Grace under pressure a rare commodity

Handling pressure is bad enough. To react badly to it doesn't really do any good to the cause of any professional athlete.

By R. Mohan

‘Life is very similar to a boxing ring. Defeat is not declared when you fall, it’s declared only when you refuse to get up.’ This is just a piece of early morning wisdom that comes via a daily SMS, which sometimes injects a bit of positive thinking into a day. It finds a place here because it is so applicable to Team India and its travails Down Under, now relieved somewhat by a masterclass of an innings from the young Virat Kohli. 

Until Kohli came up with this whirlwind innings that to be rated among the best played by an Indian batsman in the face of adversity and in a stiff run chase, very little had gone right for the team Down Under. The delight on Kohli’s face on getting to his hundred and on finally steering the team home told the whole tale of a batsman who had been ‘in the zone’ in nearly the entire course of his stay at the crease.

The two faces of Indian cricketers on tour were completed by this smiling visage glowing in victory. Ironically, the same cricketer, rated by all as the biggest success of the tour both in the Tests and the ODIs, had given the fans the ‘bird’ (that ugly gesture with two fingers the most cultured would not countenance using) when heckled on the western side of the massive continent. But then it’s been that kind of a tour for the Indians.

A man’s character is judged by how he behaves in defeat. Victory makes him the sweetest of men. Grace under pressure is a quality that is all too rare, especially in sportsmen who unlike most other human beings are inured to savouring victory and experiencing defeat every other day. This interplay of emotions against a backdrop of pendulous fortunes in the sporting arena is not easy to handle, particularly for young sportsmen.

 The cricket world is so diffuse now there are matches every other day and the cluttered programme is such no cricketer has to make any extra effort to view victory and defeat as two imposters as Rudyard Kipling wanted us to treat them as. And yet it is never easy for those who have climbed the rungs and have helped established team standards of performance. For them, pro sport brings in different kinds of pressures.

It is probably even harder for famous Indian cricketers who have to deal with the massive expectations of a billion-plus people. To come to terms with the swing of sporting fortunes depending on which adulation of fans takes them to the heights one day or converts them into effigy-burning figures of hate the next is no mean task for sensitive young cricketers. There are no great support systems either to prepare the young for such an ordeal.

Given the competitive nature of the sport and the feelings that can be whipped up by perceived umpiring double standards, the task becomes even harder for a tourist. There could have been no more blatant case of the laws being breached than when David Hussey put out his hand to fend off the ball heading roughly in his direction. Even the blocking of Sachin Tendulkar’s passage could be argued for long without a forceful conclusion but not the case of ‘obstructing the field’ or even ‘handling the ball’ when it is in play.

When an obvious double standard crops up on the same day there is reason to feel aggrieved. Even so, it appeared the Indians laboured the point through their spokesman and captain. To mention it as clear cases of questionable umpiring was fair enough in days in which the ICC can no more act as repressors of free speech. But to keep harping on it seemed too drawn out and could be prejudicial to team morale. There are bigger battles for Indian cricket to fight than umpiring prejudice.

All these storms in a tea cup will be forgotten after the last ball is bowled. What may be remembered is the attitude of sportsmen to the vagaries of sport. This is where Team India may have failed somewhat on tour. Being whitewashed in one series may impel teams to perform and extract revenge in suitable conditions. It may take longer to repair the image if it is sullied by sourness in the face of pressure.

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