India’s former football captain Bhaichung Bhutia once asked this question during a panel discussion on sport: Why can’t football in India learn from cricket how to sell the game to an audience? Most top sportsmen (and women) have asked this question of their sport.
For years there was a fundamental difference in the spectator approach to the sports. While cricket attracted crowds at the international level, there were hardly any spectators at the domestic levels. Football often had packed houses even at the local league level but as one went higher, the crowds diminished. Sometimes internationals were played before a mere spattering of spectators. Things have changed recently with the introduction of the professional leagues.
Bhutia’s question can be broadened to: Is there a cross fertilisation in sports? Do sports borrow from one another techniques of play, marketing, publicity or psychology? There is no reason for coaches not to borrow from baseball, for instance, to sharpen fielding in cricket (coaches have done that), or from the manner in which players in individual sports like tennis handle themselves under pressure. It could help team sports like hockey too. Not every sportsman is a self-regulating mechanism and geeing oneself up uses a technique that can be taught.
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South African cricket coach Bob Woolmer (in pic), feted for his originality, didn’t shy from adapting from other sports. Sometimes originality is merely intelligent borrowing. Top coaches do this regularly. It doesn’t matter where an idea comes from if it helps the team or individual.
Keep your eye on the ball, say coaches. This holds true across disciplines, from cricket and tennis to badminton and clay pigeon shooting. For ‘ball’, you merely substitute ‘moving object’ which has to be struck over the net or shot at.
How do cyclists and marathon runners balance mind and body during the race? Can they ‘relax’? (the definition of an athlete relaxing during a race is different from the way the rest of us do it in front of a television set with a glass of beer at our elbow). Coaches look for ‘marginal advantage’ because at the highest level most sportsmen can do the basics well. Is a one per cent advantage over 10 different areas the same as a 10 per cent advantage overall?
When Paula Radcliffe won the 10,000 metres at the European championships in 2002, she gave ice baths credit for the win. She took these baths before racing. “It’s absolute agony, and I dread it, but it allows my body to recover so much more quickly,” she said.
Not so long ago such things as ice baths for sportsmen recovering from a game would have been laughed at. I cannot imagine cricketers of an earlier generation looking at it with anything other than horror. Yet today they are a part of the process.
There is much that other sports in India can learn from cricket, chief among these being the marketing of it. Cricket and football are both popular, but only one attracts billions of dollars and millions of fans.