Reaction, anticipation hallmarks of champions

I would like to thank Rajesh Lalwani for inspiring this piece

The Indian cricket team sent its die-hard fans on a roller-coaster ride in the first three one-day games against England while it looked being caught running on a treadmill towards the end of August. From a high of having won a Test series in England after 21 years, it seemed to have got stuck in a bit of a quagmire, what with its fielding standards hitting a low. But the crisis, if it can be called that, was relegated to the back-benches as the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) faced a crisis with the Zee group’s Indian Cricket League emerging as a challenge to its monopoly status.
Its attempt to ignore the evolution of ICL was reminiscent of the proverbial ostrich and no B-school may ever recommend BCCI’s own peculiar standards and methods of crisis-management. B-schools may be focussing on the dilemma that brands like mobile phone giant Nokia and toy major Mattel faced around the same time as BCCI. Nokia recalled 46 million batteries worldwide while Mattel recalled 18 million toys from shelves in Asia. Ironically, both Mattel and China – which has some work to do to prevent the image of delivering low quality products in quest for cost control – should have known that the products didn’t deserve to get to markets that can be very unforgiving.
Be that as it may, even a cursory study of some sporting champions may be a learning experience for the corporate world. For, words like reaction and anticipation spring to mind when one thinks of how the best sporting achievers handle challenging situations in their respective spheres. Most sportspersons train hard to be able to react to the challenges posed by opponents and, in ball sports, by the ball.
The champions look like they are gifted with more time as they are almost always in a better position to deal with a situation because they have spent time honing their anticipation, so that they can foresee the movements of their rivals. The hallmark of these champions is their ability to change their game-plan at the very last moment so that they are not caught on the wrong foot Indeed, anticipation helps them quickens their response time. That is what let a Muhammad Ali or a John McEnroe or a Mark Waugh or a Diego Maradona look like a genius in the past. Indeed, that is the quality that has set sportsmen like Roger Federer and an Adam Gilchrist and sports women like Maria Sharapova apart from their challengers.
Each of these stars and their like buys extra time with anticipation and do not lose any by automating their responses. Let me give you an example. When leg-spinner Shane Warne visited India in his prime, he was expected to lead the Australian attack but India’s little big man Sachin Tendulkar had prepared his own repartee. Instead of waiting for Warne to start posing challenges in the 1997-98 series and then finding solutions to them, Tendulkar requisitioned the services of former India leg-spinner Laxman Sivaramakrishnan and a few other bowlers and got them to bowl on an artificially created rough patch before the series. When Warne was in with a chance of making his mark in the first Test, bowling from round the wicket and into the rough, Tendulkar launched a breathtaking assault. He deployed a unique slog sweep against the spin to help India build a match-winning lead. His assault caused the world’s greatest leg-spinner to confess later that he often went to bed having nightmares of Tendulkar just running down the wicket and belting him back over the head for six.
And when you swing your thoughts back to Nokia and Mattel, you wonder if they could have done better by anticipating the crises rather than wait for them to brew before reacting.