For England, preparing to take the field in Mumbai, two down with two to play, the six letters that should be uppermost in their consideration S – T – R – E – S – S or, strictly speaking, how to avoid being stricken with stress.
Eddie Jones recently had some words of wisdom on the subject. If you know what you are doing there IS no stress. In other words, disabling stress comes when not knowing what to do forces its way into a sportsperson’s consciousness.
So, if you have a plan and, crucially, if you believe in the plan and have no doubts or feelings of insecurity about the plan that you are being asked to follow or have chosen to adopt, you will bat or bowl without stress.
The trouble comes when you play in two (or more) minds. The ‘should I, shouldn’t I?’ dilemma of being true to ‘my game’, true to my understanding of myself and … and playing in a way that is ultimately inauthentic, alien and pushed on you by outside forces.
In his blog A Sportsman’s Transition the entry on 2/12/2016 for 1/10/15 Alex Gidman describes the modern dressing room: “We have developed a culture in cricket where we sit in a room with a load of coaches who tell us what we have done wrong. Ok they have stats, footage, whatever but unless you can figure out why things have gone well or badly yourself then it’s irrelevant what the coach says. You have to figure it out what changes are needed and why, the coaches are there to assist you and help but not to be relied on.”
And In ‘Setting the Scene’ – Chapter 1 of ‘Bucking the Trend,’, Chris Rogers, describes how the former Cricket Australia executive Marianne Roux sat the Australians down and said ‘for every negative thought you’ve got to tell yourself to have five positive thoughts’.
One can almost hear the internal monologue of the perspicacious Roger’s, no shrinking violet he, saying to himself, “Well I can’t say that’s ever fucking worked for me.”
Can one picture an England Lion in the full England dressing room reacting to such advice in any other way than with strict compliance? “Yes, yes!”
Rogers explains his own perspective on such advice, “Oddly enough, doubts and insecurities have actually been quite a powerful force driving me as a cricketer. Some players are able to back themselves in, but my own doubts about my ability to pull off certain shots led me to a very pragmatic game, where I worked out the most reliable ways of surviving and scoring without taking undue risks. You often hear about the use of positive thoughts to generate good results, but I’m a big believer in finding a way to channel negative thoughts.”
Rogers continues, “You spend so much of your time questioning yourself and competing against others that you need to find a way to use those doubts. To block them out successfully means kidding yourself, and how long can that last? Instead I find it best to know and own those doubts, and use them to sculpt a technique within my own limitations. By thinking my way through it, I’ve been able to find ways of succeeding where others have not …” before going for the jugular of the modern meme that is the perhaps greatest force for inauthenticity in modern batting, “There is, perhaps, something for others to learn from that, in an age where we constantly hear so much batting bravado talk, which can lead either to rapid scoring or rapid collapsing.” TM’s italics.
Putting the pursuit of the brand before the authentic expression of personal capabilities is the reason that England has crippled (not a nice word but here, surely, justified) so many young batting talents in recent years? And it is why, in this Test series, stress has stalked the nets and dressing rooms and thrust itself on to the field of play, bringing calamity and dissonance in its wake.
The England managers have only themselves to blame. They have created a cult. It has initiation ceremonies, rites de passage, through which novitiates must pass. Inside is security and access to magical knowledge and privileges beyond the ken of outsiders. There is a priesthood and leaders, whose authority must never be challenged. They have access to huge wealth and entitlements that can be withdrawn in a moment. Leaders come and go, but the orthodoxy reforms around new leaders. There is apparent equality yet power is held by the few. Novices are taken in at a young age and indoctrinated. Few if any are recruited later in life. There is perfect freedom within, provided the orthodoxy is never challenged.
Cults have a way of ending in mass suicides when reality becomes inescapable and the dissonance too great to bear. But before then, we can change coaches, replace captains and welcome a new cap or two.