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August 12, 2002

Mind over matter

Ashish Magotra

Can this Indian team win? Yes. Does it have the talent to win? Yes. Does it repeatedly lose the game in the mind? A resounding 'yes'.

Someone in the team management or the BCCI needs to realise this fact and tell the players that they need a sports psychologist, not because they are crazy or even anything close, but simply because he will do a better job than they are doing in inspiring themselves.

A team that does not believe it can win never will.

A psychologist needed! The difference between winning and losing is most often down to just one thing: mental strength. That's what sets the Aussies apart from the rest, places them at a higher plain; their mental strength, their resolve, their determination.

In most professional sports, a psychologist is considered a necessity not a mere accessory. Whether it is golf, football, basketball or for that matter any sport, more and more sportspersons are turning to psychologists for help.

Ernie Els, ranked no.2 in the world in golf, a sport where people see no further than Tiger Woods, turned to a psychologist for help. It worked wonders for him. He went on to win the coveted British Open, outlasted Woods, survived bogeys and, most importantly, won the battle in his mind even before he stepped onto the course.

Ganguly is not the captain extraordinaire; in fact, far from that. He is the first man to show the disappointment of a run being scored. He proceeds to give his bowlers a earful. What does the bowler do? He goes ahead bowls another delivery which gets smacked for four and does not look towards his captain for encouragement. On the contrary, he just walks back to his bowling mark, knowing exactly what he is going to get from his captain.

Precisely, it is the scenario where a psychologist will help. Ganguly needs to realise that cricket is a game where two teams compete. Both teams will score runs. His bowlers may not be the best in the world but they are not the worst either. They are young and they need all the encouragement their captain can give them. As a captain, he needs to make the best of what he has.

The bowlers on their part need to realise that pace is not the be all and end all of bowling. The much-vaunted seam attack of India has not proved upto the mark. A bowler like Glenn McGrath bowls at 130kph and gets wickets by the hatful. He gets the wickets not because he swings the ball extravagantly but because he has the discipline and the patience to outlast the batsman.

With Sachin Tendulkar, it's just a question of mind over matter. He is such a good batsman, that not much can fluster him, though Nasser Hussain and England have succeeded where others have failed. I have a sneaking suspicion, that these days when he goes out to bat he is thinking more about what new tactic Hussain has in store for him than about where he is going to hit the ball. This was evident in the first innings of the Test series; not in the second innings, where runs are not at a premium (India, by this point, are usually trying to save the Test match).

Tendulkar is one of the best batsmen in the world, if not ‘the best’. He just needs to go out and play. A psychologist would help him regain that aura we associated with the best.

Atherton, whose battles with South African quick Allan Donald in 1998 epitomised mental resilience under extreme pressure, believes cricketers would benefit from following Els's approach

Andrew Flintoff made his Test debut in the same series that Atherton somehow withstood Donald, but it is only now that he has begun to show glimpses of his real potential. And the man he credits with his renaissance: none other than than his sports psychologist.

We do not have to wait for the Australians to make the first move for a change. India should go and get itself a sports psychologist. Leave John Wright to his coaching and the cricketers to their cricket. Only when this team has the same kind of confidence that the billions in this cricket crazy country have in them, can we harbour any hopes of victory.



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