Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The team and “I” in professional cricket

A professional is someone who can do his best work when he doesn't feel like it.
             Alistair Cooke KBE – journalist/broadcaster

(Courtesy of toonpool.com)

Most definitions of a professional centre on money and payment; they miss the essence of professionalism. Cooke’s description brings it to life – money is such a small part of it.

In the wake of the drama that is the Kevin Pietersen saga, it’s worth considering what professionalism means in modern cricket. Is it based solely on remuneration or is it a mind-set? What are the roles, and importance, of the individual and the team? Does one outweigh the other or does a successful team need to find a healthy balance?

I see little benefit in judging Pietersen’s actions, or those of the ECB - I think it’s rash for those on the outside to do so without real context. There is undoubtedly blame on both sides, there almost always is. Determining which side is more erroneous seems a futile exercise. The scribes will no doubt continue to wage a debate - that's understandable, it's what sells newspapers and gets people reading websites.
This isn't a piece on Kevin Pietersen, but the drama makes me wonder which is more important - the individual or the whole; the superstar or the team? Is the balance different depending on the level of the competition?

Many of the games pundits and commentators talk of the need for team unity – how important is it? Cricket is largely a team sport reliant on the efforts of a collection of individuals. Yes, the collective effort leads a team forward but talented individuals often turn matches and secure implausible victories. Cricketing history is littered with individual fairy tales; they are what draw us to the game as young children and occupy the stories we recount as we age. How many of us remember victories based on the effort of the collective where no one man, or woman, shines from the front?

There needs to be a team focus – individuals cannot play to the detriment of the team but team mates can't score runs for others or bowl in the right areas - they can simply provide support. I understand the need for a team ethos and rules but I understand the need to win more - most fans do! We all throw barbs at prima donnas and egotists but we forget their shortcomings and applaud with vigour when they produce the magic only a rare few can.

Teams need boundaries, and consequences to match, but is there just one set of rules? Speaking out about team mates at pressers is ill advised but doesn’t writing a book while you play or penning a newspaper column sit on the same plain? Yes, a cricket board will often have to approve the written word but can’t a press officer call a halt to an interview as well? While there needs to be individual responsibility, what is said in the heat of a post-match press conference by sportsmen with bulging egos should surely be regulated – why else do teams have a media liaison?

Doesn't the brashness and ego of a superstar help the team when they're in a hole and no one believes? Or when only an extraordinary feat will lift the collective off the canvas? The difficult ones are usually those with that special trait - the quality to achieve something the introvert, or good team man, simply can't? Such thoughts are little more than supposition - you don't see too many special talents in the local club team. To look at my own backyard, if New Zealand cut individuals who didn't gel or cast doubts about the ability of their team mates to play at their level, I would have missed seeing Turner, Crowe and Hadlee through my formative years. And I wouldn’t have been the only one – few people want to watch a team firmly rooted to the bottom of the international ladder, never getting even to the lowest rung.

If the removal of a troublesome individual betters the results of the team then it's a necessary evil - if it doesn't, and it is done solely for “unity”, what is the point? Professionals should be able to cross that bridge and do the job they’re paid for – most of us have to do the same thing in a “9-5” job every day.

The next edition of the KP soap opera is anyone's guess - it seems to turn more than Murali on a bunsen burner, and it's just as hard to read. Difficult personalities often possess unrivalled genius – as nothing more than a cricket fan I hope the sensitivities of other individuals in the team don't remove such uplifting talent from our great game.

Tell me what you think – I’d love your thoughts. Post a comment below or tweet me @aotearoaxi.  


  1. I cannot agree more. Although Cricket is a team sport, Individuals have had a huge role in it and will continue to do so. And it is a fact, to win England need Pietersen's runs. The question ECB has to ask themselves is, can the 'unity' fostered after the departure of Kevin get them 149 runs and in the process dismantle Steyn?

    1. There is always more to these things than we see from the outside but doesn't professionalism involve more than money - isn't it as much about getting the job done regardless of your mind set?

    2. Well I think Bairstow has done a fine job in place of KP so far, on 64* now. I agree with Adithya, individuals have always had a huge role, even though cricket is a team sport. I have seen bowlers win matches, although they say cricket is a batsman's game. Overall, KP is a huge miss but Bairstow has done well and he may as well be the "individual" who will help England keep the no.1 spot. And Cook's shot today was astonishing, chasing a full and wide ball!!!


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