Jim Collins, the man known for his best selling book “Good To Great” (which studied what made great companies, well, great), came out with “How The Mighty Fall”, a book that looked at exactly the opposite scenario – how the best in class organizations, once seemingly invincible, are knocked off their perch. The Australian cricket team, management and administration would to well to pick up a copy and read it. The book outlines failure as being a five stage process bearing similarity to a ‘staged disease’ and Collins says that institutional decline is like that because ‘it is harder to detect but easier to cure in the early stages, easier to dtect but harder to cure in the later stages’. He goes on to give ‘markers’ to identify the five stages of decline. Following the humbling defeat at The Ashes to England, The Aussie aura of invincibility and its last remnants have been vaporized. And now they are on the rocky road to decline. The only question, in terms of Collins’ insight is – which stage? Let’s take a look.
STAGE I: HUBIS BORN OF SUCCESS – It is tempting to become insulated by success and with the AUstralian team notching win after win (remember the two 16 Test win streaks between 2000 and 2008?), there seemed to be a perfect team in place. The finest of their (or probably any) generation shone on the field and the Warne and McGraths and the Gilchrists masked any inadequacy in the pipeline. They swept everything that came their way and it seemed that the opposition and put in the towel to even try to defeat the Aussies. Coach John Buchanan’s laptop driven strategies seem to be working. But therein lay the problem – with strategy and luck it is hard to differentiate between the two when the going is good. The defeat in The Ashes in 2005 and then the failure to leave a mark in the T20 format should have sounded the warning shots. But in the raptures of success it went unheard.
STAGE II: BITING MORE THAN YOU CAN CHEW – Success on the field made the players’ and administrators’ appetite grow further for more. Dominance was demanded performance wise, as well as by other means. There were spats with other cricketing bodies and the players looked to cash in on the bonanza being provided by lucrative avenues like the IPL. But that was only part of the story. The expectations set by the cricket that the Aussies played in the last decade automatically set the bar too high for any new target set. Result? A quick dash into the dangerous stage III.
STAGE III: DENIAL – Even after the Ashes loss (Three innings defeats. In the same series. At home.), stand in captain Michael Clark told everyone – “I don’t think there’s a crisis in Australian cricket at all”. Children can be taught the meaning of the word denial through that one statement! Scarily, the same problem runs through the administartors and the coaching staff as well. As Peter English so pointedly writes on cricinfo – “Despite all of this James Sutherland, the chief executive, is happy with the head coach, the selectors and the players – just not the result. Andrew Hilditch, the chairman of selectors, is not resigning and is pleased with the form of the four decision makers. “I think we’ve done a very good job as a selection panel, but the reality is we were totally out-played,” he said. He was being serious. Tim Nielsen, the coach, was reasonable enough to avoid praising himself and settled on saying that he had tried his best. Nobody has been accused of not trying, just of not being very good, or doing the right things. Yet nobody is resigning and nobody is being sacked.” Collins calls this the most dangerous phase where the real rot sets in. Setbacks and temporary loss of form are one thing but continuously externalizing blame can amplify and accelerate the decline and eventual demise. Ricky Ponting’s form, the captaincy successor issue, the lack of a good spinner – all of thesde crucial points have been placed on the backburner constantly despite recent dip in form (losses to South Africa at home and then India away) which has been pretty severe. It creates the perfect setting for the impending doom of the Aussie legacy.
Bouncebackability is the word that the Aussies are looking for right now. But it would need a radical change in their outlook to take a good hard look at themselves, admit that things aren’t going swimmingly for them and hit the ground running. But they have to choose their saviour with care. Otherwise, they will be hurtling towards Stage IV as per Collins (Looking for a saviour – bringing in a flashy CEO and hoping for a turnaround or pinning all hopes on a new product tec.) and if it doens’t work, then the Aussies can cue up Jim Morrison singing ‘This is The End’ on their playlists.
Australia has always been a great cricket team and how it has emerged from earlier crises has defined its legacy in the cricketing world. (The last such instance would be the emergence from the mid 1980s decline to win the World Cup as an unfancied team in 1987 and then build on that success). The inflection point has come again (and a World Cup is around the corner too!). In true AUssie spirit, it is time for them to take inspiration from Jim Collin’s line – “whether you prevail or fail, endure or die, depends more onwhat you do yourself than on what the world does to you.”