Nelson Mandela: “What is your philosophy on leadership? How do you inspire your team to do their best?”
Francois Pienaar: “By example. I’ve always thought to lead by example, sir.”
Nelson Mandela: “Well, that is right. That is exactly right. But how do we get them to be better then they think they can be? That is very difficult, I find. Inspiration, perhaps. How do we inspire ourselves to greatness when nothing less will do? How do we inspire everyone around us? I sometimes think it is by using the work of others.”
MS Dhoni and Duncan Fletcher hopefully are having discussions around this theme. With Madiba being laid to rest, the Indian team could inspire themselves from the life of the great departed soul. When the times are tough, even the most fecund mind finds itself barren. 3 ODIs ago, a team with exceptional batting performances in the 50 over format and 2 thumping victories in tests was brimming with confidence. The euphoria over the retired great is dwindling down and so are the fortunes of the Indian cricket team.
On the other hand, a team which 3 ODIs ago lost an ODI series in their own backyard to a rookie Pakistani team seemed quite unfazed by the ODI rankings of its opponent. Their leading bowler despite benefiting from the riches of the IPL did not for a moment allow the Indian batsmen to be lulled in to any thoughts of mollycoddling them. He was fast, aggressive, precise as a surgeon’s blade. The first 3 overs of the first ODI in this current series to Rohit Sharma set the tone for the upcoming competition. Rohit acknowledged the crowd cheering when he finally put some willow on the ball after 15 balls of torment.
The first TEST match is a couple of days away and the practice match has been washed out. The Indian team has to face a barrage of negativity from the fourth estate. The Indian team needs to rise above its own expectations. My most probable Indian XI:
1. M Vijay 2. Shikhar Dhawan 3. C Pujara 4. V Kohli 5. Rohit Sharma 6. MS Dhoni 7. R Jadeja 8. R Ashwin 9. B Kumar 10. M Shami 11 Z Khan
Out of these only Vijay, Pujara and Dhoni have batted in tests in SA before, Zaheer and Ishant are the only bowlers to have bowled in tests before in SA. How does this team find the inspiration? Previous results could be a good starting point. In New Wanderers where the first test would be played the results are:
|Played||India Won||SA Won||Draw|
From a South African point of view, they clearly believe they have the Indians by the scruff of their necks. My most probable SA XI:
1. Smith 2. Petersen 3. Elgar 4. Kallis 5. AB 6. Duminy 7. Faf 8. Steyn 9. Philander 10. Morkel 11. Kleinveldt
They look extremely accomplished in all three departments of the game. Steyn has been in scorching form at home especially. The last he played at New Wanderers he humiliated the Pakistani batting line up grabbing 6/8 and demolishing them for 49. Quite an intimidating stat and a very inimical one for an opponent who is already grappling with problems of facing him for only a limited number of overs.
There is a reason why human beings choose challenging careers over docile, friendly for life jobs. The chemical called adrenaline can be quite addictive. Once it starts pumping and gets you high on the fight or flight emotion, it’s quite hard to let it go unless you consistently choose the FLIGHT option. Now here is a team largely made up of rookies up against a team with 2 best ranked bowlers in Steyn and Philander, and 2 best ranked batsmen in Amla, AB. Flight is an easy option, all one has to do is look around to find who or what to blame. It can be the lack of practice matches, lack of grounds back home or even the hotel food. Champions rise above reasons to complain. It doesn’t matter how skilled you are, it only matters how many times you can take the blows on your body or hits from the batsmen and rise up again. Madiba stood up every time life grounded him and stayed in inhuman conditions for 27 years in Robben Island. In the end when he came out he had still had it in him to forgive the perpetrators. Clearly he chose the FIGHT option every time he was presented the option. The positive mindset that comes along with it is the reason champions think and view the world differently.
Dhawan, Vijay, Pujara, Kohli, Rohit, Ashwin, Shami et al need not look far for inspiration. They need to ingrain one mindset, “Fight we must, fight we will”. Champions are not made in a day but one great deed can have the world following you. The recent press conferences from Steyn indicate that the Indian batting doesn’t have his respect. Earning the respect of the opposition is very critical and fighting at every opportunity ensures that. Once you have their respect, you are their equal, and then the playing field is level.
From an Indian perspective, the major battles to be won are Zaheer Khan vs Smith, Kohli vs Steyn, Rohit/Vijay/Dhawan vs all SA bowlers, Shami vs all SA batsmen who are susceptible to the fast swinging ball.
India possesses the talent and the ability to compete and win. This claim might ruffle some feathers but I always believe being an incorrigible romantic when it comes to sport makes it all the more watch worthy. My prediction is 1-1 for SA and India because the Indian team has been a champion and it’s a hard habit to lose.
On the 18th, when the Indian team walks out for the first ball, they better remember these two lines from Madiba’s favorite poem:
“I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul”
-Ranjit Eswaran [Ranjit Eswaran is a writer at Sportz Cosmos. You can contact him at our gmail address: sportzcosmos]