Webster teams up with India
Rudi Webster, the Grenada-based psychologist, is currently with the Indian team for a short stint and is eager to carry on the interaction that began on India's tour of West Indies earlier this year.
"This is my first visit to India," Webster told Cricinfo after the team's practice session at Jaipur in the Rajasthan Cricket Academy, "and I'm enjoying it thoroughly. I enjoyed working with a few players when they were in West Indies and can hopefully get some more time here."
One of the players who Webster closely interacted with during the West Indies tour was Virender Sehwag, who'd been going through a lean phase at the time. In his 19 innings before he met Webster, he'd crossed fifty just three times and his lack of fitness was a serious concern. It's fair to say that the three-hour session transformed Sehwag during the tour and he himself admitted, to Cricinfo Magazine at the end of the series: "If I hadn't met Rudi on this tour, I was struggling. We spent around three hours and I've never spoken to anyone so deeply."
It was surprising that Sehwag, who'd turned down an offer to interact with Australian psychologist Sandy Gordon, felt so strongly about the meeting. "There's a lot of difference between Sandy and Rudi," he stated matter-of-factly. "Rudi played county cricket for many years and worked with great players. He knows more than Sandy about the game and players. He knows about the way sportsmen think. He'd worked with great players like [Brian] Lara, [Viv] Richards, great footballers, golf players . and it helped me a lot."
The results were there for all to see. Post Webster, Sehwag spanked 95 in the final one-dayer at Trinidad, a game when none of his team-mates crossed 30; thundered 180 on the opening day of the second Test at St Lucia (reaching 99 in the opening morning and admitting he'd "not hit the ball more cleanly than in that session"); chipped in with vital wickets in the Tests, playing the role of a genuine fifth bowler; startled a few with his emphasis on fitness; and, most significantly, appeared to settle into a mantle of leadership.
So what had prompted the change? "I needed to remind myself of some little habits," Sehwag continued, "my thinking before a game, my mindset before the bowler bowls. There are certain things I used to visualise when the bowler was at the start of his mark, when he was running in, when he was about to deliver the ball. All your routines should be in place, for a particular bowler, for a particular team, for a particular series.
"Rudi was just chatting to me and I began recalling several things - 'I remember doing this in Pakistan', 'I did the same thing in Australia'. I understood that I need to do these things for a longer time, need to do it continuously. He was telling me things I had done in the past, and I'd forgotten that. He told me how important it was to remember these things, said it would help if I wrote it down on a paper and read it over and over again."
It helped that Webster had been following Sehwag's career closely. "I've been watching him play over the years," he beamed, "and have been terribly impressed with his ability to hit the ball. Not many players have that ability. Viv Richards, who probably had a few more shots, comes the closest. All great players have very simple methods and I was very impressed while watching Veeru."
Webster admitted that Sehwag had opened out to him. "My track record probably helped me to establish a rapport with him," he revealed, "and once he found that I was speaking his language, there was a belief that he found. Once you establish a trust, and he believes in your credentials you will find you'll share a very good relationship with him. He discussed things that he would probably not discuss with others.
"Usually when people go into a little slump, a simple technique they use goes through the window," he continued. "All sorts of negative things go through their minds. They doubt themselves because of pressures from media and fans. Their thinking becomes negative. They forget some basic routines that brought them success."
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo