It is all about the mind at the highest level

Updated - December 29, 2011 01:00 am IST

Published - December 29, 2011 12:58 am IST

The more one understands the more one knows what can go wrong, writes Greg Chappell. Photo: S.S. Kumar

The more one understands the more one knows what can go wrong, writes Greg Chappell. Photo: S.S. Kumar

Test cricket is aptly titled. It ‘tests' all aspects of a player's skills; physical and mental.

The fascination for me in this Test at the MCG has been watching the ‘old masters' of batting go about their business.

Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman and Ponting are in the twilight of their career. We are unlikely to see any of them batting together in a Test at the MCG again. That in itself has made it worth the effort for lovers of the long form of the game to get to this match.

Opera aficionados would never miss a performance of the three tenors. Cricket lovers should not miss seeing these superstars play one more time.

To me, Ponting appeared much better organised on the first day than he has looked for some time. Even though Yadav hit him on the helmet early I liked the way his feet were moving. That suggested that his mind was in good order.

It is all about the mind at the highest level; especially so when one reaches the final stanza of their career.

I remember having a conversation with Sachin some years back when he was returning from injury and having some doubts about how he would come back. Sachin wondered out loud why batting didn't get easier the more one played.

Double-edged sword

I explained that the problem is that experience is a double-edged sword. The more one understands the more one knows what can go wrong. More importantly, one realises just how hard it is to make big scores at this level.

As a young player all that matters is cricket and batting. One hundred per cent of one's mental capacity is devoted to training and playing. Doubts are pushed to the back of one's mind by the excitement and expectation of a big score.

As one gets older other things start to impinge on that mental space. The doubts find a way to slip to the front of the mind; being careful takes over from looking out for scoring opportunities.

Once this happens the footwork is not as sharp and getting an innings started becomes more fraught. Where once the ball would beat the field, finding the middle of the bat becomes the challenge.

In this clouded frame of mind, scoring opportunities are missed and frustration levels are raised. Bowlers and captains start to sense the vulnerability.

At this point technique is often questioned rather than addressing the root of the problem; one's state of mind. This can lead to a downward spiral like the one that Ponting has wrestled with recently.

As I explained to Sachin, the trick is to deal with the mind to find the solution. If one can think like one did as a young player there is no reason why one can't bat like one's younger self.

Another example I used to make my point to Sachin was the way he appeared to enjoy himself when he bowled. If he could bring that joie de vivre to his batting he could reinvent himself. There is no doubt that he has.

Sachin has looked the best of the old and new guard in this Test. On the form that he showed in the first innings it must surely only be a matter of time before he brings up his most coveted of centuries. One hundred hundreds will surely put him out of reach of those following in his footsteps.

We may never see his like again, for modern bats and training methods, while helping players to hit the ball harder and further than ever before, are undermining footwork which is the foundation of quality batting.

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