It’s hard not to feel some sympathy for the Sri Lankan team, a proud cricketing nation going through the toughest phase of its cricketing history. As sports teams call it, they are going through a 'transition' period and are trying their best to fill the void left by the departure of legends that carried Sri Lankan cricket on their shoulders for over a decade.
The island boasts of the most colourful and vocal fans who are known to back their team to the hilt but at the moment, even they are finding it hard to swallow the persistent capitulation of their team at home against a rampaging Indian team.
Even as opponents, Virat Kohli’s team would surely be the first ones to feel their pain. During one of his press interaction, Kohli said he will be open to the idea of helping the Sri Lankans after the series is over. Sympathising with your opponent while the series was still alive is a rare occurrence, but it only goes to show the predicament of this Sri Lankan team at the moment. They will clutch onto any hope coming from any direction.
While Kohli’s comments were well-intentioned, I am sure deep beneath he will not be satisfied with anything other than a 5-0 whitewash in the series. It wouldn’t be far fetched to imagine that right after extending his sympathies with the Sri Lankans in the press, he would have gone back to the dressing room and reminded his players to continue playing with high intensity. The young and eager team at his disposal may not find it too difficult to follow an advice like that.
They say when the going gets tough, the tough get going. But as elite sportsmen, you have to stay equally ruthless when the going gets easy. It takes a really strong-willed individual or a team that is hell bent on getting better to seek areas of self-improvement when they aren’t faced with a challenge, but that’s exactly what Team India needs to look at now.
This drive to improve at all costs is familiar in the business world. Big companies who are already leaders in their space often face this challenge of making sure they don’t get complacent and continually strive to embrace change and innovate to keep getting even better. To that end, we often hear companies trying to cultivate an artificial startup-like culture even in big billion-dollar companies to ensure the workforce is constantly challenged.
This Indian team needs to embrace the same corporate culture of constant change and improvement at all costs at all times on their path to become what their captain and coach vocally strive for, “to go where no Indian team has gone before”. To be the greatest Indian team of all time and indeed one of the greatest cricket teams ever, Indian team needs to constantly challenge itself even when there is no challenge coming from the opponent’s side.
A past Indian team that took this idea seriously was the Rahul Dravid-led side in 2006 that decided one fine day to shed the poor-chasers tag that the 'Men in Blue' had earned courtesy their frequent failures to chase even regulation targets. The artificial challenge in their case was created by choosing to field every time after winning the toss irrespective of the conditions.
The result of Dravid’s experiment laid the foundation for some of the best chasers in Indian cricket history. MS Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh and even the captain himself became masters of closing run chases. As the rule goes, they got better at it because they did it often. To show for his efforts, Dravid earned himself the world record of winning most consecutive ODI games while chasing, 16 games to be precise.
Kohli has been quite open about his willingness to experiment on this tour. Not only is he looking to give a chance to as many people as he can, he is also making them face different match situations to ensure they are made to pass a complete range of tests rather than just being prepared to handle specific situations.
Some may say, his experiments haven’t shown much result as yet. Kedar Jadhav and KL Rahul have moved around the batting order and haven’t delivered the goods as yet. But even while doing so, Kohli is accomplishing the task of crossing items he needs to try off his checklist.
A much-quoted and much-abused mantra of entrepreneurship is “Fail fast, fail often”. To say there is any glory in failing would be foolish. The idea behind this philosophy is to experiment and make all the mistakes when the stakes are low so that you are prepared to win big when it really matters. Kohli must fail fast and fail often on this tour to ensure he has a better chance of winning the bigger battles ahead.