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Corporate culture leaves cricket shaken...

When businessmen buy teams and spend exorbitant sums on cricketers, the rules of the game are bound to change, with the focus shifting only on winning and on returns, writes Pradeep Magazine.
Hindustan Times | By Pradeep Magazine
UPDATED ON MAY 11, 2008 02:57 AM IST

It was bound to happen. That it happened sooner than expected may have come as a surprise, but now no one can say that they were not warned.

When businessmen buy teams and spend exorbitant sums to become owners of cricket celebrities, the rules of the game are bound to change. The focus of "corporate culture" is only on winning and on returns.

The end product of their entire endeavour is profits and the Indian Premier League has given them an opportunity to build their brand image. It is this brand image, which the UB Group owner Vijay Mallya may have felt is suffering after his team's successive defeats and in a fit of anger sacked the CEO of the team.

Accountability overdrive

This one act of “corporate accountability” has shaken the sporting world and the players, especially the Bangalore team, are tasting the fruits of a new world where the money is great but longevity uncertain and even limited.

It is said that all successful brands are associated with winning and losers have no place in it. The rules governing this world are very different from the freedom an artist or a sportsman associates with his craft. In the world of sport, even the best have worst days and these worst days can sometimes last for even months.

The beauty of sport lies as much in its failures as in the success a sportsman achieves and that is the reason it is a never ending “reality show” where masses are willing to forgive many failures of their sporting icons.

Even team strategies are formulated on the premise that no matter how much you plan, once the real game begins, it is a different world out there, where one mistake or one expression of genius can turn the match around.

But, obviously, you can't tell this to the corporate honchos who are governed by the dictum “perform or perish”. That only Charu Sharma got the boot and not some of the players is more to do with the iconic status people like Rahul Dravid or Anil Kumble enjoy which must have prevented the owners from sacking them as well.

Wrong company

Just imagine the horror of the players who are being given lessons in strategy and even how to train by company officials. Imagine their horror, when they are told that to meet their targets, the company officials work 24 hours non-stop and that is what the team needs to do if it is not doing well. “Why train for two hours, train double the time.’This sentence to the team did not come from their coach but from an official.

If those involved with the team are to be believed — and there is no reason not to do so - even the video analyst is being told by those who sell the UB brand what inputs he should give to the team and where he is going wrong.

It is said that poor Charu Sharma, who was trying his best to become a buffer between the players and the owner, had to face the music after every loss and was told to crack the whip and not be too soft on the players. The players themselves, new to this corporate governance, can do nothing but watch and absorb this new “ethos” either with amusement or accept their fate and seek solace in the fat pay cheques they are getting.

Leave cricket to cricketers

What has upset everyone more is that Mr Mallya could have made his decisions at the end of the tournament and by sacking a CEO — a soft target — at the start of the tournament he is achieving precious little, except stamping his authority on the team.

Had skipper Dravid, who, could very well be next in line, not expressed his unhappiness, even coach Venkatesh Prasad would have been shown the door. I think there is every reason for the players, coaches and CEOs of the other teams to get worried and the Board should do a serious introspection and not let the corporate culture of hire and fire vitiate the future of the sport.

Among the many dos and don'ts that must be part of the contractual obligations of the franchise, one thing should be made clear: leave cricket to the cricketers and please don’t let ignorant officials interfere with the team and give sermons to the players on how to play.

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