September 5, 2001

What the Indian team really needs is a sports psychologist

The recent series between India and Sri Lanka threw up more questions than answers besides exposing various aspects that need to be worked on

The recent series between India and Sri Lanka threw up more questions than answers besides exposing various aspects that need to be worked on. Sourav Ganguly, for the best part of the series was under pressure with his head on the chopping block, and this did not make his job any easier. His lackluster form and the fact that he was missing his best players to injuries have seen the Indian captain fall on hard days. But for the win in the second Test, which was engineered by the captain and his deputy, this recent series would have been better forgotten.

Sourav Ganguly was fairly candid while summing up his team's performance during the post match press conference. In total contrast, the words the coach of the Indian team used suggested that he was looking for straws to clutch onto. Wright's criticism about some cricketers lacking basics reflects more on himself rather than on the players. It is his job to try and get the cricketers' basics right before they take the field. A fair question which crops up is, 'why were cricketers found wanting in the basics of the game played in the final eleven? '

Even though the end result went against the Indians, they showed that they could win by adopting the right attitude as they did in Kandy. Unfortunately that did not happen at the SSC with the middle order failing in both the innings. The Indians failing at the final hurdle both in the one-dayers and the Tests is due to lack of application rather than anything else. This was very obvious when one saw the way the batting crumbled when it mattered most. The openers, Das and Ramesh were up to the task, providing good starts in the Test matches. The middle order had a lot of inexperience with the bulk of the responsibility resting on Dravid's shoulders.

The most obvious lesson was that the Indian team does have to work on the mental aspects of the game. Surprisingly enough, this aspect has been ignored over the years. It is no secret that mental toughness separates the winners from the losers and yet nothing has been done in this direction. Never has there been a more pressing need for a sports psychologist than now. The team is in its transition phase and winning the next World Cup seems to be on the agenda. Indian cricket has a consultant for the development of domestic cricket but the national team is not provided with the most important specialist.

There have been attempts to get someone to psychologically toughen the Indian cricketers but the people given the jobs were woefully inadequate for this demanding task. Sports psychology is a specialist field in itself and as such a qualified specialist must be engaged to achieve some sort of results. A specialist will not only toughen the cricketers but will be very useful for the team management as well by providing invaluable inputs. The psychologist's evaluation will also help the selectors in picking cricketers who are tougher rather than fitter. Let me hasten to add that I am not against fitness at all, but I am not for fitness prevailing over the skills of a cricketer when it comes to selection.

Some years ago, Vivian Richards sought the help of a sports psychologist when he failed with the bat for a brief period. Needless to add, the master blaster blasted the opposing bowlers after consulting the psychologist. If it can work for someone like Richards, then there is no harm in lesser cricketers trying it out. The question then is "Will the team management ask for the services of a sports psychologist"?