Talking About Feelings

Less than a fortnight after Dimitri Mascarenhas went after him at The Oval, Yuvraj Singh has returned the favor, and then some. Unlike Herschelle Gibbs, however, Singh achieved his feat against a recognized team and, even better, against one of its foremost bowlers, Stuart Broad.

After an angry tiff with Andrew Flintoff, Singh has revealed a pattern of late: get angry, shout yourself coarse, and then let the emotions do the talking — through your bat, preferably. There was also, of course, the recent ODI against England, during which Dinesh Kaarthick and Yuvraj Singh let loose on an unassuming Ian Bell, and almost had the game in the bag.

While commentators almost always insist that bowlers and batsmen should never get too carried away — a wicket after an on-field tiff is consistently ascribed to a “loss of concentration” — Singh’s behavior illuminates what can happen in cricket when emotions and strategy collide.

The Australians have known about the power of emotions for a long time, and perfected this strategy, with Steve Waugh famously playing the mind games of “mental disintegration” through an eager-to-please media. As Ricky Ponting said on the eve of the 2005 Ashes series, “That’s what it’s all about, really, trying to keep England under pressure from ball one of the series until the series ends. That’s what our whole cricket theme, if you like, is based on.”

And yet, even though finishers, like Singh, are hailed for their calmness in pressure situations, it seems silly to believe that emotions only destabilize batsmen. Unlike in tennis, where David Foster Wallace has argued great players can achieve their sublime accuracy only through numbing their mind to the outside, the cricket batsman is of a higher pedigree: emotions are never far away, since the crowds are rarely silent (unlike at Wimbledon) and neither are opposing bowlers.

In these cases, there is never a choice between cool-headed rationalism versus emotions. On the other hand, there are just emotions and which ones get higher priority: why praise calmness when a visibly irate Yuvraj Singh thrives on anger to hit 6 sixes in an over? Why bother with serenity when Zaheer Khan delivers the spell of his career after Alistair Cook and Kevin Pietersen get his goat with some candy? [See video.]

Too often, a “calm” batsman — one eager not to appear to have lost control — will go into his shell, as if the very hint of being excited would result in a loss. (Again, in these cases, commentators will suggest that the ‘pressure got to him,’ when, in reality, it was just the pressure of pressure. If you take a more exhilarated stance against pressure — a smile, perhaps — that could do just as much to help your cause than putting your head down and planning projected run-rates.) Batsmen should embrace their inner subconscious (to indulge in amateurish Freud talk) and express, rather than repress.

This is not to say, of course, that every batsman should become a heap of feelings and act on their every impulse. I only want to argue that more attention should be paid to the possible benefits of relying on high-intensity emotion in cricket play. Sometimes, as Singh showed today, a little madness can go a far way.

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2 thoughts on “Talking About Feelings

  1. […] relates to one of my earliest posts about the use of anger and emotion in cricket. We often hear commentators plead for cricketers with a good “cricketing brain,” one […]

  2. […] to power their on-field behavior. We’ve seen it time and time again — I wrote about Yuvraj Singh’s anger after being sledged by Andrew Flintoff in the 2007 World Cup, when he hit six sixes off Stuart […]

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