Weekly Sports Newsletter: Hardik, Shami, and the need to understand teammate vulnerabilities

Dear readers,

It is not just the first letter of their names that connects cricketers Mukesh Choudhary, Mehidy Hasan and Mohammed Shami. This week, the three made headlines for experiencing a nightmare on the pitch. Choudhary and Shami in the IPL, Hasan in the Bangladesh vs South Africa test.

It was a minor failure, unrelated to their primary skill, but not a consideration for crits. For a fleeting moment, they seemed to have taken their eyes off the ball and, luckily, that would prove to be the reason for their embarrassing midfield errors.

In an age where meme-makers and trolls have the power to amplify any trivial mistake into epic blunders, the public humiliation of even a daily missed take can generate enough toxicity on social media to leave the sensitive among the cricketers marked for life.

Dhoni was seen consoling Mukesh Chaudhary after the youngster lost grapples to RCB. (Screenshot/IPL)

CSK’s Choudhary and Bangladesh’s Hasan dropped the kind of holds they would have had even in their sleep. Choudhary sparked anger for leaving the ball between his spread fingers. Not once, but twice. For a team that didn’t have the best of starts in this IPL, there was outrage from Chennai fans.

The cameras on the ground kept chasing the unfortunate Choudhary. They moved closer to the very shaken rookie’s face. TRP hunters would have prayed for a tear to fall. The CSK stimulator did not know what to do, where to look. A smile would have been a public relations disaster, a sullen, apologetic face was the only option. We felt for the boy.

For Hasan, it was worse. Momentarily missing the ball against the backdrop of the crowd, he was distraught. As he was looking for the ball, he hit it in the crotch area. He doubled over in pain and had to be stretched. But there was no sympathy. Hasan had become a joke, the victim of a slap-stick prank video.

Hardik Pandya, Mohd Shami, GT Gujarat Titans skipper Hardik Pandya was seen yelling at Mohd Shami during an IPL 2022 match. (Screenshots)

Shami’s episode during the Gujarat Titans vs Punjab Kings match had an added layer of intrigue. The Indian pacemaker didn’t drop a hold, he was blamed for not making that extra effort to move quickly and pick up the ball while playing on the edge of thin leg. What made his embarrassment uglier was the lip he got from his IPL captain at Gujarat Titans, Hardik Pandya. A junior to Shami, both in skill and experience, Pandya was throwing.

After being hit for some six in that span, the born-again all-rounder, eager to show off his bowling credentials, was stressed. But that still didn’t justify his outburst.

Pandya should have considered Shami’s fitness record, skills on the pitch and stature before going after him. Having made his first-class debut in 2010, Shami is an old-school pacer who believes the thin leg is a resting place between overs.

Also, India‘s most valuable Pacer across formats is known for a heavy ball and those nip-backers from hell, not Ajay Jadeja-like acrobatic catches from deep. Had the not-so-athletic Shami actually attempted the impossible, the odds of him aggravating an old problem or sustaining a new injury would have been high. Was it worth it? As the T20 World Cup approaches, can India afford to lose their main point guard while desperately trying to be part of an IPL wicket?

Coming from Pandya, a player often blamed for not having given everything in the national team, it was rich.

T20, not Gary Kirsten's cup of tea Gary Kirsten Coaches Gujarat Titans in IPL2022. (Case)

Given the pressures of the IPL and his inexperience, Pandya’s outburst was expected. Maybe he will learn over time. A conversation with Gary Kirsten who is part of the Gujarat Titans coaching setup will help. The former South African batsman was an avid student of the game with a particular interest in the science behind modern player behavior.

Kirsten has often spoken about the mental toughness and vulnerabilities of those who perform in high pressure situations. In a podcast with his longtime assistant and mind guru Paddy Upton, he recounted an incident from his playing days that shows the lack of empathy between his teammates.

The story goes back to her playing days. Kirsten says that was when South Africa had a mickey-playing atmosphere. The opener was not a big fan of this culture. According to him, he always needed people to pump him because he was always hard on himself. Kirsten loved teammates who cheered her on and Hansie Cronje was one of them.

In this context, Kirsten talks about a pre-practice warm-up match that he despised. He said things often go wrong. In the name of competitiveness, there would be cheating.

As part of this fielding drill, two groups of teammates were asked to hit stumps, whoever landed the ball on target would win. Kirsten, that day, missed six times. A senior player on the other side of the field shouted, “Hey Gazza, you’ll never touch the stumps.”

“It was designed as a jibe and a bit of a chirp in a competitive way in the game, but it had a profound effect on me. To me, it felt like it was one of my guys, not supporting me not, didn’t believe in me. At that moment, you don’t say anything, you laugh and you carry on. He (the senior player) probably didn’t think about it and if I came back to him today, he would have probably forgotten. But I can tell you the story with clarity 20 years later,” he says.

Kirsten talks about the teammates’ lack of awareness of each other and who they are as people. “What are their vulnerabilities and what are the things they struggle with and have to deal with? There is a naivety to the way we treat each other as people in a team environment.

Sport is often celebrated to prepare young people to face the vagaries of life or to rationalize setbacks as a stepping stone to success. But it can also be cruel, ruthless and heartless.

Please send your comments to [email protected]

Sandeep Dwivedi

National Sports Editor

The Indian Express

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