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Thursday, March 29, 2007

It's Also The Intense Pressure

Yes, it was the fielding, it was the batting, it was the format, and the coaching, but, primarily, it was also the intense pressure. From everyone and everything.

Anyone who ever went to an interview or took an intense time-constrained exam knows the feeling. You prepare really hard for that exam or for that interview with a company that you really want to work for - and create intense pressure on yourself. But once you start making mistakes early on, those first two or three questions, or start babbling in that interview, most people just loose it and give up. If you went in there with lower expectations or with a I have nothing to lose attitude, you may recover from those unanswerable early questions and go on to complete the rest of exam or the interview. But with intense pressure irrationality takes over and most don't recover.

That's what Indian cricket team went through, especially in the third match, the game with Sri Lanka. As a batting team, they kept it up until 15-17 overs but broke down completely under pressure of high expectations and can't lose this cup attitude. None of top players have the cup and all of them will be gone in four more years. With no time to relax, just as in high pressure exam or interview, there was just no chance of recovery, once the fumbles started. It's not the same as weakness or blinking first. Nor does experience from normal cricket matches help. World cup is just not another game, not for us anyway. The hysterical pressure took away any appetite for risk; perfection was only option. As Vivian Richards says it takes mental strength to fight back in a match, but that's not the only burden these guys were carrying.

As Sri Lanka's Kumar Sangakkara says, from his first hand experience with the team, in his wonderful review of the match that India lost :

Of course, when you prepare for key games like last Friday you don't think about such things. We would have stayed in the tournament even if we had lost, but we were determined to claim the two extra points. There was no doubt in our minds that we would win the game. We were completely focused.

The same cannot be said about India's players. I thought our body language, right from the warm-ups to the conclusion, told the story. We were up for it, positive and very upbeat. India's players looked under pressure and their body language betrayed their edginess. This is completely understandable, of course, because they were under an incredible amount of pressure. [I feel sorry for India's cricketers - Circinfo]

A former fan - CricInfo

I am sure players from other countries are envious of the earning power and celebrity status of Indian players, but, I am also sure they don't envy the extreme pressure that the players have to play under. Yes, support for the team is important for the moral of the team, but hysterical pressure to win is unwise and, ultimately, backfired. The entire media which now preaches that it's just a game, after the exit, could have helped lay off some of the pressure with, "we support you but it's just a game," attitude before the games began.

Unfortunately the whole cycle is already well placed to repeat in four more years.

Update: Ajay Shanker, in IE, has background analysis of the relationship between coach Chappell and the players.

As for the senior players, at least one of them was not very enthused by the bookish” captaincy of Dravid, but stressed that the team would rally behind him in this time of crisis. And both made their disgust at the coach’s methods very clear - they blamed the Aussie for repeatedly leaking team plans and his opinion on various players to the media; they said this finally led to an atmosphere of divisiveness within the side. “He played around with our minds,” said one of them. [How the war was lost before India began its first World Cup battle - Ajay Shanker]

Can a foreign coach think the way Indian players do and even understand Indian cultural physcology on what motivates them, when to apply pressure, and when to back off?