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Sunday, July 14, 2013

What can we learn from Dhoni's cricketing sense?

On Thursday 11 July 2013, Dhoni almost single-handedly won the final match in the Tri Nation series against Sri Lanka. Critics and Commentators have been heaping praise and adulation on his amazing 'ice-cool' ability under stress. Some call him lucky. Some call it 'instinctual' ability to take quick decisions. And like Dhoni said in his interview after the final that he is blessed with 'cricketing sense'.

How can these kind of traits develop? They cannot be developed by gaining more knowledge, getting some degrees, or by attending any training programs. These are mindsets that get formed due to our mixture of Beliefs, Assumptions and Conclusions ( also called as BAC effect) that we hold unconsciously. So too it is in the case of Dhoni. Why is BAC effect powerful? Because, we constantly make 'sense' of a situation based on BAC, and unconsciously use them to take small or large decisions. These small decisions either take us on a irreversible path forcing us to justify the path we took ( like the action a player takes to unknowingly help a match fixer), or it also helps us take big decisions that significantly impacts result ( like in Sports)

Let us try to 'uncover' Dhoni's BAC and how it enables him to make sense to take his 'actions and decisions'.

How can we  uncover Dhoni's BAC without asking him? We unconsciously do this with our friends by inferring their actions, comments and statements. For instance, Dhoni keeps on giving his comments in his interviews. Some of his assumptions can be inferred from his actions on the field. And some of his 'derived conclusions' can be guessed from the way he selects team, takes quick calls and his reaction or non reaction in the heat of the situation.

Why are we doing this? Because it will help us understand the mystery of his 'ice-cool' ability and how did he develop his 'cricketing sense'. If we do not understand this, we credit it to 'God', unable to learn anything. But if we understand this, we also can identify our 'invisible' BAC, and understand how it is preventing us from achieving desired goals.

Core Belief 1: Your efforts can produce only output, not outcome

I have written earlier how efforts cannot produce outcome in a tennis match. Even when both player manages to win the same points ( same output), it can still result in different outcomes ( one wins and other loses). This rule is visible all the times, but we just refuse to see it. It happens in studies. We know one subject well but we score less in it than the subject we like less.

Infact this is an old belief in Hindu Philosophy ( Bhagawad Gita), depicted in the battle of Mahabharata, where Krishna advises Arjuna that कर्मणयेवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन। मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि. “You have a right to perform your prescribed action, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your action..”

Dhoni has accepted this belief very well. He has not just understood it, he has assimilated this belief in his psyche. He knows that he can only put his best efforts, victory or defeat is not in his hands. Assimilation of this belief enables Dhoni to have an ice-cool ability. More importantly, this belief enables Dhoni in focusing on his field efforts without thinking of ifs and buts, without having other doubts. This is a huge plus in a game situation !

But the interesting question is why Dhoni could assimilate this belief better than most of us? You will observe that many sportsman absorb this belief. If you hear any top players interviews - Roger Federer, Djokovic and now Murray - you will hear their acceptance of this belief. So what makes sportsman accept this belief so easily? The answer is 'quick feedback'. In sport tasks, actions and outputs are closely related with each other in 'time'. Therefore it is easy to view and appreciate that 'one's effort may not result into desired outcome'.  In knowledge tasks, there is huge time lag between 'effort and output'. Because of this simple difference, professionals in knowledge tasks ( engineers, doctors, consultants, accountants and researchers) find it very difficult to accept this core belief of life. This paradoxically makes it difficult for us to achieve anything 'big' in our life !

Core Assumption in cricket : Initiator determines the course of point in the game, not the responder

In sports, initiator determines the course of the 'action'. Please read this assumption carefully. Like in Chess, the player with white piece determines the course of the entire game. In tennis, the server is the initiator. In cricket, the bowler is the initiator. In these games, the initiator controls the point, not the game.

If the ball is good, the batsman can just 'play' it defensively. If he still tries to score, he has to hit 'low percentage' shots. Low percentage shots may get the batsman out ! Batsman like Virendra Sehwag are considered as match winners, because they can play high percentage shots even on a 'good ball'. But , as we know, with age, even Sehwag has lost this ability !

Dhoni once again understands this assumption of cricketing game very well and uses this actively while batting as a finisher. ( If i can interview him, I would love to ask him how he discovered this assumption !) He therefore keeps on playing high percentage shots until the bowler falters. If this strategy gets him closer to the goal, he does not take the risk. But if it does not get him closer to the goal, he waits till the last moment (like he waited till the last over in the final match) and plays low percentage shots only at the last moment. Even while doing this, he increases his chances of succeeding, by adopting other safe techniques like using high weight bat, or playing his shots in the V angle from mid off to mid on, and so on. More often, he wins, because he uses the 'right strategy', not because he is lucky.

Dhoni also uses this assumption while making bowling changes According to this assumption, an untested good bowler is more likely to 'surprise' the batsman and make him play low percentage shot, than an established well known bowler. Or a spinner may turn out to be a better bowler on a pitch than a fast bowler ( which he assumed in the last final match due to which he relied on part time spinner !)

Dhoni's sensemaking apparatus in action 

With this belief and assumption, he always takes the right calls on the field, because he is always 'on the field' with less or no 'biases' from the past. Now see his different actions and try to relate them to his beliefs and assumptions.

He finds 'Joginder' to bowl the last over in 20-20 final in 2007, because he knows 'surprise' is a big winner in a game. ( Effect of Assumption 1)  He never asks the opinions of other team members while making the 'difficult choices', like the choice of bowling part time spinners - Raina - in the last game. Because, he knows, that opinions of others will 'confuse' his sense-making instead of helping him. ( Sensemaking is based on beliefs, and individuals always have different beliefs !) That has indirectly helped him to establish his leadership position and has made his 'leadership aura' grow.

Also observe his actions when he is losing. When he lost in a big way to England in England, he did not give any reasons. Neither did he give any reasons of losing when he lost the series of England in India. Neither did he look worried that he may lose his captaincy. Only commentators and critics were arguing about 'what went wrong'. He knows post mortems only hurt the team members in producing their best in the next match. He prefers to remain quiet. For the same reason, he does not discuss his differences with senior players like Gambhir, Laxman or Sehwag, in open, which seem to be far from the best !

More importantly, once a team member comes in the team, he gives him adequate chances. Even though he seems to rely on some favourites, he gives equal opportunities to his players. For instance, he never flinches from including a new bowler or new batsman in a crucial match, if someone is injured. His grooming of Bhuvaneshwar and Umesh Yadav is a classic example. His preference to Dinesh Kartik over other established batsman is also surprising, because Dinesh Kartik can replace him as a wicket-keeper batsman !

If you closely watch his onfield and offfield behaviour and actions, you will realise that his behaviour and actions are tied to his Core belief and Assumption. When he was asked, if he ever dreamt to become a most successful captain of India, he replied ' I have come from a small town. For me, playing for Indian team itself was a big dream'. His foot is planted on the ground, because he really believes that  his actions alone were never enough to produce any big outcomes ! ( Principle of Bhagwad Gita)

Now are you surprised with Dhoni's cricketing sense?