Teams with the ability to finish close contests with calm intensity will enjoy clear advantage in high-scoring World Cup matches
By the time you read these lines the 13th edition of ICC men’s Cricket World Cup will have started in India, and Pakistan will have faced Netherlands on October 6 in in Hyderabad.
Pakistan the unpredictable underdogs led by prolific batsman Babar Azam will face Netherlands, Sri Lanka, India, Australia, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, New Zealand and England in the round robin league tournament in which every team will face each other, and the final four will enter into the knockout stage on 15th of November.
Pakistan played two warm-up matches against New Zealand and Australia and lost both. There are many questions about different areas of performance of the Pakistan team which emerged as world number one in ODI standing for a brief period of time.Despite a formidable fast bowling attack, the team doesn’t seem very confident with the new ball on flat Indian wickets, with the exception of Shaheen Shah Afridi.
There are questions about Babar’s leadership abilities. He is yet to win a major tournament for Pakistan. Fakhar Zaman is struggling with his form, Naseem Shah is out of the team with injury and his replacement, the 30 years old Hassan Ali from Mandi Bahauddin is not even half as good.
A well settled opening pair, a confident middle order and a penetrating spin bowling attack are yet to come good for the Pakistan team, and above all this month long tournament in India will be a test of nerves and physical fitness for the players.
Besides the 15 playing members, PCB has sent a 15-member support staff. Amongst the support staff the role of Cliffe Deacon (physiotherapist), Maqbool Ahmad Babri (psychologist) and Usman Anwari, the security manager, is going to be vital.
Keeping the team physically and mentally fit and focused in this mega tournament is going to be a major challenge. The security challenges during the tournament will also be of diverse nature, starting from physical threats to cyber security, and keeping a keen eye on the bookies, the threat that looms large in India.
The greatest challenge for Babar and company will be psychological in nature. In the two practice matches the body language of players looked rather tense. Though PCB has sent Maqbool Babri as a psychologist with the team for the World Cup, sport psychology is not a magic wand that can turn the tides overnight.
According to leading sports psychologists in the world, there are no guarantees in sports, but systematic application of scientific approaches over the years such as exercise physiology and sport psychology does give athletes the best opportunity to succeed.
The guiding force in sport psychology is a theoretical approach called “Cognitive Behavioural Psychology”. The term comes from a focus on both the thinking you cannot see (cognition) and the actions you can see (behavior). Goal setting is an example of cognitive behaviourism. An expert sport psychologist can easily change the thinking of a player by working on his behaviour.
The role of Mr Babri who claims to be an expert on focus control will be of extreme importance in igniting the spark of form in out-of-form Fakhar, and bring in more aggression and positivity in Babar’s behaviour to take timely and calculated risks in his decision making.Remember that the world cup is not a learning experience. It’s a performance and delivery platform, where you have to deliver under pressure. When an athlete accepts the challenge of competition, he or she seeks answers to the question of “How good am I?” and “How well will I handle pressure?”In addition to physical genetics the modern day athletes must possess mental genetics which means greater natural inclination towards aggressiveness, high pain tolerance, initiative, attraction to challenge, thinking out of the box and above all the ability to remain calm yet intense under internal and external pressure when stakes are high.
As a student of sport psychology I strongly believe that the team that will lift the cricket world cup in India under “fair playing circumstances” will be the team that will have more calm intensity.Sport psychologists like Clark Perry PhD, at Australian Institute of Sports in Canberra, and Gloria Balague PhD, who directs the sport psychology services at the University of Illinois, believe that best motivation for the players is intrinsic motivation. So we have to see how best the Pakistan coaches and psychologists inculcate a sense of purpose and an intrinsic value to the competition. If they can achieve it let me assure you that you have won half the battle.
The format of the World Cup is such that it gives a fair chance to every team to prove its worth. It also gives sufficient time to the players to recover from injuries and setbacks and achieve right motivation levels.
The coaching staff should remember not to overload players with motivation in locker rooms at the eleventh hour and discard the notion of old fashioned pre-game pep talks. If a coach plans on a pre-game locker room session, he should use the time to help athletes clarify goals, reduce self-awareness, generate a sense of control, get absorbed in the task at hand, and leave rewards behind.
Remember that it’s very important for the support staff to carry out a well-coordinated effort to assess individual differences because motivation is perceptual, and it is necessary to create a multifaceted performance climate that promotes individualised, personally meaningful rewards.
The motivation strategies designed by expert sport psychologists should therefore foster autonomy, competence and connectedness. As a player, access your game and locate a weakness in your game. Get excited where your game will be after you change it. Similarly, be creative. Remember that old adage about learning from your mistakes is good, but over time you should have a short term memory for failures and a long term memory for success. Keep a vivid mental catalog of your greatest performance.
The players have to constantly think positive, believe in their dreams, avoid motivational black holes and find motivated peers and also remember to vary their training to avoid boredom.
Another very important factor during the World Cup in India will be the anger management of players to achieve calm intensity. Sport psychology research shows that anger does not enhance performance. Players should remember that they are there to win the World Cup and not to conquer the Delhi Fort. University of Wisconsin sport psychologist William P. Morgan’s series of studies on the “Iceberg Profile” in champion athletes in the decades of eighties showed that the mood states of elite athletes tend to include lower than average levels of anger.
According to another research review by Yuri Hanin, high levels of anger can have delirious effects on focus and concentration. Media men both in Pakistan and India for the sake of cheap popularity can turn a match into a war. The players will have to control their emotions.
The role of sport psychologist in this tournament is thus going to be vital. Besides the performance of players I shall be watching the performance of Pakistan’s support staff with great interest. Mr Babri’s first test case is Fakhar Zaman. Let’s hope he works professionally with Fakhar and brings him back into the right zone through focus control exercises.
From the practice matches held before ICC World Cup it’s quite evident that most of the pitches are going to be flat batting wickets, with fast outfield and there will be little support for bowlers.
The Pakistan team is a bunch of talented players who can spring surprises on the given day, but in a competition like the World Cup it’s more about professionalism and mental robustness that can make the difference.
Teams with the ability to finish close contests with calm intensity will enjoy clear advantage in high-scoring World Cup matches.