In a previous column of mine, I had referred to sledging as a nagging spouse to contend with, if you are married to cricket. A quick root cause analysis and you have the answer to why these elite sportspersons all over the cricketing world take part in this vocal exercise much like competitive and motor mouth traders in the marketplace, trying to go one up against the other.
The short and long answer is pressure.
What is pressure?
Pressure is a term much bandied about. The term says it all, yet can seem frivolous to the uninitiated just like any other informal word that can be tossed around in any coffee shop discussion or during a walk in the park.
A few jeer at its mention. Surely there is a normalising phase after which these sporting demi-gods can say it doesn’t get to them anymore, that it’s a level of the game they mastered early on and have bested well and truly. Nothing can be further from the truth.
Unfortunately for the sportspersons out there, it always needs to be played out in real life, passed through microscopic scrutiny with not much room for re-takes, unlike reel life where the larger-than-life heroes part boulders with intangible sweat, or at times with ridiculous ease, and walk off victors.
Let’s face it, pressure is something we all have to deal with it at some point or the other in our lives and there’s absolutely no hoodwinking it. While the template of choking and finding a coping mechanism is generic, the parameters causing it differ, based on the path you are confronted with and the deck of cards you have been dealt to walk the path.
As much as fancy words like sledging, brain fade, fight or flight or even world champions are constantly figuring in eye-catching headlines, we must do well to remember these are all offsprings from the womb called pressure, without which they would not exist, though the gestation period might go unnoticed.
A dissection of the cricketing parameters that goes into creating this sea of engulfment, or tsunami called pressure, which the players must learn to embattle and thrive in, makes for great analysis and a better understanding of how the elite amongst us occupy and exist in the rarefied zones that they create for themselves.
It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say pressure gets unfailingly associated right up from the time the first ball is bowled in a game. If the curtains go up, what’s a show without the lighting and the spotlight hovering above?
Regardless of the three formats currently in vogue, these parameters have evolved over time to shape the pressure that creeps in; inevitably like water seeping through the cracks of a building.
Pressure produces heroes as well as zeroes
For one, the awareness that the results will be scrutinised for ages and can bring about instant and permanent deification as it did to Kapil Dev in 1983 and MS Dhoni in 2011. Slip up a bit and you have to live with the lifelong branding of a culprit as Chetan Sharma experienced.
Then there is the gnawing concomitant of insecurity among the younger players about the number of opportunities they would be given to prove their worth, while for the battle-scarred veterans it is always about living up to, and exceeding, the benchmarks they themselves created when they first threw in their resumes and backed it up.
The huge expectations of the fans is always a double-edged sword.
As has been seen time and again, the minimalist error can cost the game and eventually cascade into a series loss. A dropped catch can make bowlers weep for days, especially if the pitch is a sleeping beauty.
For the gloveman behind the stumps, the squat-stand-gather routine that’s akin to a custodian can become an arduous task that can turn into trauma if not dealt with a sound body and sure mind.
Being the game’s most glorified entertainer, the batsman will walk out each time fully aware that each innings of his is under the microscope and the diehard aficionados want no less than triple figures to be seen against their names at the end of the day, the pitch or the opposition be damned for whatever they turn out to be.
A mindset that would resemble an ECG wouldn’t serve him any good in his quest to deliver. It is beyond imagination then, to fathom what Sachin went through and shouldered as the expectations on him were unlike any other sportsman the country has witnessed before or will see in the future.
Just like the never ending waves lapping on the shores of the sea, negative and pessimistic thoughts bombard the mind perennially as the players try to play out their parts as mentioned above. Given all this, it begs to be answered how the top players filter out the bad and keep the benign as their companion.
Is there formal training they are imparted during field drills in simulated arenas? Or are the players learning these things more skillfully from big match experience, going through the mental, physical and emotional churn that’s thrown out? How are these diamonds unearthed?
Dust or diamond?
I remember reading somewhere that pressure will turn you into either dust or a diamond. The Smithsonian Museum states that diamonds are formed deep within the Earth, in parts of the Earth that are very hot and have a lot of pressure, with the weight of the overlying rock bearing down, so the combination of high temperature and high pressure is what’s necessary to grow diamond crystals in the Earth.
There are also those pieces of coal that just crumble and turn into dust, unable to handle the pressure imposed on them, whereas there are other pieces that fight through it. Ditto for the diamonds that are shaped and unearthed by the game then, under similar circumstances.
This is the trade that these players love. Pressure becomes a motivator and a scorching cover drive on a seaming wicket or sumptuously launching a spinner into the stands is the maximum ROI. So too for the fast bowler seeing the stumps cartwheeling, a spinner dancing wild after snaring an opponent down the track.
Driven by a will to be the best in the world and compete with the best, the players derive tremendous energy from nowhere, look failure in the eye and make them a minor count. No conditions can pull them down and they cherish the hazardous deep dives to pave opportunities hitherto unseen.
When all these carbon atoms bond together, we have the shining diamonds, a nation’s proud possession, an elite group living in a rarefied zone of their own. They are God’s gift, chosen ones to entertain the masses. For them, it’s all about the journey and not the destination.
And lo and behold, pressure is another name for cricket!