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By Suresh Menon
Is team spirit overrated in sport? Those who make their living by churning out clichés in the ‘art’ of leadership have been telling us for years that there is no ‘I’ in the word ‘Team. Those who like to respond to clichés in similar language, know that there is an ‘I’ in ‘win’ as well as in ‘victory’.
When teams win, there is always talk of team spirit; the reverse is the case when teams lose. No captain has ever said, “We won the World Cup because there was little unity in the team, I was barely on speaking terms with my senior player, and we owe everything to our healthy habit of not talking to one another more than can be helped.”
Yet, Imran Khan might well have said that when Pakistan won the World Cup in 1992. He and Javed Miandad barely spoke to each other, and team spirit in the sense in which it is understood was a missing quality. Likewise with later Pakistan teams. Wasim Akram and Waqar Yunus wouldn’t be caught looking at each other even, and if the shirt one of them was wearing suddenly caught fire, the other wouldn’t dream of informing him. Yet they formed one of the most potent pair of attacking fast bowlers in the history of the game.
Across the border, the relationship between Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev as they grew in stature deteriorated so rapidly that the then Board President had to invite them for a private meal to bang their heads together. Earlier Bishan Bedi and Gavaskar shared a hate-hate relationship that continues to this day. Yet all these gentlemen were professionals – not in the restricted modern sense of money-makers, but people who took pride in performance – and did not let personal relationships affect performance.It was not restricted to India.
Don Bradman was hardly anybody’s buddy in that great Australian team. Bill O’Reilly, Jack Fingleton and Stan McCabe made no secret of their disapproval of Bradman, although the fact that they were Irish Catholics while Bradman himself was Protestant might have been a coincidence.
It is important to see the so-called Dhoni-Sehwag split in some perspective. To dismiss it as a media creation is silly, but to read into it too much isn’t a sign of wisdom either. When a group of adults who are constantly in the public eye spend days and weeks together, and especially when they lose matches as India have been doing, it doesn’t take a psychologist to figure out that some of the frustration will be taken out on colleagues.
After all, they are the nearest available targets; tunnel vision and siege mentality are the companions of teams of men touring, whether in the army, on geographic expeditions or indeed for sports competitions.Just the other day, when India were the number one Test team in the world and had won the World Cup too, no praise was too high for Dhoni as captain.
The Indian team was seen as a united, well-oiled machine with a philosophy borrowed from Dumas: One for all and all for one. We have been getting it wrong all these years. It is not teamwork which leads to victory, but victory which leads to teamwork. Seen in this light, it is easy to understand the early years of Indian cricket, when victories were things that happened to other teams.
Indian players on tour have chased each other with cricket bats, whispered secrets against rivals to friends in the media, faked injury in the face of hostile bowling, ganged up against the captain threatening a rebellion, and much worse. Spats between captains and vice captains are part of this rich tradition. No man is a hero to his valet, and few captains have been heroes to their vice captains.