Playing a sport is demanding. Playing a sport for your country is even more demanding. The game of cricket has seen so many players represent their country with distinction, some of them even playing for as long as 15-20 years. Today, cricketers rarely play beyond 2-3 years for a variety of reasons, not having contributed enough to leave their indelible mark on the game. I could not help but think what action cricketers could take to increase the chances of their success as well as the length of time they play for their country (not by too much, but sufficient enough to reap their potential). The response that my mind gave me was a cricketer needs to cultivate new skills.
Augmenting the skills that a cricketer possesses is vital in determining the career success that he achieves. It could also be an indication of the length of time that he could play for his country. A batsman or a bowler should not be at ease with the skills that he has. In improving those skills, there is the advantage of surprise that you can give your opponents. Of course, these improvements or augmentation cannot happen overnight but the earlier a player takes the effort, and prepares his mind for it, the better the chances of success. A cricketer who is past 30 may not be as successful in this exercise as one who has just turned 20, but the efforts could be well worth it.
For a batsman, this could mean learning to bat both ways – right handed as well as left handed. Every batsman has an innate side and should choose that, always. But it would be a whole lot better to become skilled at batting the other way round as well. It is not as simple as altering the bat grip, but it is as hard as conquering the mind. The view from the opposite side can really do wonders to your game. The different perspective could serve in strengthening the skills and ironing out the weak spots. It helps to keep a positive spin on things – for example, if you are out of form batting right handed, switching to left handed may be the solution to find the runs flowing again. Of course, sheer hard work would be the motto to get to a level where you can bat both ways. This is an invaluable asset and the earlier this is perfected, the better.
Bowlers are a bit of a difficult proposition. Because there are different kinds of bowlers, it is important to discover what you really need to learn. Obviously a spinner cannot choose to toggle between fast bowling and spin as the demands are poles apart. However, there is nothing that prevents a spinner from switching between off spin, leg spin and left arm spin or a fast bowler to switch from seam to swing or even go ambidextrous. Again, there is a massive adjustment required to the technique. The body should be equipped to master these additional skills. Also important is the judicious utilization – a bowler has a greater chance of getting it wrong than a batsman. Therefore, for a bowler, these skills need to be acquired much earlier than a batsman. Just imagine the advantages of catching your opponents on the wrong foot just when your team needs that extra fizz! The moment predictability is taken out of the equation, the game becomes much more intense and competitive.
The benefits that come out of augmenting these skills could be mind boggling. It is very evident that coaches have a very important role to play in grooming cricketers for this radical change in their technique as well as mindset. Players always look to their coaches when something like this needs to be done. This is hard to implement, but certainly not impossible. The BCCI as well as all the other cricket boards have the responsibility to see that the coaching manuals give due weight to the aspect of improving skills. The coaches need to be effectively educated to enable them to make their wards grasp the importance of an approach that constantly challenges the skills they have and aim for something extra. This is a crucial step in ensuring that we continue to turn out great players who can challenge the records and achievements of those who have walked before them.
Like in any aspect of life, unless we improve upon what we have, things tend to be mundane. With the proliferation of so many international games and a packed cricket calendar, it is no wonder that cricket boards are forced to rest some of their best performers from some of the matches in an effort to keep them fit for more important games. I believe cricketers can appreciate much more about the game and strategize with greater effect if they possess a basket of skills that they could use, rather than just one or two. It is challenges like these that bring out the best sportsmen and let us hope that we continue to have legends in the game of cricket. The next 10 years will no doubt be about cricketers who have multiple skills to adapt to the demands of a game that just keeps on growing. The cricket boards the world over have an unenviable task to ensure that the system recognizes this aspect right from the grassroots.