The unimaginable pressure of playing top class cricket

The unimaginable pressure of playing top class cricket
India's Suryakumar Yadav plays a shot on his way to hiiting a half-century during the ICC men's Twenty20 World Cup 2024 group A cricket match between the USA and India at Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in East Meadow, New York (AFP)
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Updated 13 June 2024
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The unimaginable pressure of playing top class cricket

The unimaginable pressure of playing top class cricket
  • Fear of failure is ever present, so a premium is placed on eliminating mistakes, since continued underperforming can mean the end of a contract or career

Fans of cricket may find it impossible to understand the pressures that professional players are under. Although some of us have played good standard club cricket and faced tight match situations, we have not had the pressure of our career and livelihood being at stake, playing in front of crowds, screened by the media and subject to scrutiny. This is now ubiquitous, both mainstream and on social media.

It was instructive, therefore, to listen to one England’s greatest batsmen, at a time before batter became the preferred term and social media existed, provide some insights into these pressures. This was none other than Yorkshire and England’s Geoffrey Boycott. The occasion marked the launch of the 11th book under Boycott’s name — “Being Geoffrey Boycott,” published by Fairfield books — 60 years since he made his debut for England on June 4, 1964. 

This was at Trent Bridge, Nottingham, against Australia. Looking at pictures of him on the day, his large glasses, cap and kit, unadorned by sponsorship logos, are a large remove from the appearance of modern-day cricketers. However, there is a commonality: that of pressure to succeed. In Boycott’s case, that pressure had been heightened when he was told, aged 17, that he needed to wear glasses. This ended his football career, during which he played for Leeds United’s under-18 team. 

In his debut match he top scored in England’s first innings but could not bat in the second because of a finger injury sustained in the first. This kept him out of the following two matches before he scored his maiden Test match century in August 1964. He would go on to score 8,114 runs in 108 Test matches in a career which had its fair share of controversy and turmoil. Between 1974 and 1977 Boycott made himself unavailable for England selection focussing, instead, on captaining Yorkshire.

In late September 1978, his mother died. Two days afterwards, Yorkshire’s committee met to inform Boycott that he was to be removed as the county’s captain because of a failure to win trophies and his unpopularity amongst the players. Boycott was asked if he had suffered from mental health issues during these years. He said no, he had been close to his mother and it had saddened him to see her deteriorate week after week. His reaction was a natural one to a deeply mourned loss. The treatment by Yorkshire compounded this, in terms of its timing and nature.

From the outside this appears a cold-hearted decision, especially its timing. Boycott was devastated. He continued as a player the following season, breaking more records. This says much about his determination to succeed against the odds. He was known for being a singular man and for spending time away from teammates after play. Cricket involves a series of battles between individuals, primarily between bowler and batter. A wicket, a boundary, a catch, a century, a five-wicket haul represents individual achievement within a team setting. Opponents look to identify and expose weaknesses.

It can be argued that this is the case in all sports. However, cricket has a difference, especially with batting. If a batter makes a mistake, he or she is not straight into the next piece of action. There is time to reflect on the reason for the dismissal. It may be days before the player’s next innings. This allows much time for introspection, analysis and self-analysis.

The fear of failure is ever present, so a premium is placed on eliminating mistakes, since continued underperformance can mean the end of a contract or career. Fear induces nervousness, breeds insecurity and anxiety, creating conditions which counteract those needed to succeed. They are also conditions which sports psychologists recognise as underpinning mental illness.

Professional cricketers, as with other athletes, have an inherent desire to succeed. The consequences of failure are evident from an early age and often result in being dropped from the team. Boycott admitted to having a fear of failure during his career, of nerves and of a determination to overcome them. He said that he was able to block out all external noise when batting. This set him apart from many other players, revealing immense mental strength. He also emphasized the need for high-quality technique and practice. This was echoed by a former Australia captain, Ricky Ponting, who contends that, unless playing a certain shot or bowling a particular delivery has not become a habit, it is almost impossible to produce that shot or delivery under pressure.

Such pressure situations have grown exponentially with the advent of T20 cricket.  These are evident in abundance in the current ICC men’s T20 World Cup. South Africa were 3 for three against the Netherlands and 27 for four against Bangladesh, but recovered to make scores that were just sufficient to earn victory. The recoveries were instigated by the middle order batters, notably David Miller. Imagine the pressure that was on him to perform, especially as South Africa has a history of losing matches which it should have won. Crucially, he reined in his natural game and adapted to the pitch conditions. Bangladesh required 11 runs from six deliveries to win against South Africa, two batters were caught on the boundary trying to hit sixes. The match between India and Pakistan went to a super over. Pakistan’s Mohammad Amir was entrusted with it but, under pressure, failed to bowl straight and Pakistan lost. 

The margins in these pressure situations are very thin. Results can go either way, determined by the performance of those who have trained themselves to be able to handle such situations. The mentality required for this was exemplified by Geoffrey Boycott’s approach to the game, completely unlike that of an all-time great Australian all-rounder, Keith Miller, who had served with the Royal Australian Air Force in the Second World War. His dashing approach to life and cricket was summed up in a single (adapted) quote: “Pressure is a Messerschmitt directly behind you, playing cricket is not.”

How times have changed.             


India’s Paes, Amritraj make history joining Tennis Hall of Fame

India’s Paes, Amritraj make history joining Tennis Hall of Fame
Updated 12 sec ago
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India’s Paes, Amritraj make history joining Tennis Hall of Fame

India’s Paes, Amritraj make history joining Tennis Hall of Fame
  • The first inductees from India were joined by British tennis journalist and author Richard Evans in enshrinement ceremonies
  • Vijay Amritraj : I am humbled and honored to join this incredible and exclusive group that have brought glory to our sport
  • Paes recounted his youth playing football and hockey before turning to tennis and eventually following his hockey-captain father as an Olympic medalist

NEW YORK: Former doubles world No. 1 Leander Paes and tennis broadcaster, actor and player Vijay Amritraj became the first Asian men inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame on Saturday.

The first inductees from India were joined by British tennis journalist and author Richard Evans in enshrinement ceremonies at the Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island.

Paes recounted his youth playing football and hockey before turning to tennis and eventually following his hockey-captain father as an Olympic medalist.

“It’s my greatest honor to be on this stage with not only these legends of the game, people who have inspired me every single day of my life — not because you’ve only won Grand Slams, not because you’ve shaped our sport but every single one of these people have shaped the world we live in,” Paes said.

“I would like to thank you so much for giving this Indian boy hope.”

Amritraj, 70, played from 1970 until retiring in 1993, winning 15 ATP singles titles and 399 matches and being ranked as high as 18th in the world and helped India to the Davis Cup finals in 1974 and 1987.

“I am humbled and honored to join this incredible and exclusive group that have brought glory to our sport,” Amritraj said.

After his playing days, Amritraj has helped humanitarian causes, backed ATP and WTA events in India and has acted in the James Bond and Star Trek movie series.

“A feeling came over me that I had never experienced,” Amritraj said of learning about his election to the Hall. “This was an honor not just for me, for my family, for my parents, but for all of my fellow Indians and my country who live around the world.”

Like Amritraj, Evans was inducted in the contributor category for his life impact on the sport.

Paes, 51, was an 18-time Grand Slam champion in doubles and mixed doubles who was selected in the player category after honing his trade in an Amritraj youth academy.

Paes and Amritraj made India the 28th nation represented in the Hall of Fame.

“Playing for 1.4 billion people could either be pressure or it could be wind within your wings,” Paes said.

“I’d like to thank every single one of my countrymen who supported me, who stood by through all the ups and downs, and we’ve been through a few, but you all were the inspiration, the support, you were even the strength to guide me through when even I didn’t believe.”

Paes won career Grand Slams in both men’s and mixed doubles, completing one in men’s by winning the 2012 Australian Open and another in mixed by capturing the 2016 French Open.

He won the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bronze medal by defeating Brazil’s Fernando Meligeni 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.

His only ATP singles title came in 1998 on Newport grass in the same venue where he was inducted.

“As my father always said to me, if you believe in yourself, you work hard, you’ll be passionate not only to win prize money and trophies, but you do that to inspire the world,” Paes said.

“It has been my greatest honor to play for my countrymen in seven Olympics, to stand where the national anthem is playing in all those Davis Cups, and to prove that we Asians can win Grand Slams and also be No. 1 in our field, be it tennis or anything.”


South Sudan nearly beat the US in an Olympic tuneup. Here’s how it happened

South Sudan nearly beat the US in an Olympic tuneup. Here’s how it happened
Updated 21 July 2024
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South Sudan nearly beat the US in an Olympic tuneup. Here’s how it happened

South Sudan nearly beat the US in an Olympic tuneup. Here’s how it happened
  • South Sudan made 14 3-pointers, while the US made seven. The US reserves were 1 for 11 from beyond the arc

Takeaways from the US Olympic team’s 101-100 win over South Sudan in an exhibition game Saturday in London:
At 39, 40 in a row
LeBron James’ layup with 8 seconds left was the game-winner, and the win marked the 40th consecutive time that the Americans have won an international game with the NBA’s all-time scoring leader — at 39, set to become the oldest US men’s basketball Olympian ever — in uniform.
Seems like being in London works for King James. Playing in the same building as he did during the 2012 London Olympics — O2 Arena, which was called North Greenwich Arena during those games a dozen years ago — James came up big down the stretch.
In that gold medal game against Spain in 2012, James hit a game-sealing 3-pointer with about 2 minutes left to cap a season where he won NBA MVP, NBA Finals MVP, an NBA title with the Miami Heat and Olympic gold.
Respect for South Sudan
South Sudan got this Olympic berth based on its World Cup finish last year. Its national federation is led by former NBA player Luol Deng, and the team is coached by former NBA guard and now Houston assistant coach Royal Ivey.
James gave both men a ton of credit postgame Saturday.
“To have that representation, to have that type of leadership over there, teaching them the right way how to play the game, that’s good. That’s great, actually,” James said. “The game is worldwide. There’s not one place that you don’t see the game being played. I think that’s the beauty of it. The game of basketball brings together so many people.”
Waiting for KD
Kevin Durant was on the floor getting some warmup shots up, but the Americans were again without the three-time Olympic gold medalist.
Durant returned to practice Friday after about three weeks of dealing with a calf strain. It’s possible that he plays in the final US tune-up on Monday against Germany in London. Otherwise, he’ll go into the Olympics not having gotten any true game action since April 28 when his Phoenix Suns were eliminated from the first round of the NBA playoffs by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Key Number
South Sudan made 14 3-pointers, while the US made seven. The US reserves were 1 for 11 from beyond the arc.


Shane Lowry lets British Open lead slip away. Si Woo Kim makes hole in one

Shane Lowry lets British Open lead slip away. Si Woo Kim makes hole in one
Updated 21 July 2024
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Shane Lowry lets British Open lead slip away. Si Woo Kim makes hole in one

Shane Lowry lets British Open lead slip away. Si Woo Kim makes hole in one

TROON, Scotland: Shane Lowry made a double bogey on the famous “Postage Stamp” eighth hole at Royal Troon and it only got worse for the Irishman.
Lowry led the British Open by three shots early Saturday before his day unraveled in the wind and rain. His 6-over 77 left him three shots behind leader Billy Horschel going into Sunday’s final round.
Quite a turnaround after taking a two-shot lead into the weekend and pairing on Saturday with unheralded Dan Brown.
“I guess for me the eighth hole was killer really. Make par there and you can still shoot 3 or 4 over and still be leading the tournament. Just pulled my wedge shot there,” Lowry said of the 123-yard par-3 eighth.
Lowry, eyeing his second British Open title, had moved three strokes ahead with a birdie at No. 4.
On the eighth, which he had birdied on back-to-back days, Lowry found the “Coffin bunker” before his next shot rolled off the back of the green. He got back up but two-putted.
Lowry, who won the claret jug at Royal Portrush in 2019, bogeyed the 11th and 12th and was out of the lead.
Three more bogeys followed — at the 14th, 15th and 18th — to leave him 1 under overall.
“You’d have to question why there wasn’t a couple of tees put forward today, to be honest. I think 15 and 17 — like 15 is 500 yards playing into that wind, it’s — yeah, they keep trying to make holes longer, yet the best hole in this course is about 100 yards,” he said.
On the last, Lowry sliced his drive and then sent his next shot into the grandstand to the right of the green. He was given a free drop but pitched well short of the hole and needed two putts.
“This is going to take me a couple hours to get over today,” he said, adding, “but I have a job to do tomorrow and a similar chance to win this tournament.”
Hole in one
Si Woo Kim didn’t see his ball go in, but he didn’t mind. You’ll never forget a hole in one at the British Open.
Kim’s third-round ace was at the par-3 17th hole.
“My caddie told me you’d better hit hard with a 3-iron,” the South Korean said. “So I did, and as soon as I (did), I see the ball (go) over the fringe.”
He thought perhaps it was within 20 feet, but then the crowd erupted.
“I couldn’t see it,” he said.
The shot took a few hops before rolling straight into the cup. Kim high-fived caddie Manuel Villegas, who then playfully tapped the visor of Kim’s cap.
At 238 yards, it’s the longest hole-in-one at a British Open since organizers began keeping complete records in 1981.
Louis Oosthuizen made a hole in one at the 2016 Open at Troon. Ernie Els made one at the Postage Stamp in 2004.
There were three at the 1997 Open at Troon — by Pierre Fulke, Daniel Olsson and Dennis Edlund.
Table tennis anyone?
Table tennis seems to be a go-to activity to unwind at the British Open.
Dan Brown, who was the surprise leader after the first round, said he’s been playing the game with his friends at the players’ lounge at Royal Troon.
Joe Dean, too.
“We played it Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Wednesday afternoon, I could feel myself getting a bit of tendinitis in my elbow,” the Englishman said after Saturday’s 71 left him 4 over par overall. “Very addictive game. We believe we’re better than what we are. No, it’s great fun. It passes the time.”
Dean’s only other Open appearance was in 2017 at Royal Birkdale.
Cricket, too
Zimbabwe cricket must have been all the rage back in the day.
The fathers of Dean Burmester and Sean Crocker were teammates on Zimbabwe’s first cricket test team — cricket’s premier format — in 1992.
They’re both at Royal Troon to watch their sons compete at the British Open.
“I don’t think they’ve bumped into each other yet, but if they do, it could be some carnage,” Crocker joked after his third-round 69 on Saturday. “We were both kind of joking we were trying to keep our dads away from each other this week ... I think some alcohol is going to get hurt if they get together.”
Mark Burmester and Gary Crocker played on the team that faced India in Zimbabwe’s first test match. The Crockers moved to the United States when Sean was young. Dean Burmester represents South Africa.
“Even though we both don’t play under the Zim flag,” Crocker said, “we have our roots and heritage there, so secretly we’re Zimbabweans.”


Lando Norris on pole as McLaren lock out ‘sweet’ Hungarian Grand Prix front row

Lando Norris on pole as McLaren lock out ‘sweet’ Hungarian Grand Prix front row
Updated 20 July 2024
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Lando Norris on pole as McLaren lock out ‘sweet’ Hungarian Grand Prix front row

Lando Norris on pole as McLaren lock out ‘sweet’ Hungarian Grand Prix front row
  • Red Bull’s three-time champion Max Verstappen had to settle for third

BUDAPEST: Lando Norris grabbed pole position ahead of his team-mate Oscar Piastri for the Hungarian Grand Prx on Saturday as McLaren locked out the front row of the grid for the first time since 2012.
Red Bull’s three-time champion Max Verstappen had to settle for third and the second row in the tense wet-dry qualifying
The 24-year-old Briton, who is 84 points behind Verstappen in this year’s title race, clocked a best lap in one minute and 15.227 seconds to outpace the Australian by 0.022 seconds.
Verstappen was three-hundredths of a second adrift in third ahead of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, who leaves the team at the end of the year, and seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes, who will replace him.
Charles Leclerc, in the second Ferrari was sixth ahead of two-time champion Fernando Alonso and his Aston Martin team-mate Lance Stroll and the RBs of Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda, who had survived a high-speed crash earlier in Q3.
It was Norris’s second pole in four races and the third of his burgeoning career as he gains front-running experience in his bid to challenge Verstappen who, on Sunday bids to complete a hat-trick of Hungarian wins.
“I’m very happy with that and it wasn’t easy at all in difficult conditions so ending up on top is the best for us all and a great result for the team,” said Norris.
“We have come into this weekend confident we can do a good job so to be on pole is sweet.”
“It’s the first 1-2 for McLaren for a long time and an amazing result for us,” said Piastri. “I had a tricky day yesterday so for me it is nice to bounce back.”
Verstappen said: “I tried. We have been behind the whole weekend and I tried to make it as close as possible, but it wasn’t enough. I would have liked a bit more grip...”
After Friday’s sweltering conditions for practice, qualifying began in much cooler weather with temperatures and light rain falling.
The McLaren pair were first out on soft slick tires along with Kevin Magnussen in his Haas.
George Russell was also struggling before the session was red-flagged when Sergio Perez smacked the wall at Turn Eight, having lost control and made a sideways slide into the barriers in the second Red Bull.
For the under-pressure Mexican driver, it was another Q1 setback in a sequence of bad qualifying outings and came just seconds after Russell had saved his car sliding off at the same place as the rain intensified.
After a 12-minute break, the action resumed with Perez hanging on in ninth from his earlier efforts, before he suffered his fourth Q1 exit in six outings as he embarked on two racing weekends that many observers believe offer him a last chance to save his seat at Red Bull.
In a frantic finale to Q1, on a damp circuit, Russell managed to jump from 14th to 10th but it was not enough as others improved to leave him 17th and out, taking an early exit for the second year running at the Hungaroring along with Perez, 16th, Zhou Guanyu of Sauber and the two Alpines of Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly who stayed in the pits.
Unexpectedly, Daniel Ricciardo was fastest for RB in the changing conditions while Norris was only 13th.
“I’m sorry about this session guys,” said Russell, who had asked for more fuel to prolong his running to three laps. “That one is on me.”
The Q2 segment started with Sainz on top, until Hamilton and then Verstappen took over, the Dutchman in 1:15.770, nine-tenths faster than Hamilton’s pole in 2023. Piastri went second only 0.015 off the pace.
On his second run, Norris took command in 1:15.540 while Hamilton struggled to survive in 10th and Haas’s Nico Hulkenberg, Valtteri Bottas of Sauber, Williams’ Alex Albon, Sargeant and Magnussen missed the cut to the top-ten shootout.
All this left Norris and Verstappen to scrap for pole, as rain was forecast, and the Dutchman led them out to clock 1:15.555 before Norris cut that time by 0.328 with his lap in 1:15.227. It was provisional pole, as rain began to fall.
The world champion pushed to improve but stayed third as Yuki Tsunoda crashed at Turn Five in his RB to prompt a red-flag stoppage. It was a big accident, but the Japanese driver was unhurt.
Two minutes and 13 seconds remained, enough time for one more flying run as the marshals cleared the debris. In the event, as it drizzled, only Ricciardo improved his time to take ninth from his team-mate.


‘I just want to fight’ says UFC star Nurmagomedov ahead of Abu Dhabi date

‘I just want to fight’ says UFC star Nurmagomedov ahead of Abu Dhabi date
Updated 20 July 2024
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‘I just want to fight’ says UFC star Nurmagomedov ahead of Abu Dhabi date

‘I just want to fight’ says UFC star Nurmagomedov ahead of Abu Dhabi date
  • The rampant Dagestani’s climb up the rankings has caught many fans and fighters off guard. He speaks to Arab News about the UFC, his future and his single-minded approach to his career

DUBAI: Umar Nurmagomedov’s meteoric rise through the UFC is unprecedented. The unbeaten (17-0) Dagestani fighter is 10th in the bantamweight division without ever touching gloves with a ranked opponent.

On Aug. 3 at UFC Abu Dhabi, in front of 18,000 fans at the Etihad Arena, Yas Island, Nurmagomedov will finally face someone with a number next to their name. Not just anyone either; the number two ranked bantamweight, Cory Sandhagen. The winner is expected to be next in line for a shot at the belt, once the number one contender, Merab Dvalishvili and current champ Sean O’Malley, have also fought.

His fellow bantamweights will no doubt be hurt in this scenario, but finding a ranked opponent for the surging Nurmagomedov has been difficult. “Nobody wants to take that risk on a guy that isn’t ranked,” the UFC ‘s president, Dana White, confirmed at UFC288’s post-fight press conference, “Those are the fights that publicly everybody says they’ll take, but privately nobody wants to take them.”

UFC champions get special dispensation to wait for the right time to return, but if those below want to stay near the top of the ladder, they must stay active.

So, does Nurmagomedov feel he has earned the right to be so close to a title shot?

“Yes. Who else has a good win streak and position in the ranking?” he says.

Dagestani fighters are focused on fighting. They rarely get caught up in social media spats with rivals. They prefer to settle their differences in the octagon, and Nurmagomedov is no different. “I’m excited,” he says about his upcoming bout in a matter-of-fact style, “I just want to fight.”

Nurmagomedov is a picture of calm and determination. He is all business inside and outside the octagon. His straight-talking speaks of a man who would likely run intense sambo drills in the minutes between his obligated media interviews to stay in peak condition.

The fight against Sandhagen has been 12 months in the making, as Nurmagomedov was scratched from the original date due to a shoulder injury. Both men have since fought and won. Although typically an elite striker, Sandhagen opted to wrestle Font for five rounds — perhaps using the training camp tactics he had been honing in anticipation of Nurmagomedov. 

How did Nurmagomedov view this? “I was surprised. I thought he (Sandhagen) would stand and strike, but he took him (Font) down and beat him on the ground,” he confirms. “He had good takedowns, but Rob Font isn’t a high-level wrestler and doesn’t have any defence or know how to get up.”

Nurmagomedov does not feel the need to adapt his game plan after what he saw from Sandhagen’s last fight and is confident of victory. “The plan is going to be the same. In every fight, I will use whatever I can do better (than his opponent). If it’s striking, I will strike. If I can take him down and choke him, I will do it. Why not? It’ll be an easy win.”

With a title fight between current bantamweight champ O’Malley and number one contender Dvalishvili still to be booked, talk comes back around to champions holding up divisions. O’Malley is on record saying he “doesn’t want to fight outside of the US” and with main events pencilled in until September, it could mean a long wait for the winner of Nurmagomedov and Sandhagen.

Nurmagomedov is clear on what he thinks should happen: “It doesn’t matter where O’Malley wants to fight; he should just keep fighting. I can fight anywhere; it doesn’t matter.”

He goes on to say that ideally, he would like to be in the octagon — for the belt — in December or January and does not care if it is Dvalishvili or O’Malley standing across from him. But Nurmagomedov is so committed to the fight game that he does not even care if his next bout is for the championship, an interim belt, or nothing.

“It doesn’t matter if they give me a title shot or a fight against someone else; I will not say ‘no,’ I will just keep fighting.”