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What makes for a winning combination in sports?

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Timeless

The Winning Moment
The Winning Moment

In February 2001, Steve Waugh arrived on the shores of the Indian subcontinent with his team of invincibles. The legendary Aussies had 15 consecutive Test victories -- a streak yet to be equaled or broken, while India were in shambles, trying to regroup from a match-fixing saga under a young captain.

Steve Waugh called the series Australia's chance to conquer 'the final frontier'. But, as history would have it, Steve would end up waiting for victory.

Australia's next tour of India was scheduled to happen in October 2004 and Steve Waugh wanted to finish his career on a high, leading his team to a series win in India. However, the message from Cricket Australia was clear. They informed him that he was not an automatic selection in the team. Waugh, with few options left, retired in 2003 with 'the final frontier' unconquered.

Was Cricket Australia right in treating one of the legends of the game so ruthlessly? Could they have given another year and a half to Waugh? Could they have allowed him one final shot at winning a series in India?

While there may be debate regarding some of their policies, Cricket Australia surely deserves respect for creating an invincible team, one that won almost everything for an entire decade. That the Australian team of that period -- under Steve Waugh and then Ricky Ponting -- dominated cricket in the way that the mighty West Indies did under Clive Lloyd.

But, what exactly is a winning combination? Is it possible to create a team that can leave a legacy? What is it that the Aussies and the Windies did that set them apart from all their contemporaries? Let us try to investigate a few factors that are indispensable parameters in the development of a winning team.

Commitment to Team Goals: It happens so often in sports, that players tend to keep individual performance goals ahead of the team’s success. So often in cricket, you will see that batsman slow down in the quest to reach a century. In football, strikers attempt a dramatic goal rather than just passing the ball. Such individual performers are deleterious to the team environment and must be done away with.

In a nation that is dazed by individual talent like India, it happens so often that the emotions around legends cloud the sense of judgment of the administrators. Numerous examples are present, including the likes of Kapil Dev and even Sachin Tendulkar.

Winning teams, on the other hand, often rise above. Ruud van Nistelrooy had to make way for a certain Cristiano Ronaldo in Manchester United, the legendary Ian Healy had to make way for the swashbuckling Adam Gilchrist. Steve Waugh was asked to retire with due respect. And neither Cricket Australia nor Manchester United were moved by the emotional loyalty attached to the personalities.

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The Pursuit of Excellence: The factor that distinguishes a winning team from its contemporaries is the fact that they can raise their game to the highest level when an opportunity comes knocking. They thrive in high-pressure situations and repeatedly trump their opponents in big finals.

This is exactly how Pete Sampras was different from Tim Henman. In the 1990s, Tim would be the best player of the tournament till the semi-final, while Sampras would often encounter a pitfall or two on his way to the semis. However, Sampras would thrive later on and Henman would succumb to pressure. He ended his career without a single Grand Slam despite being in the top 10 ATP rankings for a substantial period.

There are only a few athletes in the history of professional sports who have managed to create a winning combination. No wonder that they have transcended time and have garnered unanimous respect and admiration.

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