Cricket Psychology: England – Choking!

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Cricket PsychologistIt’s the final of the Champions Trophy, and England finally have a fifty-over title in their grasp. Somerset’s Josh Buttler comes to the wicket with an achievable target of nineteen runs in sight.

Buttler’s first delivery from Ravi Jadeja is ugly. He takes an agricultural swipe at the ball and misses. Bowled. From here on in, England lose all momentum, and India are crowned champions.

It’s a classic case of a team being unable to handle the pressure, and not thinking clearly. When the pressure is on at the death in a sporting contest, it’s critical how you individually and collectively respond to that pressure.

Josh Buttler, in his inexperience, attempted to bludgeon his way through the pressure. As if, if he swung the bat hard enough the pressure would disappear. Earlier in the competition, he destroyed the New Zealand attack with a cavalier display of bold hitting. But that was not the final of the competition with everything on the line.

Unable to think clearly, his sub-conscious mind drew on those images and feelings from when he put the Kiwis to the sword. But of course, the Indians knew what to expect from Buttler and weren’t simply going to drop the ball in his slot for him to swing freely.

The wise plan for him, was to get used to the pitch, bowlers and atmosphere. Breathe it in, so he could feel at home for a few minutes. Buttler had time on his side to do that. Acquaint himself with the game dynamics.

It’s one thing to be fearless. Quite another to be reckless. Fearless means trusting and boldly backing your skills under pressure. Reckless means acting purely on impulse and waving aside all caution, in the hope that things will work out.

Josh Buttler closed his eyes and hoped. And at the highest level of the game, that won’t work. The key learning for the young player, is that the next time he is under pressure at the business end of a big international final, he must learn to understand the pressure first before trying to fight it. Learn it by absorbing it. Don’t treat pressure as the enemy and try to bludgeon it to death.

If you feel that pressure is the enemy, you will try and counter it with exaggerated responses. Pressure is not the enemy though. It’s simply an external manifestation of the game situation. Once you see that pressure is not the enemy, it becomes so much easier to behave normally and trust your skills.

Josh Buttler’s failure is a lesson for many!