Some lessons from cricket to tackle development constraints

Niranjan in Mint writes on how fast bowling has emerged and risen in India.

He compares the rise to development economics:

The dominant view in India during our long decades of fast bowling drought was that it was a lost battle. All sorts of pessimistic explanations were bandied about. The Indian weather is too hot for fast bowling. A country where meat eating is uncommon will be unable to produce the muscular young men needed to hurl the ball at opposing batsmen. A culture rooted in the principle of non-violence does not have the attitude needed to bowl a bouncer aimed at the head. Indian soil is too loose to have pitches that support fast bowling.

Many of these cultural or geographical explanations may have seemed convincing back then, very similar to how experts were pessimistic about Asia’s development prospects after World War II. A couple of American academics even wrote in 1967 that the US should send food aid only to countries that could be saved; it was prudent to let overpopulated countries such as India starve. This was just years before India broke the hunger barrier with the Green Revolution.

The Indian fast bowling renaissance in recent years would have been impossible if the cultural or geographical explanations had indeed been so potent. An editorial published in this newspaper in May 2018 rightly pointed out that the turning point was the emergence of Kapil Dev—the sort of historical accident that economists write about when thinking about economic development. He proved that it was possible to match the best in the world.

Then policy took over. One important milestone was reached when the MRF Foundation got Lillee to coach young fast bowlers after 1987. Think of this as technology transfer. Many of the best Indian fast bowlers after 1990 came from within this system. Suddenly, you had Indian opening bowlers who could make good batsmen duck in a hurry. More youngsters followed the path as they saw Indian quickies getting their due. The pitches in some recent Ranji Trophy seasons got greener. The IPL opened another window of opportunity for young fast bowlers in India.

An entire ecosystem is now in place to nurture Indian fast bowlers. The role of cultural or geographical factors are indeed important—but they can be overcome if there is effective policy support, the spread of new ways of doing things and an initial big push to overcome the older path dependence. The broader lessons of development economics are actually not very different from the broader lessons from the Indian fast bowling renaissance.

Just hoping we don’t lose sight over our potent weapon of spin bowling…

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