Mental conditioning coach Paddy Upton feels players who thrive on external motivation and pressure are "really going to struggle" in IPL 2020, while some of the "mid-range" players will outperform the big names. Upton also said there might be more cases similar to that of Suresh Raina, who withdrew from the IPL after reaching the UAE and returned to India on Saturday.
The 13th edition of the IPL will be unprecedented as most matches are expected to be played behind closed doors, and players will be living in biosecure bubbles for nearly three months after most teams reached the UAE about four weeks before the start of the tournament. Living strictly in team bubbles, mostly without families and as many as 13 personnel testing positive for Covid-19 in the Chennai Super Kings camp are new factors players will have to deal with this time.
According to Upton, who has coached multiple teams across the IPL, the BBL and the PSL, "funny things" could happen in this year's IPL, and the teams who handle them well will do significantly better than others.
"The big-match temperament players do well when the pressure is on, when there are a lot of people around," Upton said on ESPNcricinfo Newsroom. "The fact that you are gonna have games in front of empty stadiums now, you are just not going to have that level of pressure. So the players who rely on big-match temperament to deliver results… Someone like Virat Kohli, will he still be as good when you take away that external stimulation and noise and pressure? You are gonna find players who normally fall over when the pressure gets high. They will be able to just carry on batting because there is not going to be the physical presence of spectators.
"Athletes who are internally driven, who find the motivation from within themselves, they are going to be fine, they are going to do well. Your typical confidence players, who look for motivation, inspiration or validation from outside, they are really going to struggle. Your optimists are going to do a hell lot better. Your pessimists are gonna struggle. So it depends how many introverts, internally driven, optimists you have got in your team. The more you have got, the luckier you actually are."
Upton also said teams needed to take extra care of the players who relied on the external motivation so that they are in a better state of mind during matches.
"[Teams need] to understand who are the extroverts, the confidence players, the externally motivated players, those who are risk-averse, the fear-based, the pessimists. Those are the players we really need to nurture to bring them up to a place where they can be comfortable in their own lives, comfortable by themselves in their hotel rooms without that external validation and stimulation and how can we get those players arriving on the ground and able to focus on the game and deliver in front of empty stadiums."
'There are a number of other players who are very much in the same boat as Raina'
Upton also warned that we might witness more cases similar to that of Raina in coming days, and he hoped teams were preparing for those situations. The batsman decided to give the tournament a miss due to "personal reasons", and it later emerged that apprehensions about living in a biosecure environment for the duration of the IPL, players and officials in his camp testing positive for Covid-19, and a personal tragedy were understood to be reasons behind his decision.
"There are a number of other players who are very much in the same boat as Suresh Raina and I just hope that the teams are aware of that and are catering for that," Upton said. "There are coaches who are gonna be struggling, there are support staff who are gonna be struggling in that three-month bio-bubble.
"Arriving there already depleted, having navigated, being locked indoors, we are gonna find players who haven't been exercising, we will see some strangely overweight players, we will see players out of nick. I know some players have been lucky to be able to get into the nets, so they are gonna go ahead.
"We need to be predicting these strange things and not have a knee-jerk reaction. When all of a sudden Suresh Raina goes home, we have this knee-jerk reaction and strange comments in the media. Funny things are gonna happen. Smart teams will predict them, put things in place and have that cushion of support system to be able to support players. The teams that do that best are gonna go so far ahead of the other teams that really don't do that well and they [who don't do that] are just gonna fall over, unfortunately, in this IPL."
Upton said a factor like money might not have been a "strong consideration" in Raina's exit and added that his decision needs to be respected.
"There are very few players who when cross the rope are motivated by money," Upton said. "Yes, it's part of the motivation but I don't think that's a strong consideration for Suresh. Whatever he is going home for is more significant than the large amount of money he is not going to be making. So it's probably not ideal to be drawing that analogy and saying. 'look, how much money he is missing'. He knows that he has made a decision and we need to really respect that."