January 19, 2007

"Indian cricket needs disruptive innovation" - By Sanjay Anandaram

That cricket is a religion in India is a cliché. That cricket exists as an “international” sport largely because of India is a fact. More people, perhaps, play cricket in Mumbai’s Shivaji Park than there are first class cricketers in Australia. Yet how is it that the country where its been played in for over 100 years, that has tens of millions playing cricket, many more fanatical millions following it, that generates billions of dollars, who’s media gets on hyper-drive when India plays, that provides relevance to sundry has-beens and wanna-bee experts, that has one of the world’s richest sports bodies “controlling” the sport, does not have a world dominating team like the Australian team? Especially when there are only 8 countries in the world really playing the sport! How is it that not one noteworthy innovation in cricket has emerged from India – be it in technology (e.g. stump-cams, hawk-eye, snickometers), team selections (e.g. separate teams for one-dayers and test matches), score calculations (e.g. Duckworth-Lewis system), TV broadcasting, sports kinesis experts (Murali’s doosra had to be analysed in Australia by the experts),and so on? The best balls and bats are not Indian. Even the way the grass is cut (e.g. chess-board pattern seen on overseas grounds) is not innovative!

The answer, in my opinion, lies in the total lack of innovative and entrepreneurial thinking in the way we manage the most popular sport in India. The way we manage any other sport is not even sad. The farce is incredibly tragic and sordid. Just look at the recent Asia Games fiasco. Surely innovations have not originated from India because of a lack of talent and capability. Innovations have not occurred because we have a corrupt, petty, feudal, cronyism, bureaucratic patronage and politically managed system that continues to deal with the country’s number 1 sport. Where even the awarding of TV rights and elections is not without terrible drama. In any business venture demanding customers rapidly drop products that are 2nd rate and produced by inefficient producers and driven by marketing hype. Yet, how is it that we continue to accept the way cricket is run in this country? Are we not demanding consumers of the sport? Does it only take hyper-ventilating media anchors and coverage of trivial off-ground charades to make us forget the dismal state of cricket in India?

In the late1970s, a man called Kerry Packer revolutionized cricket. He set about changing the way the game was played and has been played since. He brought (bought?) the world’s best cricketers to form teams, introduced night cricket under flood-lights, white balls, limited overs, coloured clothing (the fossilized establishment called pejoratively referred to it as pyjama cricket), cheer-leaders, great in-your-face marketing (“Big boys play at night” and “Night cricket is played with two balls” are some of the memorable advertising by-lines from that period), use of technology (including on-pitch microphones and stump-cameras), top class commentators and multiple TV cameras with well-trained cameramen behind them for an incredibly viewing experience for both the in-stadium and at-home viewing public. Kerry Packer was a billionaire Australian media baron (he owned Channel 9 Sports in Australia) and more importantly, an entrepreneur who was not afraid to take risks. Cricket has never been the same since the Kerry Packer era both for the paying public, the TV viewers and for the cricketers themselves.

Isn’t it high time that we too had a Kerry Packer to shock our comatose and moribund system into action? Isn’t it high time that we too had a top class team with an entrepreneurial mindset at the top to change the status-quo? A high caliber professional top management team that has the passion and vision to develop and sustain a set of unique abilities that allows our sports teams to dominate an opportunity. A team that can think big, that does not treat competence as a substitute for loyalty, a management team that understands the needs of modern sport and the importance of science and technology, deploys innovative training and management practices, and can build an efficient and organized development and delivery system of high caliber sportsmen. Is this that different from any other innovative & entrepreneurial venture?

What do you think?

Sanjay Anandaram is a passionate advocate of entrepreneurship in India; He brings close to two decades of experience as an entrepreneur, corporate executive, venture investor, faculty member, advisor and mentor. He’s involved with Nasscom, TiE, IIM-Bangalore, and INSEAD business school in driving entrepreneurship. He can be reached at sanjay@jumpstartup.net. The views expressed here are his own.