Wednesday, 22 July 2009

When batsmen go bad

Physical injuries have a lumpen, sinister simplicity to them these days: you pump in cortisone and saline until it doesn't work any more and then you slice and dice [just ask Vaughany, Jonesy, Freddie and the club's newest member KP]. But psychological hurt - brain knack and heart break and their unwelcome relations - require more complex remedies.

Each side has a basket case batsman on the go. England have Ravi Bopara and Australia Phil Hughes. How similar they appear; young, cocky, fast-scoring, marketable, good hundreds on their CVs. How quickly the brain-worms have penetrated their grey matter; like kids in class reduced to mumbling when asked a direct question.

Yet under the surface, their problems are very different. Hughes has a core to his batting. It's a weird core, sure, but it's a core all the same. He's the classic autodidact. There was a show on TV once called Prophet, about an evil genius of a businessman who'd spent his childhood in a cardboard box with a hole cut in it through which he watched television. His entire psyche was the result of daytime soaps [it was an idea ahead of its time]. Hughes's concept of batting is based on a similar unreality. Like a daytime soap, it obeys its own internal logic. He doesn't bat like he's ever watched anyone else bat, but there is method there. 

Conventional remedies won't solve his problem, because the problem cuts at his mind and ego as well as his technique. Being bounced out, sorted by the short ball, is emasculating, because it implies physical fear at the crease. Hughes' vulnerablity is magnified because he likes to stay legside of the ball. Conventionally, it's the coward's side of the line. 

That's not so in his case. His technique is based around it so the solution should be too, and maybe only he can work out what it is. 

It should start, though, from the implicit truth of any short ball - it's not going to hit the stumps. Thus, a short one will only get you out if you let it. That basic reduction served Brian Close* well. Hughes could simply not play anything aimed at his body. As any rheumy old coach will tell him, the bowler will get tired before he will. 

For Hughes, a physical solution might fix his mind, reassure him. Bopara seems different. As Shane Warne pointed out, he doesn't appear to know in his heart what sort of player he is, and it worries him. He bats on shifting sands, reacting to each dismissal with a revised method. Like a lot of talented batters, he has too many options and he's had them indulged by less rigorous examination. 

His hero, Sachin Tendulkar, had a spell where he kept getting out to the cover drive. Putting to one side the knowledge that it was one of his most beautiful and productive shots, Sachin made 241 against Australia at the SCG without hitting it. It took him more than ten hours. 'You learn so much when you have to figure things out for yourself,' he said afterwards. 'It was about setting myself a challenge and having the discipline to see it through'.

Everything Bopara needs to know is contained within those words. 

* Subject of the great Eric Morcambe line, 'I always know it's summer when I hear the sound of leather on Brian Close'. Magic.


Brit said...

You convince, OB, you convince.

Looks like a neurotic upper-middle order of Bell and Bopara coming up...

I vote Ramprakash. Nothing to lose and everything to gain as the man who wins the Ashes in his final fling... let him come in and bully this rubbish Aussie bowling line-up.

It'll never happen.

Brian Carpenter said...

I'm not sure comments are the place for unadulterated praise (well, I never get any), but I thought this was typically brilliant.

I think that in time Ravi will be okay (although you've hit the nail on the head about his problems) but where Hughes goes in the short term will be absolutely fascinating.

A lot of people, like me, had seen the scores and assumed that they were going to see something extraordinary. Now we're wondering how on earth he got all those runs in the first place.

Naked Cricket said...

If Bopara played any more cross, he'd be a transvestite.

And to think, his innings versus Lanka was my only source of joy in WC 07. One day he'll come around, just have to be a one dayer.

The Old Batsman said...

Cheers Brian - I'm like you keen to see what hughes does. I do think if he gets in, he'll flay an older ball, but it's all a bit Vinod Kambli at the moment...

I'd love to get ramps in just out of sheer curiosity, but then it really would be the most neurotic middle order we could get out there...!

Brit said...

If Flintoff is fit I guess there's a chance that his current wave of adrenalin/confidence/HISTORY-MAKING will see him regain his peak batting form.

cost per head said...

when batmens go to bad I liked that title because in some way I feel identified by it and it is really funny in my opinion