How many pre-or post-match interviews have you watched in cricket, or any team sport for that matter, where either a player or coach talks about ‘focusing on the process’, or ‘trusting the process’ and ‘letting the result look after itself’?
This invaluable message has been so overused in sport, that for many it has lost its power and has been reduced to rhetoric. What I can guarantee will be happening for most players, support staff and owners at this stage of the IPL is the regularity with which they will be clicking onto the IPL log table. They will be doing this exercise filled with a mixture of hope and anxiety and their minds racing ahead to that point where all teams have completed their 14 round-robin games. All know that the bottom four teams will be packing their bags for an awkward and early flight home, and the top four will advance to the business end of IPL.
As a coach in seven IPLs, each time I would look at the table I would make some mental calculations to quickly assess the permutations that would see our team into the top four, and who else may or may not make the cut. Whilst the points table does provide useful information, it gets people focused on the wrong things, namely, results. With each click and mental calculation, the desperation to qualify increases, and the fear of disappointment and embarrassment of ending in the bottom half of the log looms larger.
No need to tell you that it’s great finishing near the top, a combination of satisfying and disappointing to finish mid-table and horrible to end at the bottom. Whilst in every tournament there must be teams at the bottom, this normal outcome can produce some abnormal knee-jerk reactions. Coaches are fired or blamed, players make excuses and blame others, and fans are naturally disappointed that their favourite team has not delivered on their duty to give them a reason to feel good.
It can also happen to teams languishing at the bottom that some players mentally check-out and disengage from the team and campaign before the final game. Some foreign players may just want to get the hell out of there. When this happens, these struggling teams fall apart even faster at the back end of the tournament. A word of caution however about these teams with nothing to lose is that they have the potential to throw the cat amongst the pigeons and knock the higher placed team out of the tournament. The two types of teams to be most feared by opponents are those who are full of confidence or those who have nothing to lose!
If the incessant visiting of the points table and the ensuing focus on results do not serve teams, what should they be doing at this stage of events? The way to deliver these desired results is to follow very smart processes that set up the best possible chance of delivering them. This is what top teams do – they follow very good progress processes, game after game, regardless of the opposition and even regardless whether it be a round-robin or a final. They genuinely focus on the process and let the results look after itself.
Some of the tried and tested processes for IPL success include having a consistent and well-balanced playing 11 and selection process, rather than excessive chopping and changing when a player doesn’t deliver for a game or two. Consistency is key. The decisions a captain makes in clutch moments of the game can also win or lose a close game. Better captains make more good decisions. Having a happy team environment is almost always associated with really successful teams. Whilst success does breed happiness, in some cases happiness can also take an average team and help make them great.
There is an interesting set of dynamics unfolding with Delhi Capitals (DC), Mumbai Indians and RCB at the top of the current log. The standout for me is that DC and RCB have spent most of their recent campaigns camping near the bottom of the log, while Mumbai have mostly had a view from the top. Many involved with DC and RCB will find themselves somewhat desperate to convert this current strong position into IPL victory – and this desperation will mostly work against them. Mumbai Indians will have the same hunger to win, but they are moving into familiar territory, and it’s easier to navigate the familiar. This said, table leaders DC have a smart and experienced operator in Coach Ricky Ponting, and he is likely to be working to keep his team fully engaged in the process of playing intelligent and consistent cricket, with less concern about the result.
As suggested in an earlier article, there is always the chance that one of the mid-table teams makes a last-minute charge, coming into the back end of the tournament with form, momentum and maybe even something of the underdog tag because they’ve come from behind. If this team meets especially DC or RCB who have less top-of-the-table familiarity, they are likely to feel more pressure than the in-form underdog. And pressure generally works against rather than for individuals and teams.