India’s world cup first round exit has confirmed what we already knew about the Indian team but unwilling to accept. We, the die-hard fans were in a constant state of denial – Our heroes cannot fail us. Well, they just did and at least now let us start to accept fact as it is. Let us say this loud, the current Indian team lacks mental strength. And I am not entirely blaming it on the players.
I would say the first and foremost blame should go the media. Scribes and reporters unrealistically raise expectations about players and dump them very next game. How will a young player adapt to this?
Pathan would have thought he was the next Akram, Dhoni the next Gichrist and Yuvraj must have compared himself with Hussey or Bevan. When the situation arises where a games balance depends on them they are unable to raise to the occasion. Not because they lack the skill but they lack the mental strength to absorb pressure.
An average Indian cricketer faces a lot more pressure than say, Ricky Ponting the captain of the most successful team. And the average Indian cricketer in my opinion is not sufficiently trained to handle pressure. Handling pressure is about blocking everything else except the task on hand. It is about overcoming the fear of failure and understanding that at the end of the day it is but a game. Lives don’t depend on it.
Indians in general are passive by nature and pressure does not sit too well on them. History says that India has never invaded or mongered war. I will in fact go ahead and generalise and say that we are too soft and benign. Don’t get me wrong, these traits are good and they are the very principles matured civilisation is based upon. The problem arises when we start mixing sports with our life values.
Modern cricket demands aggression, abrasiveness and strength. Australia have it all and they are backed by wonderful talent and skills nurtured by their professional management of the game. By nature they are physically stronger, mentally tougher and perform better under pressure in sports than others. Cricket, which is also a game of skill, is the only reason India is still able to compete with countries like Australia and South Africa.
India in order to be a force in the changing game needs to urgently address three things:
- Mental strength
- Skills improvement
- Player management
We need to get the best minds thinking and put together a plan to address the ‘mental strength’ aspect. The Indian teams problems cannot be solved by inspirational pep talks or a visit to the sports psychologist.
It is not unheard of that top sportsmen and women often use hypnotherapy, meditation etc among other techniques to improve the ability to cope with pressure. The BCCI should look in these directions for more effective answers.
Managing expectations is another area where the BCCI has failed miserably. They have irresponsibly allowed the media and corporate sponsors to artificially inflate the ability and skill of the Indian team.
Perhaps the BCCI should use the same media to propagate actual facts. They should make a documentary of the sacrifice a player makes to make it to the Indian team and what pressures he faces. A majority of the fans take cricketing skills for granted and that players win or lose games because of their lack of commitment and nothing else. This single reason is why we see burning effigies and damaged homes.
Improving skills is perhaps the key challenge the BCCI face. Skill is a major part of this game and one can still compete and win against aggressive and physically strong sides through skill alone.
End of Part I