Indian Cricket – Time for “One Nation, Three Teams”!

Another ICC Cricket tournament got over this Sunday and it was yet another disappointment for the millions of Cricket fans in India. For the uninitiated, this time it was the ICC T20 World Cup which is the shortest of all the formats in Cricket that took place in Australia and India got knocked out in the semi-finals. A few months ago, India lost the ICC Test championships, a format in which it is the number one ranked country. To cut the tale of agony short, it is now 9 years since we won an ICC tournament. The last win was at the ICC Champions Trophy in the year 2013.

Unlike other sports, in Cricket, India always gets into a tournament with a chance of winning.  Even in this T20 World Cup, India did top the table among both groups. But that sort of put a black cloth on the patchiness of its performance overall in the run-up to the semi-finals, where it got exposed badly by a belligerent England which eventually took the T20 World Cup. The pulsating win over Pakistan in the group match amidst high drama anchored by a super heroic innings from “King” Kohli sort of blinded us to believe that we can win from anywhere.  Of course, the 360 Degree toying of the bowling by Surya Kumar Yadav in the league matches only accentuated the mirage of India’s invincibility till England virtually knocked us out of the park in the Semi-Finals. In short, we flattered to deceive. Yet again.

Naturally, the daggers have been out on the Indian team, its management, and the administration ever since the Semi final rout against England on Thursday. In a country where one starts to think about Cricket from when in the mother’s womb, almost everyone has ideas or solutions for some of the ills that India is beset with, in the game of Cricket.

Foremost has been the call for the sacking of some of the senior players including the captain. Then there are suggestions on who should be playing in the team moving forward.  India now hosts the biggest T20 league in the world called IPL, where players from other countries come and participate. But players from India do not participate in leagues in other countries. So, there is a suggestion on letting that happen, so that Indian players get the experience to play in foreign conditions and with foreign players more often. Then there is chatter around India’s batting approach in the T20 World Cup – starting sedately and going for the charge in the last 5 overs which is now decried as very old-fashioned. There are those Ex-Cricketers like Gavaskar who questioned the need for a 20+strong support staff! And there are calls for sacking the Head Coach Dravid as well.

While some of the ideas or comments mentioned above deserve some consideration, in my opinion, what is required is a radical change and not just “Band-Aid” solutions. Like the opposite of what we have been following in India of late on many issues. On Taxes, we have moved to “One Nation, One Tax” with GST. For the armed forces, we have implemented the “One Rank, One Pension” (OROP) scheme.  The “One Nation, One Ration Card” program is on the way. In a sense, a unifying approach.  But in Cricket, for us to be successful, I suggest that we go the opposite way.  Let me explain.

I propose that for each of the formats we have in Cricket which are Tests, ODI, and T20, we have three completely different teams turning up to represent India i.e., a “One Nations, Three Teams” (ONTT) formula. The upsides for this approach are as follows:

  • This “Horses for Courses” approach allows the selectors to pick specialists for the specific format which in turn allows the players to focus and specialize on the format they are supposedly strong in. The players have to just “Stick to the knitting”.
  • Every time in a series or a tournament, when a different team turns up for different formats, we can expect the players to be fresh, and eager and not carry the baggage from the previous match/tournament or series where we might have won or lost. Each of the teams will have fire in the belly to win and prove itself unlike now where for example, once a big Test series win is secured, some of the players may lose intensity when they show up for the ensuing ODI series or T20 series.
  • This helps in balancing the player workload and therefore fatigue and injury management which seem to be key issues for teams these days with the hectic travel and game schedules.
  • It will help to get away from the irony of accommodating an out-of-form senior player while a promising junior player is left out of the team.
  • Since the nature of the game in each of these formats are different, the players once identified with a format need not worry about changing or tinkering with their batting or bowling techniques back and forth.
  • For key ICC tournaments, the respective teams can travel early and start getting used to the conditions overseas thanks to their less cramped schedules.
  • The “ONTT” approach will help democratize the game further in a country like India where we have a huge talent pool since we will have about 50 players donning the India cap at any point in time across the three formats. Players playing in IPL are in addition to this.
  • The success of the English team recently in all formats may be attributed to this approach which they started a few years ago. But even there, the three teams are not completely different. What I am proposing is completely different teams with different captains and even different coaches. Only the supporting staff in terms of medical, physios and so on can be the same.
  • This approach will eliminate the “Star” player concept since there will not be any player who will turn up as part of all Indian dressing rooms.

Some could argue about the duplicity of expenses in the above approach when different teams have to travel and so on. Today affordability is not an issue for BCCI as much as demonstrating success on the world stage is. Compensation will have to be worked out considering the frequency of the format so that there is a fair distribution of remuneration.

With a new BCCI team that has taken over recently, this is the right time for it to consider some radical ideas to improve our strike rate and frequency of winning Key ICC tournaments. And “One Nation, Three Teams” is one such killer idea.

“Idea Extension Trap”!!!

Al Ries and Jack Trout the “Art of Positioning” gurus in their best seller – ‘Positioning – The battle for your mind’ devoted one full chapter on what they call as the “Line Extension Trap”. They claimed that Line Extension whereby marketers having built a successful brand in one product category extend the same brand to another line of products is a trap. A vicious trap which as per the marketing gurus ends up diluting the core promise of the original brand.  A Ponds talcum powder which has been a very successful brand when extended to a tooth paste confuses the consumer and eventually fails. And there are more examples. But in business, line extension is often the trap which the brand managers walk into with their eyes open with their advertising agencies in tow.

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These are the times of “Big Ideas”. And I see the same extension happening on good ideas. For example once an advertising communication idea once does well as measured by the viral and viewership statistics the temptation is to flog it again and again.  This, without realizing that the idea is already way past the best before date. A telling example of this is the Star Sports’ Mauka Mauka campaign. The first spot (see here) on this now familiar campaign was conceived before the Indo-Pak encounter in the league stages of the ICC ODI World Cup in 2015. With the background of the previous Indo-Pak meetings at the Cricket World Cup which have all been won by India, the spot featuring a Pakistani fan waiting desparately for a Mauka (opportunity) to celebrate a Pakistani win was bang on. The idea, the story and its execution no wonder caught the fancy of millions of fans and the commercial soon became a case study for viral marketing! It also spawned a variety of spoofs which added to the value of the Idea. So it was not surprising that Star Sports followed it up with another Mauka spot for the next India match which again became popular. Having smelt blood, the broadcaster decided to flog the Mauka Idea. India exited the World Cup in the Semis, but the Mauka spots didn’t. Now as the World Cup progressed, Mauka spots started to get boring, repetitive and almost were like being thrust upon the audience. One year later, for the ICC T20 World Wup, Star Sports was back as the official broadcaster. So did the Mauka ad just before the Indo-Pak match. Only that this time, the story line looked unnatural and the ad fell flat in terms of idea and execution. Now this is what happens when marketers (Star Sports in this case) waltz into the “Idea Extension Trap”. Star Sports is not alone and there are many others in its August Company.

Vodafone for one. I feel that the mobile service provider with its once adorable pug has also fallen into this trap. For its 4G launch (watch here), it has tried to resurrect the charm of the pug which few years ago did wonders for Hutch with its “Wherever you go our network follows” campaign. The pug again was brought into action when Hutch became Vodafone and it wanted to popularize their “Happy to Help” stores. But now in this Vodafone’s 4G launch campaign, the pug is looking tired and jaded (atleast in our eyes) and the campaign when compared to the Airtel’s 4G campaign doesn’t stand and that’s in my humble opinion.

In the big screen also oflate, idea extensions have become rampant. The original Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Gol maal was a classic and will remain one. This is one film which got remade in almost all major Indian languages. But the subsequent Rohit Shetty imitations of Gol maal in the form of Gol maal returns, Gol maal 3,..  will remain just that.  Lowly imitations of an idea which has now been flogged to death. Rohit Shetty went one step ahead by milking the same Gol Maal idea in another name – Bol Bachchan!!

This bug of Idea Extension is most prevalent in TV programming content. A successful format gets packaged, repackaged and extended and finally kills the original idea. When Kaun Banega Crorepati becomes a roaring hit with Amitabh Bachchan in Hindi, the producers extend the same KBC format to different languages with regional stars. The fact remains that there can be only one Amitabh Bachchan. The regional shows turn out to be pale imitations of the original big idea.

Is this trend of extending and flogging ideas which have worked in the past, due to pressure on time or pressure on cost, or a thought out strategy or plain laziness or a combination of all these is a matter of conjecture.  But one thing is very visible and clear. The temptation to walk into the “Idea Extension trap” is real and looks like may not recede in the near future.

Post script: Now here’s the irony. Having tasted enormous success with their 1st book –‘Positioning – The Battle for your Minds’, where they warned marketers of the “Line Extension trap” authors Al Ries and Jack Trout did exactly the same thing. Extended the “battle” concept to their next book and called it ‘Marketing Warfare’!!!