Ravi Shastri named India coach: Comparing BCCI’s selection process to the corporate world

Ravi Shastri

In a country where the game is watched by a billion enthusiasts, cricket cannot be limited only to on-field affairs. It’s natural for people to be inquisitive about every aspect of the game. If a chinaman delivery by Kuldeep Yadav stuns Glenn Maxwell, a delivery that could be described as one of the best in recent times, it becomes a case of curiosity for the fans, who then want to know how Kuldeep made his way into the team?

If a DRS call misfires at a crucial juncture of a match, admirers of the team would unsurprisingly be prying about how the team educates and keeps itself alert of such tactical decisions. If the cricket team coach — a legend of Indian cricket — quits from a ‘No problem whatsoever’ situation to ‘Out on captain’s reservations’ condition in a week’s time, it is very natural for the sports enthusiasts to be baffled.

As the focus completely shifts from the field to the BCCI board (interview) room and from the tour of West Indies to the coach selection in the metropolitan city of Mumbai, we discuss some facets of the latter in a slight unusual way.

What is selecting the head coach like?

In his presentation on 21 May this year to the COA, the then-head coach Anil Kumble coined an important term, apparently new and unfamiliar to BCCI and its functionaries, besides many notable strategic initiatives and concepts. Kumble labelled the new term — to define the role of the head coach, drawing a parallel from the corporate — as the Chief Strategy Officer (CSO). For an organisation such as the BCCI, which generates a whopping annual income of approximately Rs 1,500 crore and manages the expansion of a game which is a near-religion in India, it requires strategies similar to the breath, economics and intricacies of the large business. The term, CSO in that context, is not out of place.

How exactly has the selection process of the head coach, or the so-called CSO unfolded? Does it resemble that of the leading firms? Because of many apparent crossovers and parallels, we attempt to analyse if BCCI’s head coach (the cricketing equivalent of the CSO) selection process is/was any different or similar to that of the corporate world.

How comparable is the CAC to the board of directors?

The CAC (Cricket Advisory Committee) of BCCI is now as popular an acronym in Indian cricket as ‘LBW’ or ‘DRS’. It has entered the Indian cricketing lexicons not only because of its star quotient but also the frequency at which its role was discussed of late. If selecting the head coach is like selecting a key position (C-suite) in an organisation, the CAC, by definition of its role, is equivalent to a board of directors in charge of appointing the CEO or CSO of a firm.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, the shape and arrangement of these two analogous groups in our case are very different. Not chalk-and-cheese-different though. Where a board typically consists of full members, non-executive and independent directors to demonstrate experience, maturity and diversity, BCCI’s CAC seems a bit one-dimensional in contrast. Albeit it features some of India’s great cricketing minds, a signature of Indian cricket of the 1990s and 2000s, it somewhat falls short of a well-rounded team. Not to forget that the CAC is a congregation of players of the same generation of identical backgrounds.

If a coach’s job is as much as to handle cricketing matters as to manage people, why would not there be a ‘management’ dimension in the CAC: a CxO hiring consultant, a management expert, or even a former coach in the panel? This is not to undermine the leadership qualities of the CAC or to disrespect the stature of these cricketing legends, it must, however, be said that in comparison with a well-equipped corporate board, the CAC lacks the all-inclusiveness.

Furthermore, the role of each of the CAC members (or other power centres of BCCI) appears ambiguous. While theoretically each member is equal in power, prima facie, Ganguly, being a strong personality, comes across as someone with more power and say over others. For the discretionary and rational individuals that they (CAC members) are, this might not at all be true. Over time, it has become more prominent though.

Whether we like it or not, the fact, however, is the star quotient of the panel is somewhat counterproductive. It’s invoking much hype, glare and limelight than it should ideally be. The same panel with a Javagal Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad and Rahul Dravid — all equal in terms of experience and stature — probably would not have warranted such frenzy. In matters such as this, hype is probably inversely proportional to good decision-making.

Are the roles of all stakeholders clear in the game?

It is somewhat surprising that Anil Kumble, being a head coach himself, had to designate the position as an equivalent to the Chief Strategic Officer (CSO) and chalk out plans and reporting structure almost after a year of his appointment.

Notwithstanding the differences between the corporate and a sporting governing body such as the BCCI, however, the role of exemplary management and administration is indispensable across industries. Whether a captain is an MD/CEO, and a coach the CSO equivalent, the boundaries and influences of these overlapping roles should be known beforehand, well-understood and communicated to the stakeholders involved before they are assorted in a melting pot. For example, looping the captain in is as important as appraising the CoA while selecting a coach. A clearly spelt out Job Description (JD) and RACI (Responsibility, Accountability, Consulted, Informed), as used in the corporate, would do a world of good to bring clarity in these circumstances.

It is understood that by the nature of the game, a coach’s role is to assist and report (not a boss-subordinate type relationship though) to the captain. However, in the case of Kumble, other facets of his performance measure or appraisal seem to have not drawn out clearly. Was he reporting to the CoA or the CAC or the captain? There were/are not many answers.

Ambiguity seems to be the case in the corporate world too, as a Boston Consulting Group (BCG) perspective findings revealed that the CSO has the least-defined role among C-suite-level executives. The role is characterised by an elevated level of vagueness, constantly evolving relationships with key stakeholders and regular changes to the scope of work.

That said, the BCCI would hopefully devise a robust and transparent mechanism to make each role more clear and comprehensible.

How best to conduct the selection process?

Even though not much is known publicly about the head coach interview process other than the fact that it is a 30-minute-long presentation given by the candidates in front of the committee, it is worthwhile to note what happens in a parallel world of corporate.

A Harvard Business Review (HBR) study suggests that although there are many theories about what makes a perfect leader, most of them are useless when it comes to selecting a CEO (or its equivalent). The process of choosing a CEO/CSO never will be scientific — nor should it be. It will be subject to qualitative judgment and conversations. However, it is mandatory to have a clear list of must-haves. Even if it is only about 100 words, or less.

As for the businesses, the evaluation criteria go beyond the obvious business and financial results. Similarly in cricket, a coach should be assessed beyond just cricketing experience and knowledge. Simply put, not to judge a coach by the number of matches played, runs amassed, or wickets scalped, but to assess the potential performance based on intangibles. That’s basically an IQ vs EQ/ESQ approach (Emotional and Social Quotient). The HBR study adds that the smartest guy in the room doesn’t always have the ESQ (self-awareness, intrinsic motivation, empathy, and social relationships) or the judgment (common sense tempered by experience, maturity, and training) to be the best possible CEO/CSO.

In the wake of it, the current selection process of head coach seems reasonable. As many business organisations seek the right C-Suite candidates both in solicited and unsolicited manners, the BCCI too has followed a similar process. The process also appears good where opportunities are given to the shortlisted candidates to demonstrate their visions, along with making use of perception/information available from external sources such as franchise-based leagues, candidates’ commentary of the game, players and support staff who might have worked with the person elsewhere.

However, it will be interesting to follow how the selection process pans out in the future amid speculations of scrapping the interview process and judging candidates just by profile /credentials.

Tenure and Succession Planning:

Both the tenure of a coach and the succession planning post a coach’s exit are important for the governing body of the game. As things stand, however, there seems to be an inadequacy in both. It was an irrational case to hand Kumble a one-year term in his appointment in 2016. In retrospection, the decision may seem to have played out as a blessing in disguise. Nevertheless, a position of such high rank and immense responsibilities should not be given such a brief tenure.

After all, why would a body appoint someone post such a cumbersome and effort-intensive procedure if they don’t have enough faith and confidence in the candidate in the first place? On the other end, Kumble’s exit from the post is not the best advertisement of the way things should be run. A near exigency amid a large-scale and high-profile tournament (Champions Trophy 2017). A team without a coach for some time. Turn of events such as these leaves no real choice at times (Eg from 57 applicants in 2016 to a handful this year) and often makes it prone to mistakes and wrong decision-making.

There is an obvious similarity here between the game of cricket and the corporate world. The boards in corporate as well typically don’t get started on succession until the last month or two of sitting CEOs’ terms. By then, a board has effectively opted out of the process, as it is presented with only one viable candidate — the incumbent’s anointed heir — leaving no real choice.

Like any key position — a cricket head coach not being an exception — the success of a candidate lies in the manner in which he is hand-picked, developed and empowered to assume responsibilities. One may argue if it’s as important as that of picking a captain, though the two roles are equally crucial to the overall well-being of the team. To beat Australia in Australia requires as much perfection in on-field execution on a match day as it does in the selection of a balanced squad with proper game-plan.

To dominate globally across all formats requires as much the players’ performances as their workload management and a steady supply line of quality players. A coach is supposed to play a pivotal role in ensuring the smoothness of back end processes and activities with his meticulous strategies and execution. A coach hence is a central part of a team’s long-term road map, and there should a system to pick them from a pool of well-groomed and nurtured professionals.

A thankless job?

The job to find the head coach is as tough and complicated as to pick the right C-suite candidates for the highest positions in business organisations. The Tatas, the Toubros, HP and P&G have all had their share of failures and success, tough times and sweet memories. That the BCCI and CAC had a challenging time recently does not make them a bunch of bad administrators or poor management team just yet. From the quest for excellence and attempt to bring in a culture of transparency, one must not forget, the BCCI and the individuals associated with it are doing many things right. They must be lauded for their excellent work with equal poise and acknowledgement as we subject them to scrutiny and criticism.

In an era in which crowds want the outcome of all cricketing and non-cricketing events like a T20 match in a three-hour (or so) encounter, the CAC may have done a sensible and mature job accommodating consultation and feedback from captain Virat Kohli. For the importance it carries, a Test match-like endurance is more fitting than T20-like spontaneity.



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