‘Cricket is a mental game’

‘While Anderson (above, left) believes in seaming and swinging the ball, Broad (above, right) is capable of bowling a nasty bouncer. They complement each other brilliantly.’-REUTERS ‘While Anderson (above, left) believes in seaming and swinging the ball, Broad (above, right) is capable of bowling a nasty bouncer. They complement each other brilliantly.’

At the highest level, it is always the temperament that separates the men from the boys, says former India opener and skipper Sunil Gavaskar in a chat with S. Dinakar.

Sunil Gavaskar’s ironclad technique proved a daunting barrier for potent pacemen and crafty spinners in different conditions. He would give little away, put a price on his wicket and build lasting edifices.

The batting legend shared his thoughts with Sportstar on the methods employed by many of today’s batsmen. As always, the maestro was incisive with his views.

Question: Why do so many modern-day batsmen have problems against the moving ball? They have been found out on pitches doing a bit. The Australian collapses in Edgbaston and Trent Bridge are a case in point.

Answer: You need to know where your off-stump is. The guard you take is an important aspect. The guard you take is one that should be according to your height and according to your right eye if you are a right-hander, or left eye if you are a left-hander. This plays a huge role on surfaces where there is seam movement and swing. On flat pitches, where the ball doesn’t move as much, you can get away with it, but not where there is movement.

Different batsmen will have different guards, but the important thing is that the right eye for a right-hander should be on the line of his off-stump when he bends down in his stance. The left eye will pick the line and length, the right eye is always the guiding line because it is on the off-stump. With this combination, you know which one to play and which one to leave.

Do you believe the technique of batting has changed over the years?

Today, the technique is different in that everybody stands pretty much upright. They stand down in their normal stance for the first tap of the bat, and as the bowler starts to run in, they stand up. You lose sight of the fact where your off-stump is going to be.

There have been some exceptions though…

Murali Vijay was outstanding last year in England. His judgement around the off-stump was virtually flawless. Someone you thought was technically accomplished as Cheteshwar Pujara faltered because his judgement outside the off-stump was not all that great. This is why Virat Kohli had problems last year; his judgement outside the off-stump was not quite there. Again, it is the standing up. Virat stands up, and this you need to do on Australian or South African pitches where there is the extra bounce so that you are able to get on top of the ball. But when he stands up in his stance in seaming, swinging conditions, there could be problems.

The English seam and swing bowling has been top class in the third and fourth Ashes Tests?

First and foremost, from what I saw on television, I would like to compliment the England bowlers. After their defeat in the second Test, they realised that the length they were bowling was not the ideal one to dismiss this Australian line-up. They changed it in the third Test itself. In the second Test, the length was shorter and the line was wayward. In the third, they bowled a much fuller length and concentrated around the off-stump. It paid dividends.

Stuart Broad, in particular, got the ball to move in or out from around the off-stump. It caused loads of problems for the batsmen because the ball was swinging. Even when Australia came in to bowl, the ball was moving in the air. Full marks to England.

Where do you think the Australian batsmen got it wrong?

There were a few errors that the Australian batsmen made, which is common among batsmen not used to playing in England. In the case of batsmen used to playing on pitches where the ball does not move as much, there is a tendency to reach for the ball. In England, you need to wait for the ball when you are first in and the ball is swinging and seaming. You have to wait for the ball than reach out for it. Australia needs to tighten up.

The Australians, it seemed, were lacking in self-belief?

The Australians in the first innings of the fourth Test seemed woefully short of confidence. The fact that their skipper is not scoring runs is not helping the team. If the skipper is a batsman then you always target the skipper. When the captain starts to fail, the rest too start to doubt themselves. The Englishmen have targeted Clarke and it is working.

When you are confident, your feet move towards the ball. When you are not confident, you are hesitant. When you are mentally not in a secure place, you start to doubt everything, from the pick-up of your bat, from the weight of your bat to your stance. The mind plays the trick.

The ‘momentum’ is the mantra now. Patience in many batsmen has become a casualty...

The approach has changed. Today, players try to hit their way out of trouble. In Test matches, a little bit of patience is always helpful.

Because you are playing a lot of ODI cricket or T20 cricket, you are always looking to free your arms. Your foot doesn’t always go to the pitch of the ball. But good batsmen can make the adjustment in the longer format because of their temperament.

Your power of concentration was legendary.

I was blessed with concentration. Even today, if I am in a crowded room with a lot of noise around, and if I am reading a book, I would be able to do so without being disturbed. That’s a blessing.

If your concentration is there, it becomes much easier. You are able to think with a much cooler mind. I have seen a lot of players get out early before their concentration and focus are switched on. Cricket is a mental game.

You have also said that a strong mind can overcome technical deficiencies…

Every country has its challenges. Therefore, you have to make the adjustments technically. But you have to make a greater adjustment temperamentally too. Even in England, if you are temperamentally strong, you tell yourself that you are going to grit it out there, see off the first couple of hours when the ball is going to be doing something, when the pitch is also fresh. You tell yourself that you are going to fight through a spell. The first day pitches in England have more life. If the temperament is there, gradually you make the adjustments technically. Eventually, your temperament guides your technique.

At the highest level, it is always the temperament that separates the men from the boys. I have seen a lot of batsmen whose stance wasn’t great, whose pick-up wasn’t great, but they scored a lot of runs in difficult conditions. Their mental strength enabled them to overcome technical defects, to knuckle down to the task, to look like an idiot in the first hour while playing and missing, and then gradually accumulate runs. I have seen some great batsmen do that.

What are your views on Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, one of the finest pace combinations we have today?

Ideal foil for each other. While Anderson believes in seaming and swinging the ball, Broad is capable of bowling a nasty bouncer. They complement each other brilliantly.

Do you think the weight of the bat is an issue in seaming, swinging conditions? Are heavier bats, in particular, a problem?

No. If you are using a heavy bat in English conditions, you will not find it easy to lift it. You could actually be playing closer to the body than away. The heavy bats would be an issue though in Australia, where you need to play the cut and the pull on pitches with bounce, and lifting the bat for those shots could be a problem.

India has three openers who have made Test centuries this season. How do you look at the situation?

It’s a pleasant situation to be in, when you are looking at three openers and have to pick two from them. If things don’t go well, you can play three of them.

K. L. Rahul seemed impressive during his Test hundred in Sydney?

I saw K. L. Rahul when he scored a few runs in Melbourne and I liked the look of him then. All I said at that stage was he should be a little bit choosy about which ball to pull. He did that, to a large extent, in Sydney. He seems to be a compulsive hooker and puller. Playing it against the right-hander might be easier than against a left-armer, who is angling the ball across your right shoulder — or your back shoulder. That’s something he needs to keep in mind.

Who are the batsmen whose footwork you admired?

There have been several players, Graham Gooch, Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Alvin Kallicharran. Vishy (Gundappa Viswanath), although he was a small man, his footwork was such that he was always in the right position. He didn’t have big strides, either backward or forward, but made sure his balance was right.