Do Cricketers Need To Be Smart To Succeed?

In 1996, David Foster Wallace wrote a great essay on tennis player Michael Joyce, and the sacrifices and virtues required to become a great athlete. The piece made a splash at the time because Wallace — and I’m over-simplifying here — basically said Joyce, like most athletes, was, um, stupid. Or as he put it:

We prefer not to consider closely the shockingly vapid and primitive comments uttered by athletes in postcontest interviews or to consider what impoverishments in one’s mental life would allow people actually to think the way great athletes seem to think. Note the way “up close and personal” profiles of professional athletes strain so hard to find evidence of a rounded human life — outside interests and activities, values beyond the sport. We ignore what’s obvious, that most of this straining is farce. It’s farce because the realities of top-level athletics today require an early and total commitment to one area of excellence.
It’s not stupidity, necessarily; it’s just a willingness not to get interested in anything other than your chosen sport. I’ve always wondered if such an attitude would reward cricketers who face a much more complicated task than in tennis (they’re playing a team sport; it’s much longer; objectives shift and change with each day). Commentators often praise cricketers for their brains; it still ranks as one of the highest compliments along with an ability to hit boundaries on a regular basis.
But then, consider Mukul Kesavan’s essay on Virender Sehwag (famous for telling Collingwood that batting requires only two things: “See ball, hit ball”):
No, the genius of Sehwag lies in his near-yogic ability to live in the moment, to separate one ball from the other, to purge his mind at the moment of impact, of useless meta-information like his innings score or the match score or the state of his average, or his place in the history of cricket…The game he’s playing is everything and within that game, the ball he’s about to face. Our carefree buccaneer, if only we had the eyes to see, is modern cricket’s Zen Master.
What do you think? Are cricketers increasingly like modern athletes? Do they merely need to see ball, hit ball? Has the age of the intellectual cricketer, if it ever existed, passed?

13 thoughts on “Do Cricketers Need To Be Smart To Succeed?

  1. golandaaz says:

    I am not sure, why we should study the intellect specifically of sportsmen. I would say, without hesitating and thus not thinking through this much, it should be the same as with a doctor, a scientist or an actor.

    There is nothing to suggest that intellect decides what skills people choose to develop.

    • duckingbeamers says:

      Golandaaz, thanks for the comment. I’m not saying we should consider the intellect only of cricketers (or sportsmen), but this is a cricket blog, so I obviously care about it more than another profession.

      But surely, intellect decides a career choice, no? I’m terrible at math, for instance, therefore I did not become an engineer or accountant.

      My question is a bit different: do sportsmen even require intellect? If so, what kind?

      • golandaaz says:

        In any field, intellect is required as you progress through your career. I do make a distinction between intellect and knowledge and skill and intelligence etc. I am not sure what differentiates each but they are different. Not being good at math does not make anyone less of an intellect.

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