The masters of sports psychology
THE most fascinating piece of sports theatre on television over the weekend might not have been Tottenham putting nine past Wigan's goalkeeper in the Premier League, nor Lee Westwood's domination of a rich golf tournament in Dubai. It was a hit-and-giggle affair from the Gabba, Australia against the All-Stars in a Twenty20 cricket match.
Specifically, what made it riveting was the fact that the key players were miked up. Here in the space of a couple of hours were a series of gentle reminders of what we all miss about Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Adam Gilchrist. Here was a reminder that in top-level sport, brains are everything (and take note, you recruiters heading to Thursday's AFL draft).
Here is McGrath bowling seam-up with the new ball, chiding himself about only reaching 110 km/h speeds, but still ridiculously miserly. McGrath is approaching 40, and has played two Twenty20 games in the past six months, but he could bowl stump-to-stump in his sleep.
Here's where the brains kick in. McGrath bowls a couple of inswingers to the left-handed David Warner, cramping him for room. Then he flags that he will bowl a little slider, running the fingers down the seam and angling it across Warner. He tips that Warne, standing at slip, will get himself a catch.
On cue, Warner nicks it. McGrath only gets one aspect wrong. The catch flies to Gilchrist behind the stumps. Gilchrist, who also is miked up and who has heard the plan hatched, is exultant.
Soon enough, Warne is bowling and the boys from Channel Nine ask him for a running commentary on his over. As it happens, he's bowling to Michael Clarke, one of the best players of spin in the world, a man with dancing feet. Moreover, Warne and Clarke are friends; Warne is calling Clarke his personal Daryll Cullinan but, at 40, there is a question mark as to whether he can back it up.
Immediately, Clarke is advancing down the track to cover the spin. Speaking through his microphone, Warne reveals his plan to draw Clarke out of his crease, then fire one down a little wider of off stump. Quicker and straighter, it could produce a stumping, or a nick.
It's great theatre now. Down comes Clarke, unaware of the trap. Warne pulls it wide and Australia's captain-in-waiting is stranded, on the verge of a major embarrassment. A lunging bat and a thick outside edge saves him as the ball squirts to point. Warne groans, and we've surely heard that before - a few thousand times.
At this level of sport, everyone is so good that they are all looking for an edge. Warne and McGrath have great physical gifts, no doubt, but it is nous and cunning that set them apart. It is working out what you can and can't do, and then applying the same logic to your opposition, augmenting your great skills.
They are champions of sports psychology, that pair. But then there is Gilchrist, who represents another genre. He might well be the opposite, in the sense that the less he thought, the better he played, an instinctive genius. During one particular patch of poor batting some years ago, he was asked what he was thinking about at the crease. Gilchrist replied that when he started thinking, he knew he was in trouble. Like David Gower, who summarised his method as ''I see 'em, I hit 'em'', Gilchrist was an instinctive player, and he knew it.
Just watch the ball and let everything else happen was his mantra
. So that when Peter Siddle fired one in short to Gilchrist on Sunday night, it was automatic. He rocked back and hit it into the seats at deep mid-wicket. Now there's another one we've seen before.
A related link. Has an important statistic like "to score a test century, which takes on 3.5 hours, a batsman will stand still for two hours, walk for an hour, jog for 10 minutes, spend only five minutes running hard, and about 1.5 minutes spriting." Explains why not so super duper fit guy like Sehwag can score such fast test centuries.
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