27 November 2018

When things go wrong, check the fundamentals

Way back in the nineteen eighties Kandy SC were the whipping boys of local rugby. They consistently occupied the last position in the league. Things changed and the story Kandy’s resurgence and close to absolute dominance in rugby is well known. A lot of money, a well thought out program, offering incentives to lure to best players to Kandy and good management did the trick.  

The 'fundamentals' are not just about technique,
but institutional arrangement, healthy procedures and good checks and balances

There are times when big bucks help. Money can fix a lot of things and of course it can purchase top notch players. Prestige can do that too and also better prospects after leaving the sport — we see that a lot in school sports with respect to the so-called elite schools who pinch talent from less prestigious schools. 

Schools do it, clubs do it.  Countries find it a little bit tougher, especially if it’s not exactly a wealthy nation. Money can purchase training facilities, better coaching and obtain better player preparation. Still, there’s only so much that bucks can do to uplift a sport.

Ranjan Madugalle, barely out of school at the time, told some schoolboys that whenever he had a poor run with the bat he would go back to the basics, the fundamentals. He spoke of the stance, the back lift, the down swing, the grip, watching the ball from the bowler’s hand etc. It worked for him, he said. He didn’t play too much test cricket, but someone like Mahela Jayawardena or Kumar Sangakkara might agree with Ranjan.  

Sometimes what works for an individual can work for a team as well. When a team does poorly on a consistent basis, there’s a lot of talk about dearth of talent, bad coaching, lack of funds or mismanagement of funds etc. Some of these could be legitimate, but in the end the reasons for the malady typically lie in the fundamentals.  

In an age where there’s ample footage of all test matches, a batsman can watch how he got out or how the particular bowler or team strategized to get him out. Close examination would probably reveal patterns; weaknesses that a sharp captain or bowler in the opposing team would exploit. In short it can’t be impossible to identify matters that require correction. It cannot be impossible to rectify.  

And the same holds for a bowler whose averages are dropping. There are learning curves and batsmen figure out bowlers sooner or later, even mystery spinners, but staying one step ahead is part of the story. Batsmen adjust, bowlers too. It won’t turn Kusal Perera into a Sanath Jayasuriya or Nuwan Pradeep into a Chaminda Vaas, but it would make Kusal Perera the best Kusal Perera he can be and Nuwan Pradeep the best Nuwan Pradeep he can be.  

A player, if he or she cheats him/herself, cannot get too far. Success requires a lot of things to come together and one of the most important things is honesty to oneself. One cannot cheat on commitment and expect to come on top. There are no shortcuts. The fundamentals can be ignored only at cost.  

If things don’t change, it simply means that you are not focusing on fixing the fundamentals that have for whatever reason gone awry.  

It’s the same for teams. It’s the same for sports bodies. A player can self-reflect. A team, perhaps under the guidance of a captain or coach, can do the same. A sports body is different. A critical mass of officials capable of taking criticism in the right spirit, admitting error and having the capacities to correct these, is essential. A system that facilitates such a process is also important.  These also come under the subject of ‘fundamentals’.  

Maybe it is time for ‘failing sports’ or rather players, enthusiasts and relevant officials of sports that are not doing too well to return to the basics. There’s no way around it.