PM Essence
Sehwag on Strategy
                                   –    Pavan Soni
  PM in Non Traditional Area


Now, wait a minute – did you read it right? Yes, it’s not an oxymoron. I mean it. Of course Virender Sehwag (aka Viru) won’t bother to write about strategy, let alone reading even one para written on the topic. Most people won’t even remotely associate Viru with strategy when the media and our imagination is replete with leaders, captains, coaches, and pundits on who ought to make strategy and how it must be made (only that it makes sense at the hindsight). However, being an Indian, which makes me a cricket fan by default and a student of strategy, I can’t resist but venture highlighting a few insights one could draw from an astonishing career Viru had over more than a decade now. Fewer people have made such an impact on the game of cricket as this gentleman has and there are few nuggets one could and should draw from here.

Strategy is as good as its execution
Tell me – how do you differentiate between ‘a bad strategy’ and ‘a good strategy badly executed’? After all strategy is as good as execution. When you see Viru playing his cricket, there seems to be no semblance of strategy. One could assume that there is no strategy, which I think isn’t true, at least in Viru’s mind, but he seldom let strategic prescriptions override his natural instinct.


When was the last time you saw Viru out of his instincts trying something that’s been told to him ‘shall work’? Rarely. For as long he played, his instincts ruled everything else. Managers, sportspeople and academics alike acknowledge that a strategy is as good as its execution. Still better great execution can always be construed as a well drafted strategy in the hindsight but a strategy (read plan of action) stands no change in the face of poor delivery. Sehwag exemplifies execution, as Sunil Gavaskar used to comment – “if it is a bad delivery, (Sehwag) will hit it and if it a good delivery, again he will hit it”. That’s simply execution paying little attention to ‘strategy’. That calls for keeping things simple, which itself calls for a very clear mind.

Strategy thrives on causal ambiguity
Name the most fearsome batsman India has ever produced? I bet Viru would figure in top three, if not right at the top. Every cricketing nation has one or two most feared players for every generation and for past several years it was Viru for us. He might not be the best in terms of techniques (least of all), or records, or consistency, but he was very unpredictable and hence lethal.


Even after dozens of books written on Apple or Toyota or Google, the practices of these firms are hard to imitate, let alone understand. That’s because there exist severe causal ambiguity, or unclear cause-effect relationship between governing factors. That’s what makes firm’s distinctive advantages sustain over long period of time. Almost every player could be categorized into one of the several archetypes, but not Viru and I think MS Dhoni comes a close second.  What makes these players absolutely idiosyncratic is that no one, not even they themselves, know why it happens what happens. MS is at least good as hindsight analysis!  Viru is crude here.


Possession of such resources, which are highly unpredictable, offers a great advance to the focal team and always keeps the opposition guessing. The causal ambiguity also stems from the fact that neither Viru nor MS play based upon prescribed ‘good practices’. In fact, they create practices on the fly, as need may be and let other handle the justification and proliferation. That’s precisely the hallmark of disruptors. They aren’t governed by the rules neither they bother to change those. They just do it!

A good strategy is governed by few simple rules
Have you ever heard the term ‘paralysis by analysis’? That’s what happens when you are trying to solve a case in a B-School setup, or in a one-day strategy workshop with your colleagues. You spend too much time analyzing the facts, or even hunches, while paying little attention to creative solutions or moving on to the next steps. MBAs are infamous for that and worst still, expect others to construe this as their ability!


As for Viru, his cricketing style is (I think) governed by few very simple rules. Such as – hit the ball when you see it and don’t get out cheap or – don’t pay any attention to the bowler’s reputation and the format of the game. Who else can cruise at a 300+ score in a test match with over a strike rate of 100? That fearlessness can come only with clarity and the clarity can’t come with too many rules to follow, let alone books to read.


I will keep it just at three, for if ever Viru comes across this post he should not feel it being just too much!