Monday, January 21, 2019
Updated: Monday, September 13, 2004
Taming The Tiger

G. M. Bashar

"? But the players failed to play according to my plan," - Dave Whatmore

Getting the tigers out of this rut will need more than just harsh talking, harsh visits to the gym or another dose of Matau. Many of us firmly believe that more than the actual skill levels it is the mental makeup of the players that needs to be dealt with.

Although most of us are loyal and comfortable with Dave's immense skills there is a nagging feeling that an extra dimension is missing. Possibly a huddle with a psychologist? But there are still a lot of people out there who are suspicious of the role of sports psychologists in cricket or at best relegate them to the bottom of the priority list. Whichever way you look at it in cricket the role of psychology is still in its infancy and surprisingly in a game, which probably is the most mentally demanding i.e. next to chess! Nevertheless, the waters of international cricket have been stirred and pity those that lose out on a very important ongoing development in the rusty house of cricket.

"The Bangladesh team must be a juicy challenge for any psychologist."

Like the Soviet Union's dominance in chess during the cold war, it is now the Australians, with their penchant for the ever-present psychologist, that ruthlessly dominate cricket. A wall exists between them and the rest of the world. However, that wall is breaking because close on their heels it is the new English team under the elusive presence of Steve Bull, that are determined to wrestle the top spot of cricket from the Australians. Who is Steven Bull? He is the man vested with the duty to "lift" the game of their key players like Ashley Giles. And what a job he has done with Giles, who is probably no better than our own Rafique, but is the happier camper of the two and seems to be the one on the right path. Perhaps it is because as Bull and many others have suggested the six inches between your ears that are the deciding factor.

Moreover, the gurus of international cricket such as Bob Woolmer have been saying things like "we only use 30% of our brain capacity, and how if players can focus and raise this percentage to even 35%, the level of the game will vastly improve". Not to be outdone Mcgrath chips in to say that over 60% of 'talent' is down to mental strength. And remember that important rallying call for Indian cricket in the World Cup with their "Team India" and the "'Now or Never" marketing pitch. Behind the scenes it was all down to the involvement of Sandy Gordon, their team sports psychologist.

The Bangladesh team must be a juicy challenge for any psychologist. We have batsman good enough to regularly get thirty or forty but why are they not good enough to get to a hundred or more. Yet so spectacularly and to the immense detriment to our cricket, few do it. Why, is it technique only? It can't always be that their technique is faulty; otherwise they wouldn't have made it to forty against top teams so often. And why did Bashar get past to a hundred and then out before reaching 120? Was it technique or his legendary reflex that surrendered? And why is it that a team that is chasing 200 to win and has reached halfway for 4 wickets so frequently loses and collapses from that position? And why do they forget how to execute a simple catch but at times display brilliant fielding? More than technique it is our unsolved problem of the mind that plagues every member of the team.

But pitched in the middle is none other than Davenel Whatmore

But pitched in the middle is none other than Davenel Whatmore

Whatmore has probably done all that he can to instill professionalism. By improving concentration, coping with pressure; setting those little step-by-step goals and cutting down on all those little mistakes, he has taken the team inch by inch to the right direction. He has had to deal with many aspects and many factors of our game and that is the crunch. Too much work.

Some of these players should have been approached earlier to effectively look into their mental abilities. If their personal but achievable goals were set at an early stage of their career then their own pressures would have been more manageable. And so by the time they were inducted into the National team or the high performance unit we would have seen players concentrate on Dave's coaching. Professional techniques should be available right at the beginning of their cricketing life. More importantly, it is here at the embryonic stage of their careers that the professional psychologists should come in. It is too late for a hired sports psychologist to fly in for a week, a month before an important fixture, and struggle to communicate some wisdom to such youngsters. We need local professionals and preferably 11 of them, homegrown psychologists that are respected and can effectively communicate ideas to these potential players.

Undoubtedly, our youngsters enjoy their cricket and are dedicated to building up their motivation. Whether it is a batsman, bowler, keeper or an all rounder they all want to improve. But the onus is also on them to be proactive. It is paramount to be able to perform at your best and to do that they need to be in control of their career. Not just going through the motions doing the team warm-up; not being afraid to ask the coach or open up to foreign team members for advice or a helping hand.

The specialist coaches have come and gone; the stadiums are built; the high performance unit is set. But pitched in the middle is none other than Davenel Whatmore, amongst tiger cubs, who stubbornly cling on to their wayward mind. So it has been over a year now and one wonders when our boys will be in control of their minds? When will they wire it for success?

The author is a distinguished moderator of banglacricket forum and goes by the nick "oracle" - editors