Just as the English cricket team has a psychologist, the Indian team now needs one

Exactly 10 months ago, on January 1, 2021, Changing Minds clinical counseling psychologist Dr. James Bickley appointed the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) as a permanent assistant member of head coach Chris Silverod. The appointment was undoubtedly welcomed by England Cricket captain Joe Root.

It is not uncommon for international sports teams or top club teams to have psychologists on their staff. In addition to Dr. Bickley, another name that comes to mind is Jeremy Snape who, after playing for England in the ODIs (right winger and bowler out of turn), has a master’s degree in sports psychology and now works with teams in cricket, football and rugby.

The Australian cricket team has a long relationship with sports psychologists. One of the key factors in Steve Waugh’s success as Australian captain was the team’s long association with sports psychologist Sandy Gordon.

Pressures on international athletes and cricketers have multiplied in the current Covid era. It’s not just unyielding cricket fans. Even the national media has from time to time exaggerated with attacks on a player or coach who becomes infected with Covid. The past contribution of a player or coach is quickly forgotten and the individual feels guilty of being infected with Covido, and the national media blames him for endangering the future of a series or league of big dollars like the IPL.

There is a mood of prevailing jingoism that is intensifying during tournaments like the T20 World Cup underway in the UAE. Not only fans, but also the media (especially electronic) exaggerate from time to time. If Indian players complain of “bubble fatigue” due to strict conditions imposed to avoid the crown, they are immediately told that other teams have performed well despite the same restrictions.

What is forgotten is that due to stress, even the legendary Ben Stokes (perhaps the best all-rounder in international cricket today) dropped out first of this year’s test series against the Indian tour, and then of the ongoing T20 World Cup. Only now has he shown a willingness to join the English team for the Ashes series in Australia after, as he himself admitted, he was mentally “in a dark space” for several months.

“What do they know about cricket that only cricket knows?” CLR James wrote in his seminal book Beyond a Boundary, first published in 1963. That question could be asked again now in the context of a pandemic and far greater stress on international athletes. and cricketers. Indian strikers like Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul (both contributed to the victories in the match during the summer test tour of England) have yet to make an impact during the first two key group matches of the current T20 World Cup against Pakistan and New Zealand.

While the BCCI has appointed strength and fitness coach Nick Webb, physiotherapist Nitin Patel and assistant coach Soham Desai to work on the fitness of Team India players like Hardik Pandya, there is no adequate awareness of the need for a mental coach like Dr James Bickley from England national teams.

The challenges are even more frightening, and the psychological pressure is much greater after successive defeats than first Pakistan and then New Zealand at the ongoing T20 World Cup. To qualify for the semifinals, India must win the remaining three games in the group by a wide margin, then hopefully Afghanistan will beat New Zealand so that the superior NRR (Net Run Rate) can take the Kohli-led team to the knockout semifinals final stage where the first two sides of each group qualify. This would mean that the Indian team needs to dramatically improve their performance, regardless of which of them goes out on the field and regardless of who wins or loses.

Some would say that the benefits of playing the second half of the IPL (which ended in the same place Dube just 16 days before India lost to New Zealand on October 31) were not evident at the T20 World Cup. However, if performance in the IPL is a criterion, the question arises as to why the most efficient Indian cricketers in the just-concluded domestic T20 league were not selected for the T20 World Cup like mid-pace Bangalore Harshala Patel (32 gates in IPL 2021 for an economic rate of 8, 14), Delhi Capitals fast bowler Avesh Khan (24 gates for an economic rate of 7.37), Chennai Super Kings top scorer Rituraj Gaikwad (635 one-stroke runs- a rate of over 136) and Kolka Knight Riders ’Venkatesh Iyer (star in The UAE shares the 2021 IPL with 370 runs as the starting hitter for a hitting rate of over 128, and was highly rated by Matthew Hayden, Brendon McCullum, Sanjay Manjrekar and Parthiv Patel who compared him to Yuvraj Singh).

The T20 requires a different set of skills than test cricket. That is why the best English bowlers Anderson and Broad (1,156 test gates between the two) do not represent their country in a shorter match format. Excessive reliance on test performance can be counterproductive in international T20s. Therefore, the Indian selection committee must work in tandem and in harmony with the coach, captain and deputy captain. It would also help that at least one member of the national selection committee has first-hand experience with T20 cricket, as it is the most popular and most played format today, even internationally.

The first name that comes to mind as a national selector is Yuvraj Singh (from the fame of the six-sixers from the inaugural T20 World Cup in South Africa in 2007). The chairman of the Indian National Electoral Committee, Chetan Sharma, is more focused on test cricket. In the limited format of the game, Chetan Sharma will always be linked with six-pointer Javed Miandada who hit him on the last 50-over ODI ball in Sharjah on April 18, 1986, when Pakistan needed four times to win.

Given that Ravi Shastri has left the post of coach of the India team, Rahul Dravid is, of course, the best person to take over. However, at some point in the future, BCCI could consider having a separate cricket coach with limited games, especially for the T20 national team. In that case, Mahendra Singh Dhoni could be the best person to coach the Indian team in a shorter match format, once he stops playing IPL. That could be a year or two in the future.



The views expressed above are those of the authors.



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