What you say make perfect sense, Mr Sourav Ganguly

While captaining India, one walked in to toss with pride and passion of leading the country. For Pune Warriors India or any other team, one goes in as an employee of a corporation © AFP

Sourav Ganguly’s claim that the captaining an Indian Premier League (IPL) is more challenging than leading India may sound preposterous. However, Arunabha Sengupta argues that as cricket puts on the corporate outfit, the statement actually points out the reality.


In a question and answer session after his Dilip Sardesai Memorial Lecture at the Bombay Gymkhana on Friday, Sourav Ganguly ventured a characteristically bold and little-voiced assertion“It is much, much easier to captain India than an Indian Premier League (IPL) team.”


With the polarisation potential of the former captain, we are bound to find reactions at both extremes – devotees who will inscribe this into the holy canon, as well as the berating who will find it sacrilegious.


From some angles the statement does appear blasphemous. After all, leading Team India is an honour that every cricketer of the country aspires to. To even speak of IPL in the same breath is often deemed irreverent. It is after all a circus that masquerades as cricket and hacks away at the fabric of the pure game.


However, circus or not, IPL is a major fact of modern cricket. It brings the corporate world into the game as never before, and along with it comes a package of demands hitherto unheard of in the greens and the dressing rooms.


Major difference between an IPL club and National team
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) may be rolling in the stuff, the officials sometimes wear ties and can once in a while be seen tinkering with their laptops. But it is still far, far away from being a corporation. Till a while back, it used to get tax exemption according to the Section 11 of the I-T Act 1961 – meant for charitable organisations.


There is no owner or group of investors to whom the Board is answerable. Hence, while sitting smug as the richest cricketing body in the world, it can also afford to operate without the threat of backlash.


Yuvraj Singh, just back from his battle with cancer, can thus find a way back into the Twenty20 World Cup squad without playing any sort of cricket since his return. The BCCI can afford to shed a tear or two, mirroring the feelings of the masses. It can afford to be both endearingly emotional and infuriatingly incompetent – no questions asked.


Would a corporate owner of an IPL club have welcomed Yuvraj back to the fold with open arms?


Let us try to figure out.


Pathological pursuit for profit


In his book The Corporation, Joe Bakan famously profiles giant profit making companies as one would psychologically evaluate a human being. The results reveal that as a legal and economic entity, the modern corporation is essentially pathological in nature, placing the profit motive above any social value or accountability.


Following the trend of such studies, we can conclude that Yuvraj might have made his way back to the IPL side, but only if it was a low-stake match and the move looked good on the scorecard of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). The same reason because of which giant companies sponsor schools for autistic children. Nothing more.


How does a corporation think? Let us look at just one example from Bakan’s book.


An automobile manufacturing company had faced major litigation when a car had caught fire on collision. A full family had been charred to either death or suffered permanent disability. It turned out that the make of the car did not conform to safety regulations. A hefty fine had been imposed with instructions to modify the vehicle design.


In response, the company had hired mathematical analysts to compute the probability of such gruesome accidents and had decided not to make the recommended changes – because the cost of the reconstruction was much more than the projected financial fines given the expected number of accidents per year.


A corporate organisation winds up being interested only in the bottom line. As returns on investment roll up the huge organisational structure, human ethics, values and sentiments are discarded as overheads – sometimes after conducting cost-benefit analysis on spreadsheets.


The same is true about reputations, prestige and cricketing-status. The franchises that own the IPL teams will care little for all these attributes which are so dear to the cricket adherents in the field and the stands.


Corporation and cricket


Millions have been spent in purchasing players – the gilt-edged parts that will enable the machinery to roll smoothly and churn out profits. The investors are interested in the return of investment – that is wins. The captain – as in other corporate organisations – is accountable to the owners, and takes on the role of the CEO. In case of a downturn, he is the one to face the heat.


As the captain of India, one is accountable to intangible concepts defined by honour, duty, national pride and expectations of millions. Maybe performance is discussed once in a while with the board members, but MS Dhoni does not need to send weekly progress reports to N. Srinivasan.


If BCCI had been a corporate organisation, there is every chance that the disastrous results of England and Australia would have brought in a new CEO. The corporation does not always take the best decisions, but there is always the need to make changes to satisfy stakeholders that rectification is in progress.Thankfully, there is still place for cricketing logic and common sense in BCCI and Dhoni is still at the helm.


Run rates and bottom lines


Now let us project these characteristics in the Indian corporate arena, where the norm is to produce reams and reams of status reports for the sole purpose of providing comfort feel. Hands-on expertise is mostly absent in the rarefied echelons of a corporate company. Yet, the high and mighty need to be on the fringes of the action, breathing down important functional necks in the largely delusional belief of the powerful that haranguing an expert actually results in a steep growth curve or high return of investment.


That this is the situation in IPL is evident from Ganguly’s comment, “When I captained the IPL teams, I had to answer the owner before the game and after the game … When you lose the game, the first thing when you get back to the hotel is think ‘what am I going to answer? Why didn’t Ashok Dinda bowl the slower ball at that moment?’”


There are too many powerful individuals whose salaries, incentives and even jobs are linked to the match results. There is no crisis-proof peaceful pre-defined period akin to what the BCCI board members enjoy. Hence the mad rush for fact finding, causal analysis, strategy elaboration, and business case for the next win. All to be used when the decision makers bark their questions, their miniscule cricketing stature riding on the giant shoulders of multi-million rupee financial investments.


While captaining India, one walked in to toss with pride and passion of leading the country. For Pune Warriors or Chennai Super Kings, one goes in as an employee of a corporation. The players in coloured attire and the honchos in suits who present ridiculously sized cheques and car keys in the post-match award ceremonies, all may belong to the corporation. The non-playing decision makers often land up much higher in the organisation chart than the poor captain who acts out the role of the CEO on the field.


“I captained India for six years, but I never had the opportunity of the Board President or the chairman of selectors picking up the phone and telling me that you should have done this at this time …In the Indian Premier League, I had switched my phone off twice, but they still find you.”


Um … strictly speaking it was five years, but a slight hyperbole is acceptable, as this is an apt summary of the situation.


In many ways, it may be many times more financially rewarding to be the captain of an IPL team than leading India, but it does come at an exacting price.


(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)