Yajurvindra Singh

By: Yajurvindra Singh

Email: sunnybilkha@hotmail.com

Sept 8, 2023: Cricket, like other sports, is a game where one needs to have the right mindset to do well. “Mindset” is the term one refers to and it has a significant bearing on a player’s attitude, confidence, approach, and performance.

A dear friend and one of Sri Lanka’s foremost former cricketers, Sidath Wettimuny, brought this out very significantly in our conversation today. How right he is, as cricket is as much a mind game as a physical one. One can have the best of skills, technique, and fitness; however, the mental frame of mind is what matters in the end.

Every batter has goosebumps before facing the first ball. The uncertainties of cricket and the fact that it is a one-ball game can be quite daunting even to the best. A batsman has just one chance and that is what makes the game interesting, as one starts every time with a clean sheet.

The success of Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, and many others was the way they could adapt, change and overcome how they approached their batting, mentally. They were a band of players whose technique, patience, and resilience, got bowlers frustrated enough to fall prey to them. All three were great stroke players and capable of exhibiting it from the very first ball. However, they were so mentally strong that they could bide their time for the kill.

On the other hand, there were players such as Kapil Dev, Virendra Sehwag, Rishabh Pant, and Ian Botham who seemed to have no nerves at all. For them, the element of risk never seemed to apply. They were the lot whose mental approach was to showcase positivity and they refused to think any other way.

Kapil, hitting a six in Delhi against the West Indies in 1978 to get his 1st Test century, Sehwag hitting one to reach his triple century against Pakistan, Pant hitting the first ball he faced in a Test match for a six, are players who are wired differently.

This is what led Wettimuny and me to discuss the fact as to how important the mindset of a player is on the field. The multimedia reach to millions of eye-balls has made a cricketer’s life even more mentally demanding. The world is watching and just the thought of it could make even the most hardy succumb to the pressure.

The Indian squad for the World Cup’23 has been announced and analyzing each one’s current mindset would be an interesting perspective to evaluate.

Rohit Sharma, India’s captain, has a mammoth task at hand. He has two major issues — one is to win the Cup to emulate the 2011 Indian side and the other is to win a major ICC tournament. This one has eluded India for the last 10 years. The anxiety and pressure of captaincy seem to be affecting Rohit’s batting. A naturally wonderful player, at the moment he does not look mentally calm while batting. He needs to change his mindset to think and play the game with his basic cricketing instincts. Very much like Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Kapil Dev, who were both instinctive captains, with a street fighter-like approach.

Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja’s performances will be a major indicator as to how India performs in the WC’23. They are the two genuine all-rounders and players who could single-handedly win matches for India. They both are mentally strong with an aggressive and never-say-die mindset.

Virat Kohli will always have the weight of pressure on his shoulders. Being one of the best players in the world, he has a huge task of living up to his billing. That’s his foremost challenge and his mindset would depend on how he performs against Australia in India’s first match on October 8.

The ones who need a deeper understanding of framing a positive mindset would be K.L. Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, and Suryakumar Yadav. All three of them are well-acclaimed performers who due to lack of fitness and form need to make a mark for themselves once again. Along with Jasprit Bumrah, they are there in the squad based on their experience and past performance. The mental pressure that they will be under would be to prove their well-wishers right, something that is not easy to accomplish.

The two Gen Z youngsters in Shubman Gill and Ishan Kishan are stars in the making. Their mindset is to establish and make a name for themselves. This is where one feels India has missed out on a golden opportunity by not introducing young players into the side. One needs the exuberance of the youth, especially, as Indian cricket has failed by playing safe with older players in the past.

India’s bowlers and their mindset is an area of worry. Bumrah and Mohd. Shami are experienced campaigners. However, the docile wickets in India will need every ounce of their sweat and energy. They have Mohd. Siraj and Shardul Thakur as replacements, if things go awry. The latter along with Axar Patel are the two all-rounders as alternatives to Pandya and Jadeja. Both Shardul and Axar will need to retain a positive mindset, as sitting on the bench can be a tiresome and frustrating affair.

Kuldeep Yadav is the one whom one is most concerned about. A wrist spinner needs a big heart and especially one who bowls slow googlies and chinaman. Kuldeep looks to have had a change of mindset and seems to be far more positive and confident in his ability than before. A good Indian wicket can be a death trap for the best of spinners and one hopes that Kuldeep Yadav will be mentally strong to withstand the pressure.

The one mindset that never changes is the immense expectation of a win from Indian fans and followers. For the Indian cricket team, this is the pressure that has proven to be their debacle in the past.

A win in the Asia Cup would be just the tonic required to boost the Indian team’s morale and give them a positive mindset.

(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal.)

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