Is there something we can learn from cricket? Yes there is. The phenomenal growth of Indian Cricket has some serious lessons for the MoD and the Armed Forces. I have outlined a few of them.

By Lt Gen P R Shankar (Retd)


All the best to our men in blue. May you bring the cup home

We have beaten Pakistan when it matters on the cricket field and on the battlefield without fail. Despite many ups and downs in Indian Cricket and periods of domination by Pakistan, we have a 7-0 record in the World Cup. Similarly, despite all Pakistani attempts at proxy war in Punjab and J&K, we have beaten them soundly in all battles. No wonder that Team India and our Men in Blue have such a crazed following. Similarly, it is no wonder that the Indian Armed Forces are the most trusted by Indians. Indian faith that these two entities will deliver to the nation when it matters is boundless. Today, Indian Cricket is respected and admired all over the world for its sheer strength and professionalism. Can we say the same about our Armed Forces? Balakot and its aftermath has shown to us that what should have been a conclusive spank left room for a lot of debate.

Reminiscently, the picture which came to my mind was of 1978, when India had a weak team of brilliant individuals. They attempted to play out a face-saving draw in Pakistan in the third test. Despite dour batting by Sunil Gavaskar and wide bowling by Mohinder Amarnath to keep the ball out of Pakistani batsmen’s reach, we were yet beaten soundly. Today we beat Pakistan and most other teams regularly without a fuss. We went through the chastening period of match fixing. Somewhere a process was put in place and we transformed. After transformation, Indian Cricket is on the high table of International cricket having emerged as one of the BIG THREE along-with England and Australia. It may sound ludicrous; but is it not time that our weak team of brilliant individuals in MOD and its attached offices learn something from Team India’s transformation. What are the outlines of this transformation in cricket?

Vision. Cricket has been blessed with administrative and political heavyweights, cutting across party lines, who gave a vision to Team India – to be world beaters and led them into that position despite all odds. A few whose names come to mind are Jagmohan Dalmia, Sharad Pawar, Arun Jaitley, Rajiv Shukla besides many more. The last visionary India had in security affairs was Indira Gandhi who strengthened and combined our Military and Diplomatic heft to create Bangladesh while keeping the USA at Bay. Mr Narendra Modi has the opportunity currently to be the next visionary. The challenge before him is that – will he live up to his promise?

Team Spirit. Indian Cricket had the most prolific batsman, the best all rounder, great batsmen and bowlers but regularly lost in all forms of the game. International victories in 1983, 1985, 2007 and 2011 changed things. They taught us the values of team ethos and effort. Team India emerged, where the individual matters less and the team matters more. I yearn for a ‘Team India’ in Defense. I yearn for color purple and not green, blue or white. Who wants the disintegrated IHQ of the MOD represented by the DOD, DDP, Army, Air Force, Navy, DRDO, OFB and DPSUs; each trying to hit the other for a six and constantly bowling googlies at each other? Result – hit wicket. Out!

Investment and Infrastructure. Indian cricket is cash rich today. It was always not so. At some stage, BCCI invested in infrastructure systematically – grounds, stadia, organizations, processes, coaching, multilevel tournaments and so on. A system and process were put in place which widened the base and took the game to all nooks and corners of India. Cricket in an organized manner touched the common man and gave him an opportunity and an aspiration. As revenues grew through monetization, a fair amount was ploughed back as reinvestment. More importantly, the investment was monitored and guided by professionals. Privatization was the mantra and IPL is its high point. I think there is a lot to learn from this for committed defense professionals in preparing the nation to defend itself.

Professionalism. A high sense of professionalism and involvement is evident in cricket. IPL represents the acme of professionalizing the sport. However, it was built to this level and stage by professionals who understood cricket. The bureaucracy of cricket was infused by capable ex-players. A direct connect between the office bearers of cricket and the players was established. Accountability was brought in. Poor performances meant axing. Rewards for good performance were generous. Fakes were discarded. Contrast it with the Military system where failures are rewarded, experts kept out and layer upon layer of amateur bureaucratic fat stifles squeezes the oxygen of the system. In this context it will be apt to say that the military itself has a bureaucracy which will put the rest to shame. Lot of soul searching to do.

Technology. Cricket has taken to technology like a duck to water. Ball Tracking, Snickometer, Stump cam and mikes, electric bails, Heat maps, DLS, weather prediction, and so on. What are the technologies? Thermal Imaging, AI based algorithms, Drone Surveillance, day night sensors, sonars and so on. If cricket professionals, who have no formal grounding in these technologies can use these for a game why can’t we do that for the security of the Nation? Inability of the Indian Defense firmament in recognizing, enabling and absorbing technology to its best use is one of its monumental failures. Agreed, defense technology is more serious and complicated than cricket technology. Hence the need to put in a proper system which will ingest latest technologies. We must expand the R&D bubble beyond DRDO.

Leadership. Indian cricket has been through tribulations. The worst phase was represented by match fixing scandals with a weak Captain at the helm. The team performances were poor. Emergence of strong captains and leaders like Saurav Ganguly, Dhoni and Virat Kohli saw Indian Cricket ascending to great heights. Equally, good coaches have kept the team’s preparation and performance high. Let us face facts, the India Military is waiting for strong and wise leaders. I have already spoken enough about our Generalship. Unless we have learned Generals who display a high quality of leadership we will stagnate.

Global Shift in Power Centre. As of today, five out of the ten teams in the ICC World Cup are from the subcontinent. The global center of cricket is the subcontinent. Mutatis mutandis it is India, which is the epicenter of the subcontinent and India is grabbing the cricket moment. Similarly, the global economic power is shifting East. The center of all conflict and disaster regions is India. India must grasp the strategic opportunity. It is failing to do so. There is a need for a shift in thinking and outlook. We must put mechanisms in place to our advantage.

All these thoughts and many more came to my mind when watching and reading analyses of the ongoing ICC World Cup. Many will argue that cricket and warfare are two different things. Reflect for a moment. What is the difference? As I see it the character of a country is reflected in its Sports Teams and its Armed Forces. Look at Pakistan. The performance of Team Green is like its economy – mostly in doldrums but suddenly capable of being world beaters. Same goes for its Army – tactically brilliant and strategically daft. As some analyst said the other day – the worst enemy of Pakistan is Pakistan itself. How true. The simple message at the end of the day is, if you want to be a global power of reckoning, invest in defense. If not, the world will beat you. Thank you Cricket – to bring home a lot of sense to my comrades in arms and those who prepare them to be battle ready.