The recent Ashes Test went through various twists and turns ending in a thrilling chase that had the crowd in raptures. It is fair to say that winning such close Tests requires more than just cricketing skills because rare is the ability to deliver under pressure when the game is in the tenterhooks. It also becomes a test of mental fortitude, physical fitness and ability to remain calm.
VVS Laxman has experienced many tight finishes and was instrumental in a last wicket win against Australia putting on 92 runs with Ishant Sharma and Pragyan Ojha. Strangely, Ishant faced 71% of the balls during their 81 run stand. Laxman said the key was to be calm and assess the situation fully.
“You have to do the right things, communicate with your partner and counter the situation with the right plan. You have to remain patient too.” Laxman added that he was lucky that the bowlers took pride in their batting and was hence confident that they could hold their own.
Such Test matches are a dream for true connoisseurs of Test cricket who believe that it is not just the boundaries scored or wickets taken in a rush that makes for an exciting experience. For them nothing makes a more compelling spectacle than watching a batsman like Steve Waugh keeping out a good ball with the pitch spitting venom or a bowler like Warne plotting the batsman’s downfall with the assuredness of a surgeon planning a marathon surgery.
Former spinner Maninder Singh has seen tough situations from close quarters. During the famous tied Test, he had three balls to score one run but was given out. Maninder felt that such situations put pressure on umpires too and that Lady Luck plays a part. “You can put in a lot of hard work, be mentally strong, fight hard but if you are not lucky on the day, it goes wrong. The close calls and mistakes can impact the match and sometimes its effect can last many years.”
Regarding the tied Test, Maninder said it was one of the best matches that he had ever played or watched. “We were cruising earlier and then just one run from a win. When I came in, the dressing room was extremely quiet.”
In such situations, the players’ superstitions can kick in – some don’t remove their pads, some stay rooted in the same location! Maninder adds, “You try to distract yourself. Some go to the shower but still he can make out from the crowd reaction as to what has happened.”
In the modern days, Laxman felt it would be great to have a mental conditioning coach. “Paddy Upton was with us during Gary Kirsten's tenure and it was very helpful especially during tough situations. With so much expectations and pressure on the players currently, it would add immense value.”
Soon in absence of DRS reviews (by choice or when exhausted), good acting skills could play a part in winning such close encounters with the batsman needing to remain nonchalant after getting a faint edge.