Tuesday, 10 November 2015

What happens in a batting collapse

Ian O'Brien in Cricinfo

The mood inside the dressing room turns sour, and batsmen forget to play the way they normally do. It doesn't have to be like that

Nerves are on edge as wickets tumble and it's your turn to bat next © Getty Images

An old cricketing cliché is proffered flippantly, often in times of despair, a psychological pick-me-up for one team, a reinforcement of the seriousness or severity of the situation for the other: "One brings two, guys. One brings two"

While statistically this adage is flippant, quantitatively it is obvious. You really do need the "one" to have the "two". But it is no more likely that two wickets will fall within 10 to 20 of each other than that one will fall as a singular event.

What happens when one does bring two? And then two brings three. And then…

The ill-fated, most feared and dreaded batting collapse.

What defines a collapse? For me, a basis of three top- to middle-order wickets falling collectively for less than 40 runs, and then concurrent dismissals within 10 and 15 runs of each other from that point forward. A minimum of 40 for 3 to anywhere around 70 for 5 and onwards. A dramatic, game-changing period of play.

What happens in the changing room? What happens to the changing room? How do players and coaches react? Not react? How do you deal with a collapse to limit its effect?

Typically a collapse will happen during a session, not either side of a break. There is no time to pause and reflect, no time to regather and regroup. No opportunity to take a breather in the middle of it to stem the tide. There is no chance to take the moment out of the moment.

It smothers you. All of a sudden there is no oxygen in the changing room, no chat, no communication. All the vibe and positivity, the entire atmosphere gone. Empty. A void.

Like waking in the night to a noise downstairs. The changing room is on edge, anxiety-ridden. You hear everything as if on high alert. Every sound amplified. The empty coffee mug gets put down - it wobbles on its base before settling. It's the noisiest thing ever done. Every movement is stifled. Very little eye contact. Players know they are in the middle of a collapse. The changing room door keeps opening and closing. And opening and closing. The sound of Velcro pulled apart rips through silence. A bat is placed gently down next to your seat. A glove is thrown into a bag, a helmet rolls off a bench and rattles to the floor. Muffled swear words, outward frustrations for personal failures.

The batsmen draw ranks. "Hard luck, mate. That [delivery] was a good one."

The bowlers, waiting to bat, also draw together. "I'm going to have to bat soon. I just f****n bowled. I've just done my job. We've got our wickets. I'm going to have to go out and bat. Show these boys how to bat." Angry bowlers. Aggrieved bowlers. "We'll be bowing again, way too soon. F*** you batsmen." It shouldn't be personal. It's not, but it is. It always is. It always will be.

One of the most deflating things to see is a batsman failing meekly. Apprehension has taken over. They have gone away from their style, their game plan, and their grace. Visibly shaken by the situation. Noticeably nervous and jerky movements have replaced their typically measured and flowing nature. Twitchy. Feeling. Scratchy. Groping. Poking.

And that is the psychology of the situation. Firstly focusing on stopping the crash, the collapse, then the head focuses on avoiding mistakes, somehow preventing failure: what not to do, and not, as on a normal day, on creating a head space where success is consummated.

Captains and coaches can seek to arrest the collapse by talking to the remaining batsmen about their preparation and the importance of playing naturally © Getty Images

I have never been in a changing room that has ever challenged a collapse; a changing room that has found a way of negotiating it and found a way out of the mire.

Can it be done? I think yes. But some batsmen, I think, are not going to like it.

There are a few things you don't do, typically, in a changing room. One of the more important ones is to not talk to the batsman who's next in, unless he initiates the conversation. You leave him in his bubble. Whatever he might be doing, let him do it. Whatever is ticking over in his head, let him be. Preparing in his own way. Some batsmen like to chat, nervously, about anything. Some sit and stew, contemplate. Others, a crossword, newspaper quiz, anything to not watch, not concentrate. Some don't even watch the game.

In the middle of a collapse the batsman next in doesn't get the opportunity to do any of those things. And this is where a coach or captain can step in. Once two wickets have fallen together quickly, things are a bit panicky, rushed. A coach or captain can (they currently usually don't) have a word with the batsmen, remind them of their processes, their preparation, their thought patterns. A good coach or captain should know how each player prepares.

A calming of the situation. Remove the apprehension. "Go and do your thing. Think about your things, your processes. Don't rush. Breathe."

This requires coaches and captains knowing their players and team-mates probably better than they currently do. It means having care and consideration, on both sides, and knowing that individual and team success may have to take a back seat to the player's "normal" preparation. Doing things differently. Teams talk about collapses, but only after they have happened.

Slow things down, add as much time to the preparation time a player has. Take the moment out of the moment.

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