Indian Cricket - Great Expectations

Today was a sad day for one billion people. It wasn't because of any natural disaster or terrorist crisis. It was because of something much less dramatic – a cricket game.

Cricket is a sport played in many commonwealth countries including India, Australia, Pakistan, New Zealand and many others. For Americans who aren't familiar with cricket, it's vaguely similar to baseball. Anyone who says "it's just like baseball" is exaggerating – it's much more interesting albeit a much lengthier game. The only thing they really have in common is that they're both bat and ball games. While cricket isn't the most popular game in western society, it is the heart and the soul of nearly 1 billion people in India. As an Indian dignitary once said to me at a dinner party, cricket is one of the two things that unites a diverse country like India (Indian movies being the second).

Today, India lost her final match in Round 1 to Sri Lanka. Barring a miracle, India is eliminated from the second round of the cricket world cup. The cricket world cup, similar to the football world cup, happens every 4 years and is the most prestigious cricket tournament. Hardcore football (AKA soccer) fans will understand what elimination feels like. But it is impossible to understand –how- devastating this loss is to nearly 20% of the world's population unless you've lived in India. Cricket, even though it was a game cultivated by the British, is a game that is played in every state, city, village and alley in India. It's a game that gives the Indian population prestige, something to look forward to and talk about, and most importantly, something that brings hope. That hope, that sense of Indian pride, melted away today.

Every Indian assumed (you know what they say about people who assume J) that India would cruise to the second round. We were supposed to easily win against Bangladesh and Bermuda and fair a decent chance of winning against Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, our World Cup 2007 debut resulted in a disaster with a devastating loss to Bangladesh. Today, we sealed our fate with a disgraceful loss to Sri Lanka. Not because Sri Lanka is a bad team (they are very good), but because the game wasn't even close. Our fielding and, especially our batting, were awful.

Our early exit from the World Cup really highlights the tremendous gap between the Indian cricket team's competency and the Indian citizens' expectations from the team. If you just looked at the numbers and took a strong objective look, India's a mediocre cricket team that has its streaks just like every other mediocre team. But every Indian, including me, hopes that we'll show the world how good we really are; that we will win the World Cup. This morning, at Microsoft, Indian developers, managers, directors and senior leaders took a few hours off and watched the game. I'm confident that hundreds of other millions of Indians watched the game, praying and making ridiculous promises to a higher being just for one victory. I guess God wasn't impressed and wanted more. J

Let bygones be bygones. India's practically out of the World Cup. Let's figure out what the problem is here: why does India, a country of one billion people, have such a mediocre team? It's either a result of tremendous corruption or lack of recruiting competence in the recruiting process or, bluntly speaking, sheer Indian natural athletic incompetence. I refuse to believe the latter, so I'm guessing it's more likely the former. We simply haven't found the best cricket players in India.

So what's stopping India from firing all its cricket players and recruiting new ones? Two words: emotional attachment. The Indian population, as intelligent as it is, is extremely fickle. They love their team one month; they hate their team another month. And it's because of this bipolar love and hate relationship that nobody challenges the cricket leadership in India that's responsible for recruiting and assembling the final team. I have complete confidence that there is an extremely incompetent and likely corrupt leadership team that isn't picking up the best talent that India has to offer. While that's a terrible shame, it's an even greater shame for the Indian public to remain complacent and not demand more. Expecting more is one thing; demanding for more is another. Emotions aside, the Indian cricket board needs to treat recruiting like a business. We have to win and become an A-class team.

I suspect Indian cricket creates a billion dollar industry if you include advertizing, ticket sales, tourism, et cetera. There is tremendous business value being created because of the Indian people's very un-business like emotional attachment with an idea, a hope, with great expectations.

So what do I think India needs to do? If it hasn't been clear, it's to take accountability and provide complete visibility into the recruitment process for players and other influentials into the team building process. The people making these decisions need to demonstrate that they have exhausted every possible potential player and done everything they can to get the best players in India. They should consider having a massive public drive for selecting new cricket players like an "Indian Cricket Idol". Details aside, it would reinvigorate Indian cricket, get rid of mediocre, overpaid players and hopefully attract great hidden talent. Most importantly, the Indian public will have the opportunity to be involved in the selection of the Indian cricket team's players; they will be empowered to shape their own destiny. And when India loses, it will be bad luck - not because we have a mediocre team. Their great expectations for their team will be well-founded based on solid ability and not just blind devotion.

By the way, in case it isn't obvious, I love my Indian cricket team. I just think that India can do better and deserves better. But until that happens, I'll continue supporting the Indian team... hoping...praying.... and making promises. I am Indian after all. :-)