and creeping discontentment begins to shroud the star. This inner emptiness drives the celebrity to wear their "happy", "tough" or "I'm okay" masks while looking to find temporary happiness out there, in more success, fame, money, sex, drink or drugs.
Cricket has plenty of known instances of depression and substance abuse, one of the highest suicide rates of all sports, and a divorce rate to match.
It's about who you are, not what you do
There is another road, less-travelled by superstars, which leads out of the shadows of the limelight and into the light of personal and professional success, sincere relationships, lasting contentment and an all-round fulfilling life.
Speaking to me in 2004, Gary Kirsten said: "I'm searching for the authentic Gary Kirsten - someone who is accepting of his shortcomings and is confident in the knowledge of who he is. One who is willing to have a positive influence and add value to society in my own unique way. I want to make a difference to people's lives and give them similar opportunities that I have had. My perception of success is not about how much money I can earn in the next ten years but rather what impact I made on people I came into contact with."
Gary spent thousands of hours mastering his strokeplay, which had brought him great success and recognition. To this pursuit of professional mastery, he added personal mastery. He often says that when the heat is on in Test cricket, it's not your skill but your character that is being tested.
In life as in cricket, it's who you are inside, your character and your values, rather than what you do, what results you achieve or possessions you gain, that will determine your contentment, enduring success and how you will ultimately be remembered.
Personal mastery is many things. It is a journey towards living successfully as an all-round human being, a tapping into your full potential. It is a commitment to learning about yourself, your mind and emotions in all situations. It is a strengthening of character and deepening of personal values. It is an increased awareness of self, others and the world around; living from the inside out, not the outside in. Peter Senge, one of the authors of the concept of personal mastery, defines it as "the discipline of personal growth and learning".
This idea may already sound too touchy-feely for the John Rambos and Chuck Norrises out there, but before dismissing the concept, know it translated to Kirsten's most successful international season, that it underpins Hashim Amla's remarkable performances, and grounds Sachin Tendulkar's extraordinary fame.
Conversely, the lack of personal mastery has undermined the personal and professional lives of many celebrities. Have you heard about the guy who was a brilliant batsman but whose peers think he is an idiot, and who after retirement had no mates? Or the one who had great talent and opportunity but never managed to deliver? We will never know the truth about all the cricket failures that may seem to have been caused by technical errors but which were actually caused by a lack in character or strength of mind, causing the player to repeatedly succumb to the fear of failure and how it would reflect on them. We all know how the likes of Hansie Cronje, Mike Tyson, Ben Johnson, Mohammad Azharuddin, Diego Maradona and Tiger Woods might be remembered.
The road to personal mastery

Personal mastery is a shift in attitude that drives a shift in behaviour.
From over-emphasising results to placing importance on the processes that set up the best chance of success; from defining one's contentment by results, to deriving contentment from the effort made in the pursuit of that result.
From worrying about what others think about you, to knowing that what others think about you is none of your business. There are people who don't like Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi or Mother Teresa, so what makes you so special that everyone should like you?
From focusing on the importance of looking good outwardly, to the importance of inner substance and strength of character. It is not about trying to be a good person but allowing the good person in you to emerge;
Personal mastery is a shift from thinking you have the answers, to knowing you have much to learn. From balancing talking and telling with listening and asking. People who think they're "important" seldom ask questions;
It is a shift from pretending to be strong and in control, and from covering up ignorance, faults and vulnerabilities, to acknowledging these human fallibilities while still remaining self-confident. The current South Africa team now openly acknowledges that they have choked in big tournaments in the past, and they're not choked up by this acknowledgement;
When things go wrong, personal mastery is a shift from pointing fingers and blaming others, to taking responsibility. It is first asking "What was my part in this?" before looking elsewhere. It's a shift from being reactive, to being proactive; from withdrawing or getting pissed off by criticism, to accepting that it's one of the few things that helps us grow.
It is about developing social, emotional and spiritual intelligence, in addition to building muscle and sporting intelligence - in the way that Kirsten added the journey of personal mastery to that of professional mastery.
It is a shift from an attitude of expecting things to come to you, to earning your dues through your own effort; and then being grateful for what does come.
It's a shift from focusing on yourself, to gaining awareness of what is going on for others and the world around you. Not everyone is naturally compassionate, but everyone can be aware.
When things go wrong, personal mastery is a shift from pointing fingers and blaming others, to taking responsibility. It is first asking "What was my part in this?" before looking elsewhere
Personal mastery is a shift from expecting to be told what to do, to taking responsibility for doing what needs to be done. A shift towards becoming your own best teacher as you learn more deeply about your game, your mind and your life, in a way that works best for you. Kirsten insists that players make decisions for themelves, that bowlers set their own fields, and batters take responsibility for their game plans, decisions and executions. Off the field there are no rules to govern behaviour, no curfews, no eating do's and dont's, and no fines system. Players are asked to take responsibility for making good decisions for themselves, at least most of the time.
Personal mastery is about pursuing success rather than trying to avoid failure. It is an acceptance that failure paves the path towards learning and success. It's important in this regard that leaders are okay with their players' mistakes. Almost every sports coach I have watched display visible signs of disappointment when a player makes a mistake. I wonder if these same coaches tell their players to go and fully express themselves? If they do, then their words and their actions do not line up - and their reactions speaks more loudly than their words. Show me a coach who reacts negatively to mistakes, and I will show you a team that plays with a fear of failure.
It is about knowing and playing to your strengths, rather than dwelling on your weaknesses, knowing that developing strengths builds success far more effectively than fixing weaknesses does. If you're a good listener, it's about being even better, for instance.
It requires an awareness of how you conduct yourself in relation to basic human principles, such as integrity, honesty, humility, respect and doing what is best for all. It means having an awareness of and deliberately living personal values as one goes about one's business. It's about knowing how one day you want to be remembered as a person - and then living that way today.
When you, as a top athlete, do well, it's about receiving the praise fully, and expressing gratitude in equal proportion, knowing that no athlete achieves success without the unseen heroes that support them. Praise plus gratitude equals humility. One only need listen to Amla receiving a Man-of-the-Match award to witness humility.
Personal mastery is a path that leads through all of life, bringing improved performances on the field and a more contented and rewarding life off of it. It's a journey out of the shadows of the ego and into the light of awareness; it's a daily commitment, not a destination. It may not be for John Rambo or Chuck Norris, but it works for most.
The bonus is that while personal mastery leads to a happier and more rewarding existence, it also leads to better sport performance. Kirsten adds: "I spent years fighting a mental battle with my pereived lack of skill. Towards the end of my career I dropped this, as well trying to live up to others expectations. I went on to score five Test centuries and have my best year ever. As a coach, I now know that managing myself and others well, being aware of who I am being and why I do things, is of far more importance than technical knowledge of the game."
Another fairly successful and likeable international cricketer who knows the importance of personal mastery states: "Who I am as a person, my nature, is permanent. My results on the field are temporary - they will go up and go down. It is more important that I am consistent as a person. This I can control, my results I cannot." He adds that "people will criticise me for my results, and will soon forget them, but they will always remember the impact I have on them as a person. This will last forever." His name is Sachin Tendulkar.
Paddy Upton is South Africa's performance director.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

The myth of self-created millionaires

Illustration by Daniel Pudles
We could call it Romnesia: the ability of the very rich to forget the context in which they made their money. To forget their education, inheritance, family networks, contacts and introductions. To forget the workers whose labour enriched them. To forget the infrastructure and security, the educated workforce, the contracts, subsidies and bailouts the government provided.
Every political system requires a justifying myth. The Soviet Union had Alexey Stakhanov, the miner reputed to have extracted 100 tonnes of coal in six hours. The US had Richard Hunter, the hero of Horatio Alger's rags-to-riches tales.
Both stories contained a germ of truth. Stakhanov worked hard for a cause in which he believed, but his remarkable output was probably faked. When Alger wrote his novels, some poor people had become very rich in the US. But the further from its ideals (productivity in the Soviet Union's case, opportunity in the US) a system strays, the more fervently its justifying myths are propounded.
As the developed nations succumb to extreme inequality and social immobility, the myth of the self-made man becomes ever more potent. It is used to justify its polar opposite: an unassailable rent-seeking class, deploying its inherited money to finance the seizure of other people's wealth.
The crudest exponent of Romnesia is the Australian mining magnate Gina Rinehart. "There is no monopoly on becoming a millionaire," she insists. "If you're jealous of those with more money, don't just sit there and complain; do something to make more money yourselves – spend less time drinking or smoking and socialising and more time working … Remember our roots, and create your own success."
Remembering her roots is what Rinehart fails to do. She forgot to add that if you want to become a millionaire – in her case a billionaire – it helps to inherit an iron ore mine and a fortune from your father and to ride a spectacular commodities boom. Had she spent her life lying in bed and throwing darts at the wall, she would still be stupendously rich.
Rich lists are stuffed with people who either inherited their money or who made it through rent-seeking activities: by means other than innovation and productive effort. They're a catalogue of speculators, property barons, dukes, IT monopolists, loan sharks, bank chiefs, oil sheikhs, mining magnates, oligarchs and chief executives paid out of all proportion to any value they generate. Looters, in short. The richest mining barons are those to whom governments sold natural resources for a song. Russian, Mexican and British oligarchs acquired underpriced public assets through privatisation, and now run a toll-booth economy. Bankers use incomprehensible instruments to fleece their clients and the taxpayer. But as rentiers capture the economy, the opposite story must be told.
Scarcely a Republican speech fails to reprise the Richard Hunter narrative, and almost all these rags-to-riches tales turn out to be bunkum. "Everything that Ann and I have," Mitt Romney claims, "we earned the old-fashioned way". Old fashioned like Blackbeard, perhaps. Two searing exposures in Rolling Stone magazine document the leveraged buyouts which destroyed viable companies, value and jobs, and the costly federal bailoutwhich saved Romney's political skin.
Romney personifies economic parasitism. The financial sector has become a job-destroying, home-breaking, life-crushing machine, which impoverishes others to enrich itself. The tighter its grip on politics, the more its representatives must tell the opposite story: of life-affirming enterprise, innovation and investment, of brave entrepreneurs making their fortunes out of nothing but grit and wit.
There is an obvious flip side to this story. "Anyone can make it – I did without help", translates as "I refuse to pay taxes to help other people, as they can help themselves": whether or not they inherited an iron ore mine from daddy. In the article in which she urged the poor to emulate her, Rinehart also proposed that the minimum wage should be reduced. Who needs fair pay if anyone can become a millionaire?
In 2010, the richest 1% in the US captured an astonishing 93% of that year's gain in incomes. In the same year, corporate chief executives made, on average, 243 times as much as the median worker (in 1965 the ratio was 10 times lower). Between 1970 and 2010, the Gini coefficient, which measures inequality, rose in the US from 0.35 to 0.44: an astounding leap.
As for social mobility, of the rich countries listed by the OECD, the three in which men's earnings are most likely to resemble their father's are, in this order, the UK, Italy and the US. If you are born poor or born rich in these nations, you are likely to stay that way. It is no coincidence that these three countries all promote themselves as lands of unparalleled opportunity.
Equal opportunity, self-creation, heroic individualism: these are the myths that predatory capitalism requires for its political survival. Romnesia permits the ultra-rich both to deny the role of other people in the creation of their own wealth and to deny help to those less fortunate than themselves. A century ago, entrepreneurs sought to pass themselves off as parasites: they adopted the style and manner of the titled, rentier class. Today the parasites claim to be entrepreneurs.