England Cricket Team’s Gyan For Congress: No Ditching The Captain
With both the cricket World Cup and the recent elections on my mind – and on most Indians’ minds – it struck me how one domain could offer lessons for the other.
No, I’m not referring to the storm in a teacup over Dhoni’s wicket-keeping gloves with the Army insignia; I firmly believe he should follow the ICC rules and not make a fuss about it.
I am thinking, instead, about the trough the Congress party now finds itself in, and how reminiscent that is of the English cricket team four years ago, when defeat by Bangladesh sent them crashing out of the 2015 World Cup. England spent the intervening four years reinventing themselves as the most formidable ODI team in the world and are now firmly established as the favourites to win the 2019 World Cup.
How did they do it, and can the Congress party learn any lessons from their approach?
Here are the six rules England followed to get from the depths of despond to the pinnacle – rules the Congress party could well consider applying itself.
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Don’t Rush to Change the Captain
England’s rout in the 2015 World Cup led immediately to calls for their captain, Irishman Eoin Morgan, to be sacked. England kept their faith in him, believing that he had not been given enough time to effect the transformations he had attempted to. Today, at the top of his game, Morgan is widely considered England’s best-ever limited-overs captain.
The Congress should treat the widespread calls for the defenestration of Rahul Gandhi the same way.
This is the time to build on that, rather than dispense with his improving leadership and start again with a new leader.
But Change the Coach and Support Staff...
While Morgan was retained with a strong vote of confidence, the failures that culminated in the 2015 World Cup disaster did lead to the dismissals of head coach Peter Moores and director of cricket Paul Downton, who managed the England campaign. Andrew Strauss was brought in to Downton’s job and Trevor Bayliss replaced Moores. Strauss’ first step was to telephone Morgan to tell him his job was safe; he backed his judgement and England reaped the rewards.
Similarly, the Congress could take a fresh look at its top-level organisation structures and refresh them, replacing many of the long-serving seniors in the Congress Working Committee, who haven’t been elected to anything for decades, with newer blood that has been tested in the electoral battlefield. The same applies to the pool of General Secretaries who run the party. In turn, it is time to focus on the grassroots levels, restructuring and strengthening the booth-level committees and mandal/block karyakartas who are ultimately the workers who have to deliver the votes.
Renew and Revive the Team with Winners
While persisting with Morgan, England undertook a major overhaul of his team, bringing in a lot of fresh blood, including one-day specialists whose names had not figured in discussions on an England cap before. Iconic Test stars who were rewarded with places in the one-day team were discarded in favour of brash youngsters better suited to the white-ball game. The result was a team so well-settled and strong before this World Cup that hardly any changes needed to be discussed, other than the banishment of Alex Hales for drug offences and the selection of the newly-eligible Barbadian Jofra Archer.
For the Congress, too, new personnel will have to be the first thing on the to-do list: young blood, fresh blood, confident and combative. Some of the party’s legends will have to be gently thanked for their services and pushed aside. If England could do it to Cook, Broad and Anderson, Congress will have to do it too to some of their elders.
“To choose guys whose default mode was pure aggression was something we highlighted in selection,” Morgan told the BBC. The Congress, too, needs people who are bold and aggressively determined to reverse the party’s fortunes. The complacent, the time-servers, and the just plain tired will have to make way for a new generation willing to take the fight to the ruling party
Ignore the Conventional Wisdom
England were confronted soon enough with the issue of available talent challenging conventional wisdom about who’s suitable for what. Two of their best one-day batsmen, Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow, were both wicket-keepers; the standard assumption was that there was only room for one of them in the team at a time. Initially, Bairstow missed out. But whenever Buttler was rested or unavailable, Bairstow filled in more than admirably, turning in outstanding performances that made him impossible to ignore.
England decided to cock a snook at the conventional wisdom, and picked both. Today, Buttler and Bairstow are both in the top 10 for batsmen with the highest strike-rates in one day history (among those who have scored a minimum of 1000 runs).
Similarly, the Congress ought to look beyond the received logic of caste and religious considerations and pick people purely on individual merit. The argument that it should tone down its secularism in order not alienate Hindu voters one that has gone too far, and left many fearing that the Congress was becoming a pale imitation of the BJP. If we become a sort of “BJP Lite”, like “Pepsi Lite”, we risk becoming a political “Coke Zero”. Far better to back our convictions than pander to the prejudices stoked by those we are opposing.
Don’t Give up on Any Place
As a cricket team, England was long known for its weakness against spin; it essentially approached matches in Asia (against India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka) as if it expected to lose against the excellent spinners fielded by those teams. Under Strauss and Morgan, however, England unearthed – and backed – two spinners of their own, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid. Since the 2015 World Cup, no bowler has taken more wickets in ODI cricket than Rashid’s 129.
Similarly Congress has been approaching elections in UP, Bihar and Bengal without any real expectation of victory. But it could learn from England’s cricketers not to write off any region. Find the “horses for courses”it needs in these places, if necessary building coalitions with strong and popular players. Its own success in Tamil Nadu, where its alliance with the DMK has reaped rich rewards again in 2019, can point the way.
Don’t Stop Toiling; Keep Hammering Away
Finally, there is no substitute for starting early, working long and never relenting, whatever the setbacks. Congress’ eyes may be on the prize of the Lok Sabha, but there are state elections every six months or so somewhere or the other in our country, and these could be excellent laboratories to test its electability and potential. England has honed its skills in every match in the four years since the World Cup, and it has worked: there have been a total of five scores of 400 or more since the 2015 World Cup – and England have made four of them.
Congress’ three state assembly victories are just six months ago. Take heed of the lessons taught by the England cricket team, and we could be back to our winning ways.
(Former UN under-secretary-general, Shashi Tharoor is a Congress MP and an author. He can be reached @ShashiTharoor. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)