WTC final: India and settling the pressure question
Rohit Sharma believes the players will not be carrying any extra burden of expectations against Australia at The Oval
It’s that time in the cricketing calendar when almost every Indian — fans and players included — start looking at India’s numbers in knockout matches. The Rohit Sharma-led team is in another final; in another knockout match, and of late, this scenario has led to rather messed up endings.
Since the 2013 Champions Trophy win under MS Dhoni, the men's team has reached three more finals (World T20 2014, Champions Trophy 2017, World Test Championship 2021) and 4 semi-finals (2015 World Cup, 2016 World T20, 2019 World Cup, 2022 World T20) but have failed to make the opportunity count. It almost seems like every time they reach a knockout round, they get knocked out.
Athletes succumbing to pressure is not a new phenomenon. The expectations of the nation and the athletes themselves play a huge role in creating a toxic cocktail that can derail even the best in the business. You can react to that atmosphere by either becoming too aggressive or too passive when the situation demands that you mostly trust the process.
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The ‘process’ is something that cricketers talk about all the time. That and ‘controlling the controllables’. It has become common speak but very few truly get what it means to perform under pressure. The argument that every match India play is about pressure is often bandied about but that isn’t necessarily true.
In every bilateral series, there is a chance to find your way back. One bad game does not mean the end. But a knockout game is different. A now-or-never scenario can create a very different kind of pressure and it is this that has proved to be the stumbling block for India.
But what can they do? How do they tackle it? How do they shine?
India skipper Sharma believes that winning the WTC final will also come down to handling the pressure because teams will find themselves in a spot at various points in the match. The teams that adapt better to these moments will come out on top.
So, what is the conversation around pressure in the Indian team?
“Since the time we've come here, the talk has been around how we can play well, what are the things we need to do as a team,” said Sharma. “A lot of the guys in our squad are quite experienced right now - and they have been in the situation where there was too much pressure and they've come out on top. So, every individual at some stage of their career has faced that kind of pressure. So, it’s just putting themselves in those situations and thinking about it.
“Whoever takes the field tomorrow has or have gone through that kind of pressure before in their career. So, I don't think I need to talk to them personally about how to handle those situations. They have handled it pretty well. It's just about handling that pressure, thinking about what are the right things to do under pressure at that point in time. If we can do that all well, I think we will have a good time out in the middle.”
The mind is definitely harder to train than the body and it takes much longer to tune your mind to think in a certain way or to even behave in a certain way. And India will hope that, after so many false starts, they have finally hit upon the magic formula that will help them to take the crown.
The pre-jitters are normal and some might even say necessary. The adrenaline rush needs to be accepted but the most important thing is to accept that things won’t always go according to plan and get comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable.
Visualisation techniques can help as can creating specific situations in practice. India has been doing this for a while, and whether it truly works or not will only be known in actual match play. If it does, then India might as well have the result that they so dearly seek. No pressure indeed.