For the game against Holland in Paarl, in wine-growing Stellenbosch, the Indian team stayed at the Spier, a top-end resort with rooms so large, the 21-inch TV in the far corner looked like a miniature model.
Spier was self-sufficient (with its gym, golf course, riding area and a cheetah park) and the players spent evenings sitting around swimming pools (there were separate pools in different parts of the hotel), joined occasionally by John Wright, playing the guitar.
Psychologist Sandy Gordon was also around. In India, anyone seeing a psychologist is presumed disturbed but in international sport, it is readily accepted that sportsmen are finished products, manufactured by an army of top professionals.
Sandy met the boys in groups, a session with the seniors followed by a collective talk to the team and, finally, a series of separate interviews. Articulate and persuasive, he spoke sense, in a language the players understood. He did not offer any jaadu mantra or release any secret gyaan, but what he said was sensible and simple.
Essentially, he emphasised two areas — the first was about team mechanics.
• Choose a theme and a goal to provide a direction; the Indians chose 'Now or Never' (Other suggestions included Chak de Phatte and Teri Toh).
• Anyone not complying with the team goal had to be removed — event sent home if needed — because indifference and lack of interest is lethal.
• Achieve task cohesion, forget social bonding. Players need not behave like brothers, what matters is they collude actively in team interest.
• Evolve a system of reward and punishment. Criticise only if it helps, otherwise forget it.
• Adopt a sandwich approach — compliment, criticise, compliment again, because people want to hear nice things even when they have screwed up.
The second area of emphasis was remaining positive at all times.
• Concentrate on your own game, don't bother too much about others.
• Be aggressive and strong and analyse success as much as failure.
• Play with pride and work on your body language — non-verbal communication is important.
When Gordon unspooled wisdom, the players heard him like good students — with attention and admiration. Players are clever, they find out fast who has depth and who is shallow. Their final verdict on Gordon was — useful, because he reminded them about what to focus on.
PS: Gordon, despite his tight schedule, spent as much time with the media as with the players giving interviews. Which shows that, whether one is a player/priest/politician or a psychologist, publicity always helps.