The first four games that Edmonton Royals played in this year’s GT20, they lost.
The first was a two-wicket defeat. The second, they fell short by 27 runs. The third they lost by four wickets, with two balls remaining. In fourth, they were overpowered by six wickets.
Today, in their fifth game, they tasted victory. And they remain in contention for the play-offs. Just.
The Royals may have occupied the bottom of the table, but they haven’t necessarily been the worst team in the tournament. Some players have produced thrilling innings, some tight spells. They got close in three of the first four games. And as Mohammad Hafeez said after the win: when some players did well, others didn’t help them cross the finish line. Ben Cutting had something similar to say after their fourth defeat last evening, but then added: “We are still playing some good cricket.”
The grammar of cricket contains an awful lot of clichés. And players often toss these out when describing victory and defeat. But dig a bit deeper and clichés can offer a glimpse into the players’ mindsets.
Take the case of Shadab Khan. Last evening, he dropped Gayle early in his innings – off his own bowling – and ended up leaking 66 runs in his four overs, including 32 in one over of carnage. Today he was brought on to bowl when Chris Lynn and Shaiman Anwar had blasted 63 in the first five overs – and were looking to erect a superstructure.
Shadab’s first over cost 6. In his next over he conceded 2 and picked up the wicket of the red-hot Anwar. In the third over, he dismissed both the dangerous Lynn and Dwayne Smith. And in his final over, he conceded 14. That meant he ended with figures of 4-0-23-3 – putting the brakes on the opposition and boosting his team’s chances.
What did Shadab think of the vastly different returns across two days?
“As a professional cricketer you are bound to have a bad day,” he said today. “Yesterday was a bad day for me and I knew that I won’t perform so badly every day. So I try to keep my confidence and perform well the next day.”
Cricketers use the word “confidence” so often that it may sometimes seem like a filler. Cutting used it at the press conference. Hafeez used it. And today’s Man of the Match Anshuman Rath used it too.
What exactly do they mean?
“I often tell people that cricket is a worst sport to be a professional,” says a smiling Anshuman, the 21-year-old batsman who captains Hong Kong. “It’s a sport where you fail more than you succeed. At the start of the tournament, I wasn’t hitting the ball too well and was batting lower down the order. You have a lot of time to think about all this, and people start to doubt themselves. And self-doubt can have a massive effect on your performance. So it’s all about confidence. That’s why Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo have done it for so long. Because they’re very confident individuals. Rather than doubting yourself it’s about switching off and switching on at the right time. It’s a game where you can’t be too harsh on yourself.”
Anshuman, who was asked to open the batting for the first time in this tournament, guided the Royals’ chase with his 50-ball 87. He also had a fine day behind the stumps, taking two sharp catches and pulling off a stumping. After a challenging start to the tournament, he seemed to be coming into his own. And for that he credits the Royals’ coach Stephen Fleming foremost.
“When you’ve lost four games in a row, it’s very easy for a coach to get frustrated and start having a go at the players. Fleming has been amazing. He’s very relaxed and keeps saying, ‘You’re all here for a reason, we’ll back you.’ He’s been a main contributor towards us saying positive.
“The international stars are brilliant. They’re very relaxed, very focused. They know when to be serious on the field, but they know when to have a laugh off the field. Neesham had such a good World Cup but the other day he had a poor last over. He just forgets about it. And the very next day, his mind is back on. It’s very reassuring that even these players go through tough times. For those of us from Associate teams, we always have demons in our head – when’s our next game, we must relish this opportunity…. But in tournaments like these we understand how the best in the world go about their routines.”
The GT20 has given players like Anshuman a chance to benefit from being around the stars. But, as Hafeez pointed out rather astutely, it has also worked the other way.
“Today, we sent Anshuman to open. We gave him a chance. And he showed us how to win. It’s not necessary that you only learn from older people. You can learn from younger people also.”