IPL: Performance vs result

Every year the IPL resurrects an annual dilemma for followers of cricket: do you support the team that takes its name from the city you live in or the city that is your ‘hometown’? For example, should I, with my gloriously Tamil name, support the Chennai team or should I support the Delhi team because I have been living in Delhi since 1958? This dilemma assails Bengalis, Maharashtrians, Punjabis, Kannadigas, Rajasthanis, Andhraites etc also if they live in a city that has an IPL team. Many people similarly conflicted have simply chosen to ignore the problem by not talking about it. But every now and then you come across someone who insists on supporting a team that you don’t care about but which happens to be your ‘hometown’ team. This has happened to me a few times when someone has asked me which team I support. My response has been the same each time. I say I support the team at the bottom of the points table, regardless of its city. When asked why I don’t support either Delhi or Chennai I say I will support them as soon as they hit rock bottom. This usually works and the fellow stops pestering me.

But the other day I was asked this question by a 10-year-old boy, the grandson of a friend. The child was very insistent and would not accept any of my answers because he simply couldn’t understand how anyone could support the worst performing team or not support his ‘hometown’ team or the team of the city in which he lived. I tried explaining it to him, first jocularly, then seriously and finally irritatedly. As must have happened to you also at least once with children, the boy became frustrated and nearly began to cry. His grandfather then walked over and asked me to stop teasing the boy, which I decidedly wasn’t doing. I was just trying to explain to him that, beyond a point, loyalty is irrelevant in sport or indeed in any endeavour that requires skill. I mean, really, who cares as long as you see great performances? I was trying to teach the boy to focus on the right thing, namely, the performance of individual players rather than on the outcome, which matters much less unless you are the betting kind.

A student can get 99 per cent and yet not get admission to the college of his or her choice because someone else has got 99.01 per cent.

What happened next was interesting. That the boy could not understand what I was saying was to be expected. He was just a child anyway. But it was his grandfather’s inability to follow my logic that was so surprising. I tried to argue my case saying outcomes are all too often more a matter of luck than the performance itself. Sachin Tendulkar played several fantastic innings but India lost the match because luck was against one or two of the other key players. You can see the same thing across all sports. In fact, you can see this in practically all competitive activities. A student can get 99 per cent and yet not get admission to the college of his or her choice because someone else has got 99.01 per cent. Believe it or not this happens all the time, especially when the number of applicants is as large as it can be in India.

Bowlers and batters provide the best example of skill versus luck. Out of the six balls a bowler is allowed five can be terrific deliveries but if even one is just a teeny-weeny bit off, it can be hit for a six. The same thing is true in reverse of batters. One piece of bad luck is all that they are allowed. At ten the child is too young to understand this but I am hoping his grandfather will persist and eventually make the boy look at performances rather than outcomes.

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