There is a flip side to the glitter

SPORT transfers a person into another world and a different orbit altogether. Cricket transports a rookie from Jhandewalan to Jorbagh, from a chawl to Colaba in no time, it provides instant stardom, enormous riches and fame. But as always happens, there is a flip side to the dazzling glitter - cricket is extremely frustrating, and terrible failure is a part of the game.

Sometimes, and for some, success itself becomes a problem because such is its intoxication not many are able to retain their balance. But while success affects just a few, failure catches many more in its net; it is as unavoidable and essential to cricket as item songs are to mainstream Hindi films. There is a slight difference however in the sense that failure spreads gloom, creates doubts, erodes confidence, breaks the will of players. Absence of success leaves deep scars, converts toughies into weepies and forces players, in the fashion of a contemporary Devdas, to hit the bottle as if it was a health drink.

Usually, these terrible things happen to batsmen when form disappears and all of a sudden the bat feels as if it has only edges, no middle. An out of form batsman is a person with alarmingly low morale, his distress heightened by the fact that he is deserted by all friends. In this period of trial, bowlers stop bowling half volleys, the umpire raises his finger at the wrong time and fielders, normally asleep at slip, hold blinders. Can anything be worse?

When struck by heaps of bad luck, players, understandably, search for relief but the response to failure varies. The cocky, super confident types put on a brave front and want to ride out the storm, they feel bad luck/ good luck is cyclical, so why worry. These players are students of the Narasimha Rao school of management who believe that postponing a decision is itself a wise decision. If one waits long enough, and does nothing, chances are nothing will be required to be done anyway.

Others, more active and concerned, want to confront reality and take control of their destiny. Seeking instant nirvana these activists get into the net and slog endlessly to iron out defects and concentrate on the basics. In their book the only way out of a batting slump is practise, the only route to success is hard work.

While this is the standard response of struggling batsmen, there exist other non-conventional means as well. Some travel to Shirdi, Vaishno Devi and Tirupati to seek divine assistance, others say silent prayers each day knowing there is a powerful umpire up there who has the final say.

Besides appealing for outside help, obtaining assistance from people close by is also a popular option. The out of form player needs a shoulder to cry on, he needs help and guidance to overcome adversity and, fortunately, there is no shortage of advice. India is undisputed world leader in cricket information technology, we have huge reserves of arm-chair critics and a new breed of TV trained cricket terrorists with PhD's acquired by listening to Navjot Sidhu. Also around, all in abundance, are the asli gurus, the experienced ex- players for whom a mere glance is enough to diagnose the problem.

In their opinion, whenever a batsman runs into bad form the likely reasons are:

Feet not moving but head moving too much. Bat not straight, back lift from third man.

Playing away from body, reaching for the ball instead of letting it come on.

Bat face opening trying to run balls down to third man.

Batsman watching bowler not the ball.

The following reasons are on the standard checklist for bowling decline:

Hand not straight up during delivery. No pivot, body too chest-on.

Balls sliding down leg side because of wrong angle of delivery.

Strangely, the ready availability of advice is a problem because people prescribe different medicines, forgetting the truth that cricket is a unique headache which needs different Dispirins for different heads. "Getting tips can be very confusing," admits Sourav. "The problem is not just who to listen to but what to listen to. It is very easy to get thoroughly confused."

"The way out," suggests Rahul Dravid, "is to analyse and understand your own game. You have to be brutally honest with yourself and learn from your experience. Most times you don't need to go to a specialist - you can cure yourself." Sourav, agrees: "Whatever others may think, ultimately players must see what works for them."

Srinath points out another angle about the business of getting advise. "Anyone can come and tell you not to bowl down the legside but the issue is how?" he asks. "There is no easy answer, nobody has a solution, they can't explain what you are doing wrong for the ball to land in the wrong place."

Taking/giving advice is complicated for other reasons also. By and large, and quite correctly, players take advise seriously only when it comes from someone with stature. Indian players have a reputation that they don't listen, or if they do, it is only after checking the past Test record of the person giving gyaan. Two common questions - kitne match khela or kya average hai - rule out anyone not there at the top. In an atmosphere which treats them as superstars who are gifts to the nation the players start believing they know everything but others know little. In defense of players it must be said they are inundated by unwanted advise, and if they did not erect a screening mechanism they'd go crazy trying to handle all that is thrown at them.

But while this is true, it is difficult to see a situation like Australia (with Buchanan as coach) happening in India, there is no chance of an average Ranji player coaching the Test squad. One person who thinks many times before helping out is SMG, as matter of policy he does so only when approached. He thinks there is no need to impose your views on others.