The Psychology behind Batting Collapses

Mon, Apr 12, '21




“As the pressures in sport keep increasing, the best way to see enhanced performances by athletes is not so much by improving technique-wise and physically, but by making mental improvements. Even though I am an international coach, I don’t believe I and other cricket coaches are qualified to teach in that area.  There most certainly must be a sport psychologist with every team, especially at the highest level, because athletes don’t know how to cope with all the pressures.  We have seen players like Sarah Taylor and Jonathan Trott stop playing cricket because they couldn’t handle all the pressures of the game.  They didn’t know how to cope with it.  In fact, some athletes upon retiring, struggle to make a comeback in life and need mental training to prepare for that.  Having a cricket psychologist will make the life of every coach much easier.”

These were the words an international Head Coach said to Adrian McInman, Cricket Psychologist and author of the new book, Phenomenal performances: Increase happiness and mental toughness with NESTS, Habits, NOISE, and the Thriving Habit (available on Amazon as a paperback and E-book).  In this article, we are going to examine an aspect of cricket that receives little attention: batting collapses.  We will discuss the mindsets of batters in team collapses, especially with regards to the level of competition, and the interaction of mental toughness and mindsets, before then examining how a Cricket Psychologist can help coaches and teams handle such situations more successfully.

Before I interviewed Adrian, I gave him eight questions ahead of time.  He answered them based on his experiences training cricketers and coaches, along with six anonymous interviews he did for this article with two international cricketers, two association-level cricketers, an international coach, and a franchise coach:

Question 1:

Are batting collapses a topic that you’ve touched on in sessions with cricketers?

“No.  There are several reasons for that.  First, at the elite level, we don’t see as many collapses as we use to, especially in the men’s game.  Second, some cricketers, especially at the elite level are initially hesitant to drop their guard and engage fully with a Cricket Psychologist, so the last thing I want to do is discuss a topic that some might perceive as ‘negative’ until I have trained them for a while.  Instead, I stay away from ‘problems’ and just train them mentally to become mentally tougher and happier and thus handle situations better.  Third, team batting collapses are not something that cricketers or coaches seem to have much interest in discussing.  That is a pity.  By discussing batting collapses as a team, not only can solutions be devised ahead of time in case they arise in the future, but they are an ideal topic to discuss as a united team to improve team communication and team collaboration.  Part of the reason for the lack of attention lies in the fact that batting collapses do not affect strong pre-ball processes.  A cricket-association-level batsman explained this exact point:

‘From a mental point of view, nothing should change in a batting collapse.  The only thing that might change is your decision-making.  For instance, the type of shot you might choose to play may need to change because your risk versus reward analysis has changed due to the fall of wickets.  In other words, you might want to avoid more risky shots, thereby decreasing the risk of getting out until you have accumulated sufficient runs’.”

Question 2:

Do batters have a different mindset when they go out to bat in a collapse?

“Unfortunately, ‘Yes!’  In a nutshell, they tend to become more tentative and less confident.  At a basic level, cricket batting is not that particularly difficult.  For instance, batters receive the ball from the bowler from the same area of the field each time, the mechanics of all shots are not radically different, and there are not that many shots to master.  Compare that with football where the ball can come from all 360 degrees around you, you have to be able to use various parts of your body, and apart from not using your arms, what you can do with your body mechanics is virtually limitless.  What makes cricket really hard, however, is you are given lots of time to think and therefore potentially sabotage your performance.  In between balls you have time to think negatively.  At the end of the over, there’s more time for negative self-reflection.  Then there’s more time at tea and lunch, and if it’s a Test match, you are kindly given four nights to sabotage yourself.  The best cricketers tend to be the ones who most consistently think positively time after time after time.  But even the very best appear to be affected by batting collapses.  For instance, an association cricketer told me:

“I definitely have a different mindset when I go out to bat if the team has collapsed.  The situation requires me to bat differently and absorb some pressure before I can move forward.  Often the guys get frantic and I need to take responsibility to calm the guys down.  In a collapse, I need to analyse who I am batting with.  I start viewing things from a more team perspective and not individual goals.  If we are doing well, then I go out to bat positively, but if there has been a collapse, then I need to consolidate before I look to attack.”

Likewise, a highly experienced international cricketer explained:

‘The biggest thing is that you need to give yourself some time, especially after a collapse, to settle down.  When there’s been a collapse, you tend to be a little more on the defensive note than when you are going in when the team is in a very good place and you can be more aggressive.  Sometimes you see in T20 when there has been a collapse, guys have got themselves and their team out of a very tight spot by being aggressive.  It depends on the format of the game and what the strength of the person batting at the time is.’

And an international coach remarked:

‘Players have a different mindset when a team collapses.  When teams collapse, most cricketer’s mindsets are negative and not ideal.  Cricket is mental and you see it when you get into the middle of the batting line-up.  Some lower-order batters think, ‘Well the top order didn’t do their job and the coach, in fact, no one, is going to expect me to do it as well.  So in that situation, you don’t really get backers putting up their hands and saying to themselves, ‘I’m going to make a difference in this team.’  And they don’t say, ‘I am going to take responsibility and try and scrape through and get a nice partnership going and try and get us to some sort of target.’  I see players using collapses as an easy way out.  The moment the top order collapses, the lower-order can say to themselves, ‘If I get out here as well, no one can point the finger at me.’  It’s just like a downward spiral from there’.”

Question 3:

What do cricketers tend to say to themselves in a batting collapse?

“It really depends on the mental toughness of the cricketer and that is partially a reflection of the level of cricket they are playing at.  Those at the elite level tend to have greater mental toughness and so are likely to downplay the situation as best they can, as this international cricketer explained:

‘In a collapse, I try not to focus too much on the current situation because there really is no point worrying yourself about what happened.  Instead, I try to focus on the ball as much as I can and just play the ball as I see it; on merit.  I just say to myself, ‘Watch the ball, play the ball.’  And really not focus on what has happened, but really look forward to this ball, and the next, and the next, and hopefully that works out well.’

Whereas at association-level, players tend to panic, see a collapse as a massive mountain to climb, focus too much on the specific game scenario, and be affected by negative emotions.  They would be better off becoming more process-oriented (e.g., focus on the ball).  This was supported by a coach who suggested the cricketers should just focus on the ball:

‘I coach my players to concentrate on the next ball.  So, we set really small targets and just focus on the next ball.  Hence, if the scenario is difficult and you know you are on the back foot, and you are 3 or 4 wickets down early, then you just need to focus on the next ball and you really try to get off strike.  The last place you want to be is stuck at one end.  You want to rotate the strike and get to the non-striker’s end.  The moment you start rotating strike, before you know it you have a little partnership going without trying a lot, as you are just focusing on the next ball and its merits’.”

Question 4:

Does the reaction or ‘feel’ of the dressing room a batter is leaving have any impact at all on the nerves/confidence batsmen have, regarding halting a collapse and or putting on a partnership?

“As with your previous question, it really depends on the mental toughness of the cricketer and the level of cricket they are playing at.  At the association level, I notice the athletes and coaches are impacted by others, oftentimes substantially, as this cricketer explained:

‘There is a massive influence from the dressing room.  You feed off each other.  If the general feel in the dressing room is negative, then you are going to walk out with a negative mindset and that negative mindset can be subconscious.  Even if you don’t realise it, it does play a role.’

However, international level cricketers have learnt that to be successful they must ignore irrelevant stimuli:

‘I don’t feel that the reaction or ‘feel’ of the dressing room has much of an impact on the nerves.  If anything, it just reflects the nerves the batter is feeling, and also how confident the batter is when they are walking out.  I think it’s really up to the batter’s confidence.  In other words, are they capable of getting the team out of the rut or not and not the feel of the dressing room.  Usually, the dressing room is encouraging.  Sometimes they may be quiet, but they usually encourage the guy to go in and do well.  So the dressing room has little impact.  It’s all about whether the batter is feeling confident inside or the opposite, very nervous.’

Question 5:

Do batters consider the possibility of collapses from the onset of a batting innings?

“There are definitely some batters with rather unsavoury ideas.  For instance, one cricketer told me:

‘A batsman shouldn’t be thinking about negative things, however, a few do as they are negative people.  They can say things like, ‘If I lose my wicket, then the team will have a collapse.’  Some of the top order think this way and it affects the team negatively as the team notices that they clearly don’t back the team.  Even that can lead to a collapse.’

This might not be as uncommon as you might imagine, as another cricketer mentioned that he had seen that.  However, the vast majority of cricketers do not think about collapses until they happen.  Instead, especially with the T20 version of the game, they believe coaches want positive aggressive action and a mindset to support that:

“I think it’s something that batters react to when it happens.  I can’t say I have been in a training room when we talked about, ‘What if we collapse.’  I think we sometimes talk about, ‘Maybe if we lose one or two early wickets, then this is what we might do.’  But I have never been in a changing room and talked about what we should do if we lose 4 or 5 wickets quickly.  Batters tend to just react to these events when they happen.  I don’t think teams need to have meetings about batting collapses.  Although batting collapses happen, they don’t happen often enough to warrant a meeting.  Instead, you need to work on your game and specific game plans.”

Question 6:

Is there a difference in mental toughness between top-order batters—specifically opening batters—and those who bat lower down the order?

“One of the reasons why I interviewed a few cricketers and coaches before you interviewed me is that I can’t answer your questions in a 100% definite manner, as no one has conducted such research.  I could give you my opinion, but it would only be that, an opinion.  Regardless, most cricketers and coaches believe that mental toughness is important for all players.  As an international cricketer mentioned, ‘The mental side doesn’t change with regards to where a cricketer bats.  The only difference should be the job and the challenge.  Lower-order have a different job compared with openers, but the mental toughness should be high for all.’  I fully agree and research clearly backs up the following: the more mentally tough you are, the more likely you are going to succeed in anything.  The cricketer went on to suggest, ‘I’ve batted in the top order and lower down.  It’s just different situations and circumstances that one faces in these different positions, but there’s no difference in terms of mental toughness between them.’

There are, however, potential differences in how people at varying levels of cricket view this.  Those at the elite level tend to believe everyone needs to have high levels of hardiness, confidence, and mental toughness and my guess is they are correct.  However, people at lower levels tend to think batters in the top order tend to have more mental toughness.  They are correct, ‘that there is a difference between a top-order batsman facing the new ball from a bowler that is fresh and rested, who belongs to a team that is very vibrant and chirpy, compared with a batter lower down the order, facing an older ball that is not moving as much, from bowlers who are a bit more fatigued’, but I suspect if someone measured the mental toughness of cricketers with questionnaires, they would not find mental toughness differences related to batting positions.  The take-away from your question I believe is simple and two-fold.  First, you need high levels of mental toughness.  Second, a highly experienced and well-trained cricket psychologist is far more likely to succeed in helping a cricketer, coach, and administrator increase their mental toughness than any architect, baker, or coach will.

Question 7:

So, are you saying that there are differences in mental toughness between elite players and those at lower levels?

“Yes, and although we don’t currently have research to prove that in cricket, we do in a variety of other sports.  For instance, in Chapter 8 (Mental toughness) of my book I describe research from athletics, cricket, football, rugby league, and tennis which all indicate that high levels of mental toughness appear to be necessary to compete at the highest levels.  All the cricketers and coaches I have talked to about this agree.  For instance, an association-level cricketer told me:

‘There’s a massive difference.  The difference between the elite guys and those who only make it at a lower level is mental.  Take Dean Elgar, his technique isn’t world-class, yet he’s one of the best in the world at what he does.  He proves that it’s not about the technique, but the mindset.”

While an international cricketer suggested:

“At the different levels you are faced with different challenges.  At lower levels, the challenges aren’t that great, but they might appear to be great for the specific individual.  Hence, the individual might be up for it or they might not be up for it.  Definitely the elite players, however, face the greatest challenges and tend to be more mentally tough than at the lower levels.”

Hence, it makes sense that you are going to observe more batting collapses at the amateur level than with the top international teams.  With a slowly, but ever-increasingly more professional approach to sport, the majority of cricketers are learning it’s best not to have negative attitudes when their team collapses.

Question 8:

What is the key point you would emphasize when it comes to batting collapses?

“A batter’s game plan can change to reflect the current circumstances, but their ideal mindset should remain the same.  Cricket is a simple game, but most people don’t perform anywhere near their best and especially not consistently.  The major reason why is because they let one of two things affect their consistency.  Either they are distracted in the actual match or they are distracted in life (e.g., due to non-ideal nutrition, exercise, sleep, thinking, and social support).  You will improve your performance when you learn mental skills to help you stay focused on what matters and ignore the rest.  And you are far more likely to learn these effective mental skills when you use a cricket psychologist, not someone focusing on what worked for them years ago.  So, invest time to train mentally with a professional and maintain an ideal mindset, even if your game plan needs to change.”

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