“Shame About Today. Just got back in and couldn’t understand why nothing on the radio!” a friend emailed to Third Man yesterday afternoon.
TM finds it difficult to be critical of any cricketer at any level. You pad up, pick up your bat, cross a line that marks the boundary between not knowing and knowing about yourself, walk towards a gang of hostile people and place your vulnerable personality in the firing line, or you stand at the end of your run having just been hit for a massive six and have to decide whether the next ball should seek to contain or to attack … so he’ll leave the criticizing to Tamin Iqbal who in the two Test Matches scored 268 runs at almost a run a ball with an average of 67 and who, when asked why he was more effective than his team-mates, answered, “I work harder”.
In fact and to be more accurate Tamin Iqbal ‘thinks harder’.
Those able to watch Bangladesh practice from their arrival at Old Trafford on Wednesday morning to the time they left the indoor nets in the rain of yesterday morning would have been struck by the fact that Tamin Iqbal hardly played a practice ball in all that time.
“He walked about playing air-shots and doing a lot of thinking,” one net bowler told Third Man.
For the rest it was a bit like a Tuesday evening practice night for a not very well organised club side.
Yet the visitors had come from Lord’s on a real high. At the ‘Home of Cricket’ a number had put in fine performances, even when not statistically Personal Bests, in the cauldron of emotions that must define a Lord’s Test, they had been psychologically Personal Highs.
Shahadat Hossain had taken 5 for 98 which, given that his side scored 660 runs in two innings, was the equivalent of scoring a 150. Imrul Kayes had scored 43 and 75. Junaid Siddique had scored 58 and 74. In the second innings Siddique had been 66 not out at the close of play and had known the excitement and nervous tension of a never to be forgotten sleepless night in which a chance of a Lord’s century on the morrow kept much needed sleep at bay. Arriving at Old Trafford he was still buzzing with excitement and expectation.
Yet, on the first day of practice, Bangladesh spent just 30 minutes in the nets which looked and ‘played’ very similarly to the actual Test wicket just 100 yards away. When they did practice there was much chatter, much swishing of the bat and much mixing up of deliveries with no effort to create match situations and (with the notable exception of Tamin Iqbal) to reflect on the consequences of that practice.
Practice and think, practice and think has been the mantra of good cricketers over the years. If you see an old pro sitting quietly by himself after a net you know not to disturb him. He is thinking. He is completing the practice.
There is criticism of Jonathan Trott’s rituals in the middle and of his staying on the field at Lord’s after the rest have left, marking his guard. But this mental process of envisioning, reflecting and feeling is an ingredient of extracting every iota of one’s potential in a physical activity. Trott behaves the same way in the nets. Marking his guard and stopping for long periods to look away and think and ‘see’ and feel.
Not surprisingly, because practice makes permanent, this unthought through way was how Bangladesh played in the middle.
Cricket is a team game and, as such, individual performances however brilliant occur from within that culture. Most performances are sustained by whatever culture exists. Although individual genius may be a reaction to that culture, it can never be independent of it.
Teams that have coaches and managers employ them to help create, reform and maintain the best possible culture. It may be hard work and require care, intelligence and perhaps kidology, but if coaches and managers can’t help their players think their way to good performances they should make way for some who can.