(file photo) Indian leg-spinner Anil Kumble is hoisted up by teammates, Venkatesh Prasad, right, and Srinath after he claimed all of ten wickets against Pakistan. Kumble announced his retirement from International Test.
What the Indian players have gone through in the last week has to count among the toughest phases in a player's career. No matter what the caliber of the player might be, everyone is under tremendous pressure, be it Sachin or Ashwin.
The only way this pressure can be warded off is by beating the West Indies on Sunday. The seven-day gap following that defeat against South Africa and the criticism that followed has not helped.
How does a player cope with pressure of this nature? I feel his connection with cricket has to be extremely strong, and astuteness will be a crucial factor. Weak hearts will find it difficult to cope with all the criticism and the pressure that has been a constant in the last week.
I can reflect on the benefits I reaped during my interaction with sports psychologist Sandy Gordon during the 2003 World Cup. One of the things he said was that the best way out is to focus totally on your game and on the interests of the team.
That's where visualisation techniques come in handy. There have to be positive thoughts, and introspection can ease the pressure. A strong connection with the game is very important, but these things are learnt over a period of time, and cannot be instilled overnight.
The thing with cricketers is that when a sports psychologist comes into their environment, the players become sceptical because they feel the psychologist doesn't know cricket. Sports psychology, however, is not so much about the game as it is about the mind.
Sandy came with his Australian cricket background, and knew what he had to do to get the attention of players back. He spoke about reactions to criticism and adulation, and stressed that mind balance was directly proportional to one's individual performance as well as that of the team.
Apply it early
Visualisation is something that must be ingrained in cricketers when they are 18 or 19. There will be initial resistance but by 25 they will begin to accept and embrace the concept. People, who believe in visualising scenarios and work out alternative plans and practice it day-in and day-out, will be at ease in handling pressure.