Friday, 22 August 2014

Column 25, 2014 – The Big Mo

Printed in The Cricket Paper issue 97, Friday August 22, 2014.
[Full text below]

The ‘Big Mo’ is a massive advantage in cricket. No, not England’s new off-spinning all-rounder: momentum.

It’s really just a physics metaphor. Instead of mass times velocity, in sport you can break it down as success times confidence.

Many argue that the notion of momentum in sport is an illusion, and that in fact nothing has changed – the abilities and opportunities of players and teams remain the same, regardless of perception.

But this is to deny psychology. It makes a huge difference, even if it’s 100% in your head. Here’s an example I’ve used before: A side is 9 down chasing 40 to win. If 10 minutes ago they needed 40 to win and hadn’t yet lost a wicket, it’s fair to say they have surrendered the initiative. If, on the other hand, an hour ago they were 9 down chasing 200, it could reasonably be argued that the Big Mo has swung in their favour.

On Saturday we made 207-6. At drinks we’d been 74-0. At the halfway stage in the opposition’s reply, they were 77-6. Nothing in it in terms of runs, but six wickets is a massive difference. While it certainly wasn’t all over at that point, the momentum was all ours, and confidence in the field was such that it felt like a question of when we’d win, not if.

There comes a point in an innings, a game, a series or even a season, when it seems it’s gone so far one way that to pull it back again is just too big an ask. As in physics: a bolder rolling downhill is not easily stopped.

After Lord’s the India series looked in the balance, could easily have gone either way. At Southampton England gained the initiative, in Manchester they gathered momentum, and by the time they had India 36-5 on the first morning at The Oval, they had all the soul-crushing impetus of a runaway steamroller.

The experts will tell you that a good batsman should ignore what’s happened previously and concentrate on ‘staying in the moment’. This ball. Now. That’s all very well, and a laudable enough aim perhaps, but it also involves him ignoring his own experience – a large part of what makes him a good batsman in the first place.

In practice, you must always be aware of your situation, and very few of us are good enough at compartmentalising not to be affected by it. If you’re Joe Root batting with consummate ease in a side riding the crest of a wave, the situation could hardly be more helpful. If you’re Gautam Gambir and you’ve just played and missed at two overs in a row, the force of momentum seems so enormous, the outcome so inevitable, that to be run out the ball before a rain break is almost a blessing.

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