With almost Rs100 crore at stake in prize money, we’re at the business end of the IPL. Each playoff is effectively a final with a massive bounty at stake. With reputation and rupees on the line in the playoffs, teams have discovered new tricks to stay ahead of competition.
Along with T20’s new technical grammar, language and vocabulary for cricket, teams approach playoffs in two different ways. There are some team owners who seek divine intervention by visiting temples and holding special prayers to locate good vaastu. The family guruji is consulted before deciding key issues such as which flights to take, which hotel floor/room numbers are best aligned with the team’s stars.
The other, modern, approach is driven by professionals running teams, the army of coaches/mentors/mental and physical conditioning experts/support staff. Theirs is a more scientific mindset. They too send out silent prayers in private but in public space speak a secular language. This language is full of complicated jargon and impressive sound bytes delivered with effortless ease. Players are told to respect processes, stay in the moment, enjoy the experience, have faith in their skills and execute plans free of anxiety and pressure.
In team meetings, inspirational words reinforce ‘team culture’ and ‘group’ bonding. Batsmen are encouraged to go out and ‘express’ themselves freely, bowlers sternly reminded about maintaining discipline and ‘hitting the right areas’. Talk centres on finding momentum --- an elusive, mysterious quality which is difficult to describe, acquire or capture. Is momentum merely good fortune, self-confidence, positivity? Or is it something that tells players that luck is on their side, and in a tight match situation a magical force will come to their rescue?
Usually, momentum is linked to track record and results of previous games. Just as the idea of momentum works for teams, individual players seek that nebulous quality called form. Batsmen believe form is timing, the feel of the ball hitting the middle of the bat. Bowlers call form rhythm, the happy space when the body feels good and balls come out nicely from the hand to land in good areas.
While people hold different views on form and momentum, they agree both are fickle, arriving/departing without notice. Coaches have always reminded players that form is temporary and they must make it count and cash in.
There is a contrary view that says disregard all this because what matters is ability, not form or momentum. Class is permanent and teams with quality will win more often than not. True champions are not intimidated by cricket’s ability to deliver rude shocks. Once asked to explain a lean patch, Sachin Tendulkar dismissed the question by saying he wasn’t bothered, the runs would come.
Actually, teams in the playoffs understand this fundamental truth that they have to play well and find ways to win. After 40 overs have been bowled and the celebrities and cheerleaders have gone, the better team will win --- irrespective of prayers, pep talk or jargon.
(Amrit Mathur is a former sports administrator who worked with the BCCI as a media manager. The views expressed are personal)