Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Thoughts on the mind games of cricket and the "Mankad"

Cricket is a funny old game! Like most sports at the top of the professional game it can be a metaphor for life. The battles. The ambition to succeed. The tricks. The highs. The lows. The scope for individual triumph. The benefits of teamwork. The moments of glory. The moments of pain, and so on. I have been pondering the reasons why cricketers seem uniquely vulnerable and susceptible to mental illness and I think that I may have worked it out. Every top player is minutely under the spotlight and his failure at any one moment is difficult to recover. Other sports have this to some extent of course - the missed penalty, the missed putt - but cricket has it potentially for every ball. The batsman, say, gets out first ball to a dreadful shot. He has to endure the long, lonely walk back to the Pavilion -  if he's lucky in silence if not to jeers. The bowler bowls the first ball of a crucial Test match to second slip! Or has a debut of such abject quality that he never gets picked again. The dropped catch. The sloppy fielding moment. The failure to come to terms with an opponent's sledging. 

Steve Waugh called the process of breaking an opponent down "mental disintegration":
'In international competition everyone is talented and fit and has natural ability, but the one who wins is the one who can focus on the job at hand and play the mind game the best.'
That is true of cricket but much less so in other sports. At least in so far as to "play the mind game" means not just building your own confidence but breaking that of the members of the opposing team. Jonathan Trott was seen as being vulnerable and was targeted by the Australians  in the recent Ashes tour and we all know what that led to. Can you imagine a professional golfer in a play-off for a "Major" verbally abusing his opponent? But that is what happens in cricket all the time. It was a crucial element of Waugh's career and of course of that of Shane Warne. 
The preposterous "Spirit of Cricket" doesn't help at all and in fact it adds another unnecessary layer of pressure. I have argued consistently that the whole concept is pretentious flimflam - beloved though it is by men in suits of a certain age for whom Lord's is home. So the recent " Mankad" of Jos Buttler by Sachithra Senanayake, though a perfectly legitimate dismissal under the rules of the game, launches an avalanche of criticism. For some slightly obscure reason while the running out or stumping of a batsman who strays from or doesn't make the crease is wholly uncontentious if that happens at the bowling end in the "Mankad" circumstances it is seen as not quite the right thing to do. Very odd! Either it is within the Laws or it is not (it is by the way). In which case why put it into some grey area of doubt? The bowler in this recent instance "warned" the batsman earlier. He only did this because he knew that this type of dismissal would be seen as not quite proper. Would a wicket-keeper warn a batsman who strayed from his crease when batting? Of course not.
Cricket is not uniquely honourable over and above other sports - indeed in many ways, as with sledging, it is uniquely dishonourable. There should be no grey areas. Either a "Mankad" is a legitimate dismissal or it is not. If it is then to effect it should be applauded in the same way as we applaud a good catch, or a good runout or a good ball which smashes the stumps. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You are quite correct in what you say. the bowler warned Buttler twice, what more does he want ? You either play by the laws of the game or you make it up as you go along.