Friday, 29 May 2015

Column 16, 2015 – Playing on the mind

Printed in The Cricket Paper, issue 119, Friday May 29, 2015.
[Full text below]

Screwing up in cricket has a unique way of messing with your head.

Most team sports you’re part of a bigger whole, and it’s often hard to tell where the chain broke or who messed up. And if you miss a straight black on the pool table, or slice into the cabbages on the golf course, it’s only you it annoys.

But in cricket, your incompetence lets your mates down.

The core of it lies in that oft-quoted aphorism that it’s a team game played by 11 individuals. It is you – just you in the spotlight – who must do it. Make the runs, take the wicket, stop the boundary, CATCH IT!

This is why it’s fun. That pressure is wonderfully focussing, you will push yourself harder because others rely on you, and success is all the sweeter for it.

But it makes failure even more bitter. Dropped catches and disasters with bat or ball are harsh because it’s not just you they punish, it’s the team. Your inadequacies are manifest, laid bare for all to pick over. And, most cruelly of all, the structure of the game means there’s always plenty of time for you to mull over your mistakes.

Cricket definitely provokes self-analysis. Meeting with triumph and disaster (and treating those two imposters just the same) shapes your character, as well as your game.

I don’t think I’m overly sensitive, but I am not beyond kicking myself, and certainly prone to dwelling disproportionately on my failings.

A few weeks back I brought a low-scoring game to an abrupt conclusion, gifting the 14 runs they needed in four filthy deliveries.

It was a nasty time to bowl your first ball, the batsmen were set, the game was gone anyway – no matter how many excellent get-outs I am handed by commiserating teammates, or how true I know them to be, I also know I blew it. Not a day has passed since when I haven’t thought about it and shaken my head in disgust.

Occasionally I’ll daydream about what should have happened. How the game might have gone if those four deliveries hadn’t been ludicrous full-tosses. Wickets, maybe. Or dots. Dots would be fine.

Next time. There’s always next time.

So here’s a question: are introspective self-flagellating dreamers naturally drawn to cricket, or does cricket itself provoke that response in people? The game has its share of grumpy brooders, but it’s also full of happy-go-lucky idealists and self-aware, well adjusted realists. Few of any cast are exempt from this phenomenon. It’s not a simple question. I’m not sure it’s answerable.

But there is one thing we can be certain about: cricket plays on the mind.

I’m away with the family for half term, and as I write just played my last game for a fortnight. Clearly the best way to leave it is to bowl two overs for 20, and then nick off for a third ball duck.

Brilliant. Have a nice holiday.

- ends 492 words -

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