I’m sure that many, if not all of us, who have a serious interest in professional sport, have day dreamed of how it would feel to be a sporting hero. What would it feel like to take the final wicket in a test match at Lord’s to win The Ashes for England? Or to score a goal to win the F.A Cup for your boyhood team? (Wayne Rooney being the exception that proves the rule on that one!) Or to pot the the black to clinch the deciding frame in the World Snooker Final at The Crucible ?
So for those of us who will never know for sure – what can we compare it to? Getting a promotion at work? Passing your exams? Having a big win at the casino? The birth of a child? (Don’t worry my better half will not be reading this and neither of my children can read yet!) I would imagine the closet feeling would be opening your A Level results expecting 2 B’s and a C and getting straight A’s!
So, as I said before, we have all imagined what a moment of great sporting sucess might feel like. But how many of us have imagined the opposite – a moment of great sporting failure? How many of us have imagined what it would be like to be Brett Lee when he was being consoled by Andrew Flintoff having narrowly failed to save an Ashes test? Or to hit the ball into the net at Championship point in a Wimbledon final? Or to be the player in that most iconic moment of sporting disaster – a missed penalty during a World Cup
Brett Lee - Another scene of despair at Edgbaston!
penalty shoot out?
I would imagine that there are not many of us that have spent a great deal of time pondering such things. But this is the task I have set myself over the past couple of days – since Warwickshire’s capitulation in the 2nd innings against Lancashire at Edgbaston. What does it feel like to be part of a batting collapse? To be sat in the dressing room watching a steady procession of your team mates return from the crease prematurely – knowing it will soon be your turn? To walk to the wicket knowing that after 3 hard days the match has been turned on it head in the space of 20 minutes of madness?
Clearly it cannot be easy. This is why most commentators agree that batting collapses are caused by what is going on in the batsmen mind rather than the difference between the relative skills of the bowler and batsmen – or indeed demons in the pitch.
So, what has my day dreaming of disaster led me to conclude about batting collapses and how teams get swept up in a form of collective incompetence with the bat? Well obviously, in situations where a game has swung to the other side quickly because of the fall of a few quick wickets, the incoming batsmen will feel under pressure and may also feel some disappointment that his side have squandered a good position in the game. But when wickets are tumbling left right and centre – and especially where players believe the pitch is highly suspect – there is an inescapable sense of inevitability about it all. There is no expectation of sucess either for the team or for themselves as indivduals.
So how might this feel?
I have two analogies that I hope come close to the feelings experienced by a batsmen in this situation that a lot of people will emphasis with. Firstly, if you have ever, like a lot of people have growing up, been playing football with friends and been given the thankless task of going in goal despite having no aptitude for, or interst in, the specialist role. Then, after being given this unpalatable job you quickly concede a couple of goals. What liitle confidence you may have had has now gone and from then on each time someone runs towards you with the ball, you – and probably most of your teammates, feel another goal is inevitable. So I hope this analogy helps convey the inevitability players may feel as a batting collapse takes hold!
The other analogy I have to help explain how the batsmen may feel in this situation relates to hopelessness. 5 day or 4 day cricket is redgarded by many as the best form of the game because of the many twists and turns that can take place during the course of a long game. Even when a team is struggling hope is never truly lost until the last run is scored or the last wicket falls. This is why some of the most memorable matches are where a team struggles against the odds to get a draw.
I feel that batting collapses occur when a team has forgotten that miraculous turnarounds do happen in the game of cricket – so they should fight on!
A situation I have, sadly, experienced that I feel sums up this loss of hope – when all in fact is not yet lost – relates to gambling. I have myself over indulged in the vice of gambling from time to time. Sports betting, roulette, fruit machines – even bingo – i have tried the lot! When you are gambling and losing you often develop a fatalistic attitude where the optimism and expectation of winning that you began with is replaced by a feeling of certain doom. If you have decided to carry on until you have spent a certain amount of money in an attempt to recover your losses you can often feel an urge to raise the stakes to get it over with more quickly – rather than be patient and follow the system you had previously devised to win your fortune. You have lost all hope even though a small chance of gaining all your money back does still exist. Then when you finally run out of funds there is almost a sense of relief that it is over.
So in the midst of a batting collapse I would suggest that sometimes batsmen are swamped by this sense of hopelessness even when a slim chance of victory may still exist.
So my conclusion is that the worse batting collapses occur when batsmen feel that failure is inevitable – often blaming the pitch – and lose all hope of success a lot earlier than they would in normal circumstances!
So there you have it. My own personal attempt to understand what goes on in the minds of cricketers in the midst of a batting collapse. All comments are welcome if you would like to share your own thoughts!
So what can be done about it?
Well clearly there are many excellent sports psychologists out there who deal with these sorts of issues all the time.
My only suggestion is perhaps is for clubs to emphasise the importance of individual performance as well as the success of the team!
The success of the team as a whole is clearly the priority in all team sports but cricket has a very individual element as well. No matter how dire a team’s performance is as a whole, it is possible for any individual player to have played well and hold his head up high. This should be used to motivate players when they know that any realistic chance of success in the game that the team had, has slipped through their fingers. This is especially true in the fist class game where speed of scoring is less of an issue.
So, for instance, in circumstances like last Friday when Warwickshire were 92/6 and they had just lost 3 wickets for only 6 runs, and were staring defeat in the face, the remaining batsmen should be coached to be in a mindset that says ‘I’m going to be the one not out at the end of this mess. Its not going to be me the coach is looking at or refering to when he speaks about what has gone wrong in this game!’. Also, if you are a tailender and not a great batsmen the coach should be sending you out there by saying ‘we know your not going to save the game for us but at least get above your average and you have acheived something!’. Even if the tailender’s average is only, say, 11 runs, it gives them something to aim for and takes their mind of the teams imminenet defeat.
The nature of these batting collapses are important because although the team may still lose, if a little more effort is demonstrated on the part of the players it will raise the morale of the team and appease the fans a little bit.
And, most importantly of all, it will make the post match interview for Ashley Giles a little bit easier!
Heres hoping for a better pitch against Worcestershire on Wednesday!
Good Luck Bears