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There is room for improvement, says Sandy Gordon

By K.C. Vijaya Kumar

BANGALORE, JUNE 17. As the Indians went about spoiling Steve Waugh's farewell party in Australia with a drawn Test series, a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Life and Physical Sciences at the University of Western Australia, failed to mask his delight. Sandy Gordon did have his reasons.

The renowned sports psychologist has been associated with the Indian team for more than a year and has had a role in the side's transformation into a tough unit.

The Indian team's performance in the World Cup and on its tours of Australia and Pakistan has gladdened his heart.

"The players that toured Australia and Pakistan have showed that they can play at a high level of intensity for a long period of time. I think the current team, especially the senior players, have immense reserves of mental toughness. But there is room for improvement," Gordon told The Hindu after his morning class with the under-22 trainees at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) here.

Gordon is currently at the NCA, doing phase two of his research on the mental toughness on Indian players — past and present. And as part of the research, he is interacting with the under-22 trainees, conducting workshops on mental toughness with them and collecting data from the players, their parents, peers and coaches. "I will submit my report to the BCCI in another three to four months. The intellectual property rights belong to the Board but it would be nice if they could disclose it. It is something we all could learn from. I must commend the BCCI for funding my research and I have also learnt on the way," Gordon said.

The man, who came up with themes like `now-or-never' and the huddle the Indian team goes into after every rival dismissal, believes that the idea of the Indian players being soft is just a myth. "As far as India goes, I have done some interviews with current and former Test players and there are occurrences in their upbringing when hardness and toughness is nurtured. So I think this idea that Indian culture produces soft players is inaccurate."

The chew-nail-and-yet-smile attitude that is emerging in Indian cricket has indeed caught Gordon's eye. "Mental toughness gets tested on long tours and I got involved with the BCCI to improve the team's performances overseas. The team has undoubtedly improved and had a wonderful Test series in Australia. And given two or three decisions, they should have won that Test series. I thoroughly enjoyed watching these guys getting into a frenzied level of intensity that is almost un-Indian. But there is still a gap between ability and achievement while the Australians sometimes achieve more than their ability," Gordon said.

However, worry lines creep in as Gordon mulls over India's tame show in the one-dayers in Australia. "The longer the tour went on, you could all see it. It was like a boxing match and when the bell rang, the Australians came out dancing while India, played well, entertained well but I don't think they matched the Australian application. They may have felt that they have done enough. The players have to address this issue because I don't think that the ICC is going to change its policy on long tours," he said.

Gordon also mentioned the need to analyse victories. "Everyone has got a zone. It is a phase where actually you are performing as if it is automatic. It is partly mental, partly physical and partly emotional. It is a matter of analysing the conditions that create that state and replaying them. The problem is we don't analyse victories as much as we analyse failures," he says.

A sport like cricket with its long pauses between deliveries, overs and with the lunch and tea breaks thrown in for added measure, can gift the devil many an idle mind. Negative ideas can creep in and Gordon believes that the only counter is to switch-off at appropriate times. "It is humanly impossible to maintain intense levels of concentration for more than 15 minutes. In long games like cricket, there should be intense focus at the time of delivery and after that the players should switch down else they will get fatigued."

Gordon feels that talent needs to be backed by hard work. "To be a great player you need a strong work ethic and mental toughness. In my research, the name of Steve Waugh crops up and in India, I get to hear Rahul Dravid's name in terms of mental toughness. And it is remarkable that both these players are modest. They are plenty of other examples as well."

He, however, emphasises that he only helps players help themselves. "I never ask a player, `how can I help you?' I rather ask them `what do you want to change?' That gets them thinking and it marks a positive beginning."

If the Indian team can stay positive and maintain intensity, the players can be sure that an affable senior lecturer in Australia would nurse big smiles and be `absolutely delighted.'

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