Players need to adapt to foreign conditions

Quickly adapting and acclimatising to foreign conditions is one of the key challenges that all international cricketers must master if they want to achieve consistent success at home and abroad. You cannot sit back and bemoan schedules, you have to identify how to best prepare yourself in the time given.

Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews after losing the first Test match against England at Headingley on May 20. The author says that the Lankans should have acclimatised themselves to English conditions.   -  GETTY IMAGES

Kumar Sangakkara evolved as he went along and became a really good one-day player, too.   -  REUTERS

Sri Lanka’s struggles in the first two Tests against England have prompted vigorous debate at home about the agreed schedule. The cricket board has been criticised for agreeing to Headingley and Durham as venues for the first two Tests as well as having only two practice games before the Test series. However, while it would be ideal for the team to spend four to six weeks acclimatising for the series with a handful of County games, the reality is that world cricket no longer allows for such luxuries and all teams are in the same boat whether it is Sri Lanka touring England or England touring India.

 

Quickly adapting and acclimatising to foreign conditions is one of the key challenges that all international cricketers must master if they want to achieve consistent success at home and abroad. You cannot sit back and bemoan schedules, you have to identify how to best prepare yourself in the time given. Of course, this means quality training and practice pre-tour and early-tour, but it is ultimately a mental challenge. You must develop the mental agility to be able to make the necessary small adjustments in your game-plan.

This is a very similar challenge to what players also face when shifting formats. The game has evolved enormously over the years and the truly world-class players must now be able to switch effortlessly from Test mode to ODI mode and T20 mode. You can’t expect lots of practice games, you need to flick switches in your brain and make the necessary adjustments. It is not an easy thing to do, but the best players work out their games and learn how best to manage.

This new reality is reflected in the way international teams now prepare. There is a lot of effort made to ensure players are mentally fresh.

A decade ago practice schedules on tour were nearly all mandatory, but these days there are lots of optional sessions. Coaches are wary of managing workloads and respect that some players need good rest as much as good practice to ensure they are as sharp in mind and body as possible.

While the game is evolving quickly, I believe the best cricketers can still thrive in all three formats. There will always be room for three to four specialists per team as you shift from Test to ODI or T20 cricket, but the core of the team can be the same. This core have the technical and mental skills to adjust. Indeed, the multi-format experience often improves their performances in other formats and that is exactly why we are seeing greater aggression in Test cricket after the arrival of T20 cricket.

From a batsman’s perspective, as long as you have a sound defence with a strong technique, I firmly believe you can thrive in all formats. You don’t have to be a six-hitter to be a brilliant T20 batsman. You need to assess your strengths and weaknesses as a player and then fine-tune your game to give yourself the best chance of success.

Look at someone like Sangakkara, for example. Early on in his career his strike rate in ODI cricket was probably in the low 70s. By the end of his career he usually scored his runs at a run-a-ball and normally at 120+ in T20 cricket without breaking into a sweat. He achieved that not by smashing boundaries — although his boundary-hitting also improved — but by working out innovative ways of efficiently rotating the strike by picking up singles and twos on either side of the wicket. He adjusted and excelled in all three formats because he was clever and worked incredibly hard perfecting his skills.

Players often get stereotyped as Test specialists or T20 specialists and those stereotypes are often unfair. It’s tough for players sometimes as it can become a barrier to selection, but you have to overcome those misperceptions and prove your ability to adjust.

That means a lot of hard-work and mental toughness so that when you do get your chance you make the best use of it.