Confidence and Hypocrisy
Neil Pickup | 1:49pm gmt 10 Feb 2008
It's remarkable how two miles and two weeks can spin your life around on its axis, thrusting you from one side of a situation into the other, and forcing you to question everything you think, and everything you believe in.
Last weekend I had a net session that, as I pulled my helmet from my head, I described as being "about as much fun as being shot at". Seeing (or failing to see) a cricket ball fizz through a space that was occupied, only a few hundredths of a second before, by your face, has the curious effect of making you wonder one thing: "why?"
So I back away to length balls, back-of-a-length balls and short of a length balls, as well as anything on middle stump or leg stump. That's not news. It's embarrassing, it's pathetic, and it barely qualifies under even the vaguest, broadest definition of batsmanship, but it's not new: and it's not what this column's about either. This column's going to be about two conversations I've had in the past two weeks: one that evening, with a 1st XI player at Bicester, and one from earlier in the term, with a ten-year-old during school nets. The following transcripts may not be verbatim records.
Rewind to January 22...
Me: You batted well there. After what you'd said ["I'm really rubbish"] I wasn't expecting anything like that.
Child: It wasn't that good.
Me: You hit almost everything. I've seen plenty of batsmen who are much, much worse than that.
Child: But I play everything off the back foot...
Me: Stop looking for a downside to everything! You batted well.
Child: I've never thought of myself as a batsman - and the way I bowled today, I'm not much of a bowler, either.
Rewind to February 3...
Player: Did you enjoy that?
Me: No. Not the batting part at least. That was horrible. I was so far out of my depth.
Player: Are you sure? You seem like you've got a bit of a downer on yourself. You played some good shots.
Me: I'm fine if it's full and outside my off stump. But anything else and I just get out the way. I was backing away at least one, two, three times, every ball.
(... short, irrelevant exchange as we established that I knew what I had to do, and was an experienced coach, I just couldn't get myself to do it ...)
Player: Don't you find it a challenge?
Me: I do... just in there it was so far beyond my reach that it was, brutally honestly, nothing more than frightening.
We then proceed to, briefly, discuss which of the club's four teams I would be out of my depth in, and the furthest I managed to argue him down to was between the 2nds and 3rds. Yes, I bowled well this evening: the ball found a line regularly and a length more often than not... but could I really play regular cricket in a team that isn't bottom of its club ladder?
Why am I so utterly lacking in confidence in my own game? Why I am so quick to lower myself into the position of that ten-year-old, a position I noticed and rallied against so recently? What is so wrong inside my head that it finds itself unable to follow even a single letter of its own advice?
There is something about cricket, I think, something about sheer isolation. It might be just you, facing a red leather missile without the tools to deal with it. It could be you, offering up hope rather than expectation: and fetching the long hop from deep midwicket. Ask Marcus Trescothick, Shaun Tait or Lou Vincent. With the coach's hat on you are outside of that two-man bubble, your finger on another pulse and your eyes seeing "why".
With bat and ball in hand, you never see the position of your back foot, your front arm, your backswing. You only experience the result: the frustration of the cowshot sending you over midwicket, or the cramp as you stumble away from the crease. The coach's perspective is not an option: there is no time to explain or correct. There is simply defeat.
It is often said that the loneliest position in sport is that of a goalkeeper, the moment after he concedes a soft goal. Yet the goalie has the knowledge that he is not facing the same treatment for the next five deliveries.
It is you against your opponent.
It is you against the system.
It is you against yourself.