How to build a cricketing superpower
Why do the Germans consistently produce world beating luxury cars? Why is it so hard to better Japanese air conditioners? What makes the Italian fashion industry an envy of the world? A couple of decades ago, Harvard Business School's Michael Porter tried to provide some answers in his book, The Competitive Advantage of Nations. Not all agreed with his answers. For instance, some critics argued that nations, unlike firms within an industry, don't compete with each other. They insisted that international trade was not a zero-sum game. Be that as it may. In the sporting context, nations do compete fiercely with each other. Therefore, it may make sense to apply Michael Porter's framework, also described as the Diamond Framework, to cricket.
The Diamond Framework suggests a hypothesis: Cricketing supremacy will be enjoyed by a nation that has strengths in the following four areas: (i) Playing conditions; (ii) Demand conditions; (iii) Governance conditions; and (iv) Ecosystem conditions. Further, when fully developed, the four conditions will start interacting and reinforcing each other to drive innovation and make the nation in question almost unbeatable.
Playing conditions: These conditions are natural and man-made. Natural conditions include favourable climatic conditions that permit a long cricketing season; abundant real estate for grounds of acceptable sizes; and a potentially large talent pool. Man-made conditions mainly include good playing surfaces (i.e., pitches which encourage and test a range of batting and bowling skills) and an accessible expert knowledge base. That is, availability of formal and informal coaching which allows natural talent that gravitates to cricket to flower.
Nations such as China and the US may be endowed with natural cricket playing conditions, but currently they lack cricket specific man-made conditions. And one needs to recognize that it can take several decades for a new sport to capture a nation's imagination and for man-made playing conditions to really take firm roots. Interestingly though, sometimes "poor" playing conditions can prove beneficial. New Zealand's small talent pool has forced the nation to learn how to maximise its resource base. They have always tended to punch above their weight. Similarly, even as large lush grounds are fostering throwing and sliding skills, the cramped alleyways of Asian cities are teaching another Gavaskar to drive straight.
These conditions pertain to spectator interest and cultural pressures. That the number of eyeballs on TV and bums in a stadium bring money to the game is obvious. What is not always appreciated is how a nation's legacy, media pressures, and sophisticated viewership influence the way a nation plays its cricket. It is perhaps the demand from Pakistani public that has ensured a steady supply of fast bowlers. Similarly, the Australian culture demands of its cricketers to play a particular brand of in-your-face game. Thus demand determines not only how much cricket is played and what is played - T20, One-day, or Test cricket - but also how it is played.
Demand conditions extend to women's cricket as well. Their game is important in its own right and also because anecdotal evidence suggests that mothers can have a greater influence on the choices that children make. Cricket Australia seems to understand this.
Only a nation that excels in administering the game across all levels can maintain its competitive edge over an appreciable length of time. Excellent governance means: (i) instituting well supported, visible, and fair pathways for selection to play cricket at the highest level; (ii) developing highly effective officials and support staff including administrators, selectors, curators, coaches, umpires, physiotherapists, fitness trainers, computer analysts, psychologists, bio-mechanists, nutritionists, scorers, and so forth; (iii) making transparent and fair resource allocation decisions that reward players, ex-players, and officials; acknowledge spectators by enhancing their viewing experience; build the game's support and talent base; and invest in the game's future.
Good governance often ensures healthy and enduring rivalries among teams in a nation's domestic circuit. This in turn produces cricketers who can handle pressure at the international level. For example, the Bombay school of risk-free "khadoos" batsmanship seems to have evolved in the manner that it did because the city believed in winning the Ranji Trophy at all costs.
The cricketing ecosystem would include all supporting and cricket-related industries. Quality R&D institutes devoted to sports psychology, sports injury, bio-mechanics, and nutrition; good all-weather coaching academies and stadia; cricket-related software expertise; cricket savvy media; and R&D in cricketing equipment can all combine to elevate a nation's cricketing standard. Even academics could contribute by studying the aerodynamics of a cricket ball, pontificating on the sociology of cricket, analysing cricket-related metrics, and writing the kind of articles that you are reading.
The general sporting culture is an intangible that naturally rubs off on a nation's cricketing ecosystem. In this regard, Australia, New Zealand, and England seem to have a head start over other nations. The school children in these developed nations, and in some pockets of South Africa, get the kind of access to sporting facilities that an average child in the developing world can only dream of. Moreover, the poorer South Asian nations, being primarily cricket only nations, are deprived of the spin-offs that other cricketing nations with a more broad-based sporting culture seem to enjoy. By and large, the ecosystem in South Asia and the West Indies is underdeveloped. It is not enough for world-class cricketing facilities to only be available at the elite level.
Interactions make the Cricketing Diamond sparkle
A cricketing nation need not enjoy supremacy in all the four factors to win a world championship every once in a while. But if a nation is to consistently remain at the top, the four factors within it must interact to form a self-reinforcing system. On the face of it, Demand Conditions appear to be the most important because they bring money to the game and ensure that the game continues to attract future generations. But Demand Conditions alone cannot convert a nation into a dominant force if the game is poorly governed. Recollect that good Governance Conditions lead to fierce domestic rivalry. But again, rivalry would not amount to much if the selectors did not have a sufficiently talented pool to select from. And only strong Playing Conditions backed by well-developed Ecosystem Conditions can ensure a consistent supply of an international-class talent pool. One can readily imagine other such self-reinforcing chains coming together to spur innovation and help a nation retain its ascendancy.
It is hardly surprising that most advances in cricket-related injury management, equipment design, coaching, statistical analysis, TV coverage, and so forth have come from Australia. This is because Australia's ascent, unlike that of the West Indies in the 1970s and 80s, was a triumph of a system that worked. In recent times, England's rise has also been accompanied by innovations. Their bowling simulator is a case in point. Indian bat manufacturers too have contributed with their unpressed bats. Of course, in a highly interconnected world, the entire cricketing fraternity has benefited from these innovations.
Lacking critical mass, the four factors may not be able to strongly interact with each other in the smaller nations. To solve this problem smaller nations could consider plugging into a geographical cluster. For example, domestic champions of Sri Lanka and Bangladesh could participate in India's Duleep Trophy. Potentially, the cricketing world, especially the T-20 world, could see the emergence of five clusters: the African cluster (South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya); the American cluster (the West Indies and the US); the Australasian cluster (Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, and possibly China); the European cluster (England; Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands), and the South Asian cluster (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan).
The trend in Demand Conditions clearly indicates that Test cricket will survive only if T20 were to generate enough resources. And if the administrators worldwide, for romantic reasons, were to subsidize Test cricket. Test cricket does not deserve to die, for what is life without a bit of romance. But a commitment to romance alone will not do it. The administrators will need to display great skills in the years ahead.
Measuring the Cricket Sparkle Quotient
The Cricket Sparkle Quotient (CSQ) checklist contains 13 questions pertaining to key areas across the Diamond's four conditions. The CSQ checklist is meant for use by all regions/states/counties that provide a first-class team. It could be suitably modified for use at lower levels and to cater for local realities.
Playing conditions 1. Are there a variety of pitches (at least three distinct surfaces) and all-weather facilities for team to practice? 2. Are there at least three serious contenders (including the incumbent) for each slot in the playing eleven? 3. Are there qualified coaches available at all times to support the three basic playing skills - batting, bowling, and fielding? Demand Conditions 4. Has membership in the cricket clubs/association grown at least at the rate at which local population has grown? 5. Have the revenues increased annually to at least cover the opportunity cost of capital? Governance Conditions 6. Are there metrics in place to ensure that selectors physically watch a minimum number of matches? 7. Are the selectors trained and held accountable? Selection is an exercise in decision making. The selectors need to be made aware of cognitive biases; the perils of group decision making; and patterns in player performance statistics. They could do with expert quantitative analysis support. Learning from baseball that has sabermetrcis, cricket should develop its own cricmetrics. 8. Are there annual training and refresher courses held across all levels for all officials? 9. Are all the main feeder teams at a rung immediately lower serviced by qualified coaches and physical trainers? 10. In addition to professional coaching and physical conditioning facilities, does the first class team enjoy the services of a sport psychologist, nutritionist, and computer analyst? 11. Are there benchmarks in place to ensure that the bulk of the resources are spent directly on cricket and cricketing infrastructure? 12. Are all the financial statements and minutes of various meetings publicly available on a website? Ecosystem Conditions 13. Do all the members of the first-class team enjoy ready access to a world-class cricket academy, including its injury management and rehabilitation programmes? As is to be expected, an ecosystem almost imperceptibly emerges around well-governed quality teams that are backed by passionate supporters. Hence, Ecosystem Conditions are not conditions that should pre-occupy administrators per se.
The CSQ questions represent a standard that all first-class administrators should aspire to. The first-class cricketing infrastructure ought to be made available to women cricketers as well if the Cricketing Diamond is to truly sparkle.