June 29, 2003

Tough cookies

Close to 30 coaches from around India gathered in Chennai for the MRF Coaches Seminar, where there was a chance to pick an unusual list of cricketers. Not the ten best batsmen of all time, not the ten best bowlers, not captains. Initiated by Sandy Gordon, probably the most influential sports psychologist involved with cricket, this diverse group of coaches attempted to define that much sought after concept - mental toughness - in the Indian context.

The group of coaches assembled included chairman of selectors Brijesh Patel, Madan Lal, Ashok Malhotra, Nari Contractor and Chandrakant Pandit among other former Indian cricketers. In an interactive session that followed his speech, Gordon asked the group to identify ten Indian cricketers - in recent memory - who they believed were mentally tough.

Although by no means exhaustive, the list makes interesting reading:

Sunil Gavaskar
Mohinder Amarnath
Dilip Vengsarkar
Kapil Dev
Sachin Tendulkar
Ravi Shastri
Rahul Dravid
Anil Kumble
Bishan Singh Bedi
Gundappa Viswanath

There were a few murmurs in the room as the names of Srinivas Venkataraghavan, Vinoo Mankad and Syed Kirmani failed to make the cut.

As ever in the background, Indian coach John Wright watched with interest and, before he knew it, was put on the spot. When asked about mental toughness in the Indian context, Wright underscored a vital point. "Just like there's so much skill in Indian cricket, there's mental toughness too. There's belief and confidence when we play at home. But we tend to be mentally tough in India, rather than just mentally tough. Take the case of the last home series against Australia - we were mentally very tough."

He went on to reinforce a point Gordon made repeatedly. "We have to make the players understand that mental toughness is a learning process. We have to show players that they can develop these mental skills. Kaif and Yuvraj at Lord's (in the NatWest final against England) was a case of that. Even though we were four down and chasing a huge target they threw all the negatives out of the window. That was mental toughness."