Between Wickets | Columns

India’s day will come

The blues! After a fine run, the Indians were found wanting in the most important match.

The blues! After a fine run, the Indians were found wanting in the most important match.   | Photo Credit: AFP

India did extremely well to reach the title round in a format they aren’t really comfortable with.

India Women choked in the World T20 final. That is not unusual, nor is it unheard of. The best have, at various times. While taking a penalty in soccer, for example, the great Diego Maradona choked at the 1990 World Cup. Greg Norman, who accomplished a ‘Saturday Slam’ in 1986, leading after the third round in all four golf Majors, lost on the final day in three of them. South Africa are yet to shake off the tag of ‘chokers’ in World Cups.

At the end of the final, Indian fans’ emotions were mixed: there was disappointment, of course, but also sympathy, pride, keen anticipation for the future and satisfaction that India are indeed a world class team. Significantly, the one emotion missing was anger, despite what a commentator predicted.

Young team

It is a young team which had done so well till that point, and had caused Australia’s medium-pacer Megan Schutt to say before the match, "I just hate playing India — they've got the wood over me.” It was not Aussie-like, and highlighted India’s reputation.

India did extremely well to reach the title round in a format they aren’t really comfortable with, and for this credit should go to the coach Woorkeri Raman and the spirit of the players who appeared to be a bunch that trusted one another and had fun together.

There was too the unspoken confidence that if the top players didn’t get runs, someone lower down would; likewise with the bowling. So what went wrong?

“High pressure environments induce a range of brain and body reactions,” wrote Sian Bellock in his book on choking. “Your heart rate goes up, your adrenaline kicks in, and your mind starts to race — often with worries.

“When the worries begin, many people do something that seems quite logical on the surface: they try to control their performance. Unfortunately this increased control can backfire — especially for well-learned skills — because bringing your conscious awareness to skills that once operated outside your working memory can disrupt them.”

Beilock is a cognitive scientist and the quotes are from Choke: The Secret to Performing Under Pressure.

It is not a difficult concept to understand. The speaker who suddenly loses it during a lecture, the model who abruptly seems incapable of taking a few steps on the ramp, the brilliant student who cannot remember his physics formula during an exam — we are familiar with them.

“Choking is a suboptimal performance, not just poor performance. It’s a performance that is inferior to what you can do and have done in the past and occurs when you feel the pressure to get everything right,” according to Beilock.

Tension leads to mistakes

And that sums up the performance of an Indian team that had depth in batting, variety in bowling, yet played like a team that had lost self-confidence. When you are anxious or nervous, you tense up, and that leads to mistakes.

Starting the bowling with full tosses is a symptom of this, as were the two early catches put down by Shafali Verma and Rajeshwari Gayakwad — catches these fielders would have taken smilingly on another day. But that is sport! The real difference between the teams was in the level of fitness. Australia were far fitter, quicker, recovered better and took some terrific catches.

India did enough to suggest that they are future world champions. Two things need to fall into place, though. This column has been suggesting for a while now that the cricket board needs to seriously consider a Women’s IPL. As Melbourne showed, create the excitement and the crowds will come.

India’s men haven’t won the T20 World title since the IPL was introduced in 2008, so you could point at that and say this is being too facile.

But the women need more match practice, and better competition that the entry of players from the top teams promise.

The second issue to be looked at is appointing a psychologist. Modern teams have specialist coaches in the physical aspects of the game — bowling, batting, fielding, fitness. They need to have one who specialises in an equally important aspect — the mental.

Playing a final before a huge audience against a top team is its own pressure even before a ball is bowled. Even a team as experienced as the men’s at the 2003 World Cup choked under that kind of pressure.

India have a fabulous women’s team. It needs better support from the authorities. Women’s contracts need to be looked at afresh. But its not just the money. We need to look no farther than Australia for guidance.

The Australian model

Last year Australia announced a “parental leave policy”. Players are eligible for 12 months’ paid parental leave and are guaranteed a contract extension for the following contract year. Also, partners of players who give birth are entitled to three weeks’ paid leave.

There’s more. Once a player returns after giving birth, travel support is provided for primary carers, including flights, accommodation and other travel expenses. This, till the child is four.

World champions evolve when we care.

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Printable version | Apr 2, 2020 3:30:29 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/indias-day-will-come/article31033541.ece

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