Cricket: A game of the masses and of the mind
From being an elitists sport to one that has been embraced by the masses, cricket has come a long way in India. And with the tremendous inflow of cash coming into the game, professionalism has also increased by leaps and bounds in recent times.cricket Updated: Aug 14, 2010 23:53 IST
From being an elitists sport to one that has been embraced by the masses, cricket has come a long way in India. And with the tremendous inflow of cash coming into the game, professionalism has also increased by leaps and bounds in recent times.
Till two decades ago, it was only the manager who accompanied Indian teams on tours. Then came the coach, the assistant coach and so on. India's touring party in Sri Lanka includes no fewer than nine support staff. And one of the most vital cogs in the machine is Paddy Upton, the mental conditioning coach.
In an era when teenagers have started raking in crores of rupees, thanks to the Twenty20 phenomenon, Upton's role has become even more important. So how does he deal with youngsters who even before breaking into the India squad already have fame and fortune?
"The world is changing. We've moved on from cassettes and tapes to digital music. The younger generation is different. They would rather watch a DVD than read a book, rather play T20 cricket than Tests, and we need to move with those changes," Upton says.
"Yet some principles stand the test of time, like discipline, preparation, doing whatever it takes. If the younger guys will take short cuts, they'll get found out. That becomes their choice."
Upton and Kirsten's stint with the Indian team has been its best run in the recent past in Tests as well as one-dayers. What's more impressive is the fact that all the seniors who have been a part of the dressing room in the last two-and-a-half years admit that this is the "happiest" dressing room they remember. To make that possible, Upton stresses the need to focus on each individual. "When I'm working with a player, I'm not working with just a cricketer, I'm working with a person, and one of the things he does best is play cricket. So I work for all-round development," Upton says.
"They've all got a life. He might be someone's father, someone's son, have a girlfriend. When their life works well, their cricket works well. Any area of life can affect the cricketer so it's important to work with the whole.
Upton started as South Africa's fitness trainer, a job he held for four years in the mid-90. He switched to the role of mental conditioning expert and realises his challenge lies in making a player comfortable when he is not in the best frame of mind.
"Some of the biggest mental challenges in a sport is one, you get injured; two, you get dropped; three, when you have a poor run of form. That's when individual character is really tested," Upton says. "There's a natural process you go through of disappointment and frustration, sometimes even wanting to give up. That's natural, but to move through that as quickly as possible is what we try and teach.