Amritbani: Virus of Pressure

Amrit Mathur

New Delhi, January 12:

Ask any cricket pundit, be it Benaud, Botham or even Mandira Bedi, and they will tell you that top grade cricket is about handling pressure. Performances are important (hundreds,five wickets hauls and Man of the match awards matter) but they add up to zero if a player can’t cope with pressure.

So, what does one do to avoid this virus which hangs ominously over the crease? There is no fool proof formula, modern science is yet to develop a vaccine that prevents its spread, that is why players must discover their own methods. Moreover, experience says what works for one can be utterly disastrous for the other.

Observers feel India chokes under pressure and looses matches when in tight situations. This is debatable but what is undisputed is Australia, when in a jam, takes the aggressive route and hits back strongly. Even when 4 down for 100, Hayden still hits over the top and Gilchrist comes out guns blazing, like John Wayne in old Westerns. Faced by a similar crisis, other teams send out instructions through the 12th man telling batsmen to put their head down but the Aussies have only disdain for resolute defence — and heroic struggle is just not their style.

Lara is at his best when his team is in a hopeless situation. If the openers have put on plenty the great man looks bored, comes yawning to the crease, wafts his MRF 400 Wizard at a ball on the 6th stump and walks back shaking his head. But when quick bowlers are screaming in Lara is there, fetching balls to mid- wicket from outside off and cracking drives with a backlift bigger than that of Tiger Woods off the tee. Once, long ago, Sachin batted the same way but now his mantra is safety first. He has learnt to chill, not to force the pace but wait for the bowler to pitch too full or drop the ball half way down the track.

Pressure consumes most players, makes them commit horrible mistakes and the trick , say the wise and successful, lies in turning it around in your favour. Explains Prof Rahul Dravid: Pressure freezes your reactions and numbs your brain but if used positively it becomes a terrific motivating factor. Among Indian players , Laxman maintains a cool façade and masks the turbulence inside. Captain Ganguly displays his emotions more openly, he wryly attributes loss of hair to tension and says his lean look is thanks to pressure not Leipus. Totally different is Sehwag with his devil may care attitude. His funda is simple: think about the ball not the bowler. Great logic, specially because it works.

Mathur is Media Manager of BCCI