The stakes are high and the game is fast and furious. The IPL is all about pressure. No wonder, the teams are giving equal importance to the players’ mental strength.
For those seeking inspiration, a good story to hear is India’s World Cup triumph. In the history of the game, no other team has handled the kind of scrutiny MS Dhoni & Co dealt with last year. Not only was it the biggest event in the cricket world, the home team players had the expectations of a billion weighing on their shoulders.
Helping a team cope with it is the biggest achievement any mental conditioning expert can have on his CV. Paddy Upton has the credit of doing that.
He was in the Wankhede stadium’s visitors’ dressing room on Friday during the game between Pune Warriors and Mumbai Indians, back at the venue for the first time since the April 2 night when he was part of the India team which won the World Cup final. Upton explained the process followed to help the players cope with pressure. “We encouraged the players to embrace the pressure, look for pressure and talk about pressure, so that it became our friend.”
“It was 13 months before the World Cup that we started strategising. We changed our language and always spoke about when we play the final in Mumbai on April 2…. At all games, at all trainings, everything we did was to prepare for the final.”
Focus on target
“We never focused on winning or losing. We never reacted with too much happiness when we won, never expressed too much disappointment when we lost,” the former South African first-class player, who was then coach Gary Kirsten’s trusted lieutenant, added.
“We worked very hard to create a comfortable, happy atmosphere. We had music playing in the dressing rooms and people were joking around. Effort was made to make the practice sessions enjoyable. Even in the final, while the tense game was being played outside, Viru and Sachin were coolly chatting and the music was on. It was such a relaxed atmosphere.”
Most Indian legends were upset when India lost the league game against South Africa, but it was just the result Kirsten and Upton wanted going into the knock-out stage.
“When we lost that game, we were 80% happy because people started writing the team off. It took some pressure off us.”
For the next month and a half, the IPL knights too will be confronted with many nervy moments. And Upton says, the ones who embrace the pressure will go the distance.