The ins and outs of slumping form
Shivaji Sengupta - 06 March 2002
In cricket, as in any other sport, being out of form is a fact of life - nobody is exempt. The human body is both a psychological entity and a complex combination of muscles, tissues, rotator cuffs and much more. A great batsman or bowler, a basketball or baseball player might be burning up the stands with electrifying performances for days on end, and then, suddenly, the lights go out.
Players all over the world are susceptible to this; in America, however, coaches sit and watch as the players are performing. According to sports instructors in America, to perform at your best, you cannot afford to think while you are playing. While at practice, they say, you take yourself through literally thousands of steps leading to the on-drive or the sweep under the watchful eye of a coach. These practised steps combine with the player’s psychological make-up to produce stellar or dismal performances.
There is a contradiction here. If we are not to think and just instinctively hit the ball while batting in a match, how do we reconcile the fact that thinking is an integral part of human psychology, which invariably creeps into our every act? How does a player like Deep Dasgupta or Lance Klusener not think when he is unable to cleanly gather every other ball or when he fails in every other innings with the bat? “Ah”, says the wise coach, “That is where the affect comes in.”
In sports, like in life itself, we think and move our bodies, but we also feel. It is this feeling that provides us with the interest, driving energy, motivation and competitive spirit to such an extent that one sportsman was quoted as saying, “Winning is not everything. It is the only thing.” This affect is nurtured among those who play sports first by parents, the school and society in general, immensely reinforced through encouragement, praise and prizes, and later by multimillion-dollar contracts, coaches and psychologists. So when an athlete is in a slump, they say, he or she can draw from the reservoir of the affect. Combined with such psychological exercises like self-actualisation and visualisation, by sheer force of will, players sometimes manage to come out of slumps. And sometimes they don't.
This brings us to the second contradiction concerning the mind-body dyad. Coaches and physiotherapists say that a sports player practicing physical moves repeatedly is responsible for bad psycho-motoric habits, such as fishing instinctively at an out-swinger in cricket. The players fall into these suicidal habits without realising it. That is why they need a coach, often a stern one. Thus, for months when Sourav Ganguly was making light of his lack of form as something purely temporary, his older brother, Snehasish, also a cricketer, warned him about his deteriorating foot-work. He was getting into bad habits, he said. He must practice.
Journalists often condemn players for remaining in prolonged slumps. In the Fourth Estate, that is indeed their right. But just take a look at the way Ganguly and Anil Kumble spoke about Dasgupta’s struggles. As a teammate, they could not easily overlook the fact that he had bailed India out in South Africa, staying with Virender Sehwag in the first Test till he got his century (it was Dasgupta’s first Test too) and then building a partnership with Rahul Dravid to draw the second Test. .
And lest we forget, here is what the great Greg Chappell recently said about slumps in an interview to an Australian news agency. “I was in a slump myself about 20 years ago. It was a very difficult time for me, made worse by the fact that I was Australia’s captain and had to keep fronting up in press conferences, at which, over and over, I would be asked about my loss of form," he said. "This itself had a big impact mentally. I became doubly keen to improve my form if only to get the cricket writers off my back, yet all this did was double my anxiety.”
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