November 17, 2010

Better performance through blind panic

A masterful new Ashes strategy, based on a breakthrough in sports motivation psychology, revealed

Saturday, 13th November Diligently reading through the pre-Ashes news each morning is like taking a regular dose of cod liver oil. It’s hard to swallow, it leaves a nasty taste in your mouth, and it has no discernible benefits. I know players have certain media obligations, but every now and then couldn’t they just say “No comment” rather than straining for soundbites? Today we heard from the England captain, who appears to have fallen out with the English language and is treating it most roughly:

“The last thing we can do is get complacent and pat ourselves on the back, because we are ramping up our preparations.”

Now admittedly I didn’t go to Radley, but even an uneducated oaf like what I am can spot that this is devoid of meaning, a reheated soup of unrelated phrases and gristly jargon. Ramping? It sounds like something you might do to male sheep. Or possibly an extreme outdoor sport. But I have no idea what it has to do with preparing for a game of cricket, unless the plan is for Mr Strauss and chums to pile into a truck and drive as fast as they can towards a sharp incline. In which case, carry on chaps.

Sunday 14th November Tendulkar isn’t bad with a bat, and one or two of the others know which end to hold, but frankly there’s only one Indian batsman we want to watch these days. Mr Harbhajan Singh is an unstoppable force. He combines the wide-eyed audacity of a tailender who keeps getting lucky with the swagger of an undefeated boxer. No matter how fast or wily the bowling, he just keeps swinging until your eyebrows can rise no further and you have no words left to express your surprise.

Monday, 15th November You might think that naming an enormous squad 10 days before the first Test is a tad premature and even suggestive of an element of indecision on the part of Cricket Australia. But you’d be wrong. By out-selecting Geoff Miller’s panel by 17 names to 16, Chappell and Co have secured an important early edge. With 6% more players to choose from, Australia are already ahead of the game. But there’s more to it than that. This isn’t just a selection process. It’s a psychological experiment.

All those extra spinners and middle-order batsmen are there for a reason: to put the wind up Messrs Hussey, North and Hauritz. Will it work? Ricky thinks so. He says that nerves bring out the best in his players. But if that’s so, why stop there? If being nervous makes them better players, think how much greater they would be if they were absolutely terrified. What about suspending Nathan Hauritz above a tank of tarantulas for 10 days or tampering with the brakes on Michael Hussey’s car? It’s the new frontier in sports motivation: better performance through blind panic.

Tuesday, 16th November Now I know that Sreesanth isn’t everyone’s favourite petulant fast-medium no-ball merchant. But even Sreephobes could not deny that the man makes for great television. By the time I tuned in to the second Test in Hyderabad, McCullum already had his double-century and everyone was losing interest. Everyone, that is, apart from Sree. In he ran, tearing to the crease like a schoolkid pumped up on sugary sweets doing a Dennis Lillee impersonation. Thanks to this loose-limbed, face-pulling, big-haired, permanently chattering disco diva, I carried on watching a game that was already over. For the sake of Test cricket, we need more Sreesanths.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England