Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Key professional lessons learned from the last over of Wankhede test (INDvsWI)

Last weekend, i got to witness a thrilling Cricket Test match between India and West Indies. After first four days of rather dull Cricket, the match seemed like headed towards a Darw. The result seemed a distant possibility only to see things reverse on the fifth day. The wicket started assisting the bowlers and West Indies who scored runs in excess of 590 in the first innings, got bowled out for a mere 134 in their second innings. That meant that Team India had to score 243 to win the Test match in little more than 2 session of batting. At the start of the dramatic run chase, India seemed to be going steady being something like 100/1 or so and then they lost their way somewhere in the middle and finally managed to make the score of 242 for 9, which made it a last ball draw. There were many exciting moments on the final day of the match but most dramatic were the last few overs and the last over to be very specific. Here is the account of what happened in that last over-

- India needing 3 runs to win and 2 to level scores. Ravichandran Ashwin and Varun Aaron (both playing their first series, Varun his first match) were batting at 13 and 1 respectively).
- West Indies needed 2 Wickets to win.
Ball 1: Varun Aaron tried to hit the ball to off side. Misses the fast ball by Fidel Edwards.
Ball 2: Edwards, just before delivering the ball saw Ashwin short of crease. He could have run Ashwin out within the rules but chose not to in the right Spirit of Cricket. Edwards finally bowls and Varun manages to connect the ball but it does directly to fielder.
Ball 3: Varun plays a wild swing off the third ball and misses.
Ball 4: Varun connects the ball and with some mis-fielding and good fortune, makes much required 1 run. This makes it 2 runs needed off 2 balls to win for India, 2 Wickets off 2 balls to win for West Indies.
Ball 5: Ashwin does not go for his shot and defends the ball and this rules out the possibility of West Indies winning.
Ball 6: Ashwin hits the ball hard to mid-on. The ball goes fast, Ashwin runs the first run hard and seeing the throw on top of his head, does not show much interest in running the second one hard and is run-out. The result: a level scoring draw, something that has happened only once in 120+ years history of the game.

The video for that eventful last over is below-

I could gather some meaningful lessons from this last over and match in general that could be applied in our normal (and work) lives. They are as follows-

Lesson#1: Sometimes the bias towards Action is necessary:
In his book- "The Habit of winning", Prakash Iyer mentions about the aspect of "Action bias", he says-

I came across a research by a team of scholars in Israel. To understand the goalkeeper's mind-set, the team studied 286 penalty kicks from major league football games from around the world. As you probably know, a penalty kick is taken from a distance of just 11 meters from the goal. The goalkeeper gets about 0.1 seconds to react- a window so tiny that goalkeeper must guess which way the ball will go, and commit themselves to a dive- left or right.
The research team tracked the direction of the kick (left, right and center) and tabulated the statistics. And he is what it found: a goalkeeper's best chance of stopping a penalty kick is if he doesn’t dive and stays put in the center!
That’s not all. Though the probability of stopping a kick is the highest when the goalkeeper did not move, the team found that in 92% of the cases, the goalkeeper committed himself to a dive to the either side. Why then do they dive, when standing still would give them their best chance of success!

One way to explain as Prakash Iyer does in his book is because most of the Sportsperson or even High achievers have something called as an "Action bias" i.e. desperate tendency to act in most situations. If say goalkeeper does not commit himself to a dive in a penalty of a World cup final, most of the people would tend to ridicule him stating "He didn’t even try". If he dives and fails to collect the ball, people would probably think- "Atleast he tried (his best!)".

If you now compare Ashwin's situation in Ball 6. He completed one run quite quickly and then seeing the throw going over his head, he didn’t commit himself to the second run fast enough. Later he said, there was no way second run could be done as throw had already almost reached wicket-keeper. Though that lack of immediate action could be debated saying that wicket-keeper "could" have missed the ball and he "could" have got some extra time to make the run. He had to face quite a deal of criticism for not taking that run quickly but more important thing to note is how fast do the people notice the lack of action. That is quite true when the stakes are high.

This is an interesting situation to what Prakash Iyer calls High achievers having bias for action. In this case, Ashwin deliberately didnt act quickly because in his mind he knew his fate was sealed. This is a classic case of people expecting him to act though the result in 99% of times would have been same as what is now (how often do we see Wicket-keepers fumbling straight-forward chances?)

In some circumstances, the "Action" may be unnecessary like in the earlier example of goalkeeper but there are many situations in the our work lives and otherwise in life, when the very notion of "Action" gives indication that things are alive and kicking. For example, if your boss or team is in a different country than you are you, you ought to make sure to keep him/her updating on the various aspects of work. If not, some communication may go amiss. Sometimes, the action is necessary just to instil the belief in the people that you gave your 100%. Here is a simple thing that i learned- If you can act in a situation while still maintaining your genuineness of intent and not sounding artificial, the action (whatever it may be) is worth an attempt. After all who can forgive a goalkeeper just standing still if the football whizzes past from his side.

Lesson#2: Dont forget the Fair play even when the going is tough

If you remember what Edwards did in the Ball-2 of the last over, he actually held the spirit of the game high by not dismissing Ashwin on his run-up. The laws of the game state that the batsman should be in his crease when the bowler is taking a stride to bowl but the spirit of the game suggests that you ought to warn the batsman atleast once before attempting to running out in this situation. The latter is what Edwards did. Had he plainly followed the rules, Ashwin would have been run-out and West Indies could have been within a sniffing distance of victory.
There is a great stuff to be learned from this. In work and even in our lives, never forget to act ethically irrespective of the situation you are in. Following your profession ethically is not an easiest thing to do especially when the stakes are high like it was the case in this match but doing so is always the right in the larger context. You may lose a million by following stuff ethically but can save your organization a billion by avoiding the dangerous law-suites.

Lesson#3: When in trouble, first thing to do is break the monster task into small pieces

Varun struggled to score a single run the first three balls of the last over. Its not as if he didn’t try, he tried hard but somehow fell short. One more thing to note is that he was trying quite hard during this phase. To me it occurred that he made situation quite complex in his mind (naturally for a person playing his first match) and what would have helped in this case is to somehow simplify the situation.
The lesson to learn here is that whenever a problem of huge proportions trouble us, the first thing should be to break that problem in manageable parts and not get overly bogged down by it. Often the problem does not appear as big once we put effort to simplify the same and separately deal with its various parts. Once we have dealt with parts, suddenly we start seeing the light at the end of tunnel.
Try this for your "complex" problem for today, you will certainly achieve more in a day!

Lesson#4: Demonstrating Innovation in crisis is much harder than when things are rosy

Varun did the best he could during the first three balls of this over, considering it was his first match. For sure, he was facing a high pressure situation. Its quite funny how we, as humans, sometimes act in such crisis situations. We usually get tied to a single action and keep trying the same thing. Something Varun kept doing, playing the similar looking shot or within his limitations as a batsman. The lesser related example from our daily lives could be when the TV remote stops functioning, we start bashing it, hitting it against our palms continuously till we realize the problem is with battery. Such a thing is usually called as Blind Persistence meaning we are persistent towards something but keep trying the same thing again and again whereas the need of the hour could well be to innovate a bit while in crisis. Again, this is easier said than done but i do feel the ability of an individual or an organization to innovate when faced with survival crisis always rates high while innovating when you are provided with all the resources. Innovating in crisis requires that extra bit of mental strength and maintaining positivity while in a grave crisis. Not many possess this ability naturally but this quite something that could be developed for sure.

Lesson#5: Leaving too much for too late

In this post, i focused mainly on the last over the match where the situation was already tense and tight. Spare one thought about how we actually reached that situation. It was primarily because most of the batsmen in the top order did not take the responsibility of batting right-through the end and India kept losing wickets.
One of the important lesson here is that one should not keep too much towards the end of the project. This holds good even for the way one plans for a day. Do the most difficult tasks at the start of the day as the more complex ones usually take more time and it would often hold you up from reaching home on time. Afterall, you got to Eat that frog (Ugly task), the first thing in the day.

What did you learn today ?

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