Sunday 28 May 2023

Leadership and the cricket IPL (Indian Premier League)

We have been following the Indian Premier League (IPL) over recent weeks, which is the biggest, most highly paid tournament in world cricket. 

Each team has at least seven out of eleven Indian players, and the rest can be overseas signings; and IPL salaries and standards attract from the best players across the world. 

The IPL plays the T20 version of cricket (an English invention, from 20 years ago!) - which is a 20 overs per side, approximately three and a half hour, game; in which the winner is the side that scores the most runs when batting. 

The resulting game is very tense and eventful, in which every one of the 120 balls per innings counts; and which often leads to close, exciting finishes. 

Today is the finals day, and the two sides that have made-it through the long competition up to here (involving 15 or 16 games) are - not by coincidence - the two best captained sides (and both have Indian captains). 

The Chennai Super Kings (CSK) are captained by wicket-keeper/ batsman MS Dhoni, who is nothing short of a legend in India - perhaps the most popular famous person in the country? (If not Dhoni, then the current star batter Virat Kholi.) CSK have won the IPL, and got into the finals, many times before.

The Gujarat Titans (GTs) were only formed last year, and won the competition immediately. They are captained by all-rounder Hardik Pandya - who explicitly modelled his captaincy on Dhoni. Indeed the GTs management (coach etc.) contain many people who have worked with Dhoni, and learned from him.

Thus, in the IPL, we can see an old-style apprenticeship system informally developing, in which one successful leader serves as a mentor and a model for others capable of learning by participation. 

Dhoni's calm and decisive leadership style on the field is only at the surface of what he does - most of which is preparation. It is a paternalistic system - with Dhoni as a 'stern and loving' father, one who cares about each member of the team, treats each as an individual - shaping the organization around each man's particular nature and strengths; who rewards effort and achievement by loyalty.  

Pandya's style on field is much more genial - more like a brother than a father. He is demonstrative, always cheerful and seems confident, never mind the situation; always positive and encouraging. Pandya reminds me somewhat of the current English Test Match (not T20) cricket-genius leader - Ben Stokes

Also, Stokes and Pandya are similar in being (to me, anyway) not-at-all-obvious 'leadership types', and with 'naughty boy' reputations off- and on-field. 

In military terms, both Stokes and Pandya more like NCOs than junior officers - Sergeants rather than Dhoni coming-across more as a Lieutenant or Captain (although Dhoni's social class background is modest, middling). 

I find it cheering to see the benefits of genuine leadership coming-through and triumphing in such a highly competitive 'system' as the IPL. 

And to see how each genuine leader - whether tactical, like a cricket captain; or more strategic like the off-field coaches - is unique; because such excellence must be rooted in specific persons - not systems.

In a world where most 'leaders' are obviously merely docile (or indeed demented) puppets, pretending to administer inhuman bureaucracies - it pleases me to observe what remarkable things are possible for individuals when they are given scope. 

And after seeing so many pseudo-leaders lavishly rewarded for corrupting, inverting, or destroying, their institutions; it is a refreshment to turn to a residual social activity in which the ability to do a good job is still of primary importance.   


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