After suffering fourth-innings batting collapse two times on batting wickets in the UAE, Pakistan team under Sarfraz’s capatincy and Micky Aurther’s coaching has reached South Africa to play three Tests, five one-dayers and three T20 matches. The mettle of Sarfraz eleven will be tested by Du Plessis’s attack on bouncy South African tracks for over 45 days in conditions that give advantage to hosts.
This will not just be the test of Pakistani batsmen techniques on seeming tracks but the conditions will also throw mental challenges to the visitors who have little time to adjust in South Africa before facing Rabada, Steyn and Philander in the boxing day Test at Super Sport Park in Centurion.
More than the vulnerability of batting techniques, it’s the mental fitness that will be tested during the tour.
PCB hired the services of various psychologists and paid them heavily but they failed to add any value to the psychological capacity of our players, who usually give in under and commit costly mistakes at critical moments of game.
It is a fact that there is hardly any renowned sports psychologist in the country and our sportspersons despite having loads of talent are relatively less educated to understand, absorb and apply the sport psychology techniques that can help them become mentally robust athletes.
In such situations, it becomes difficult for the coaching staff to make players realise the value of intensity, relaxation, positive images, perspectives, goals, connections, composure under pressure, consistency and resilience. Our talented players don’t understand the pathway of sport psychology cycle that emanates from commitment and passes through ongoing learning, distraction control, confidence, positive images, mental readiness and focus to achieve the ultimate objective. Learning and application of this cycle is a science which can only be installed by a qualified sport psychologist.
Our team is already in South Africa and there is no time left to understand and apply the complicated sport psychology techniques. The players, however, need to keep their focus right and should be in right zone to give their best during the tour.
Daisetz T. Suzuki once said that “Child likeness has to be restored with long years of training in the art of self forgetfulness. When this is attained, man does his great works. He thinks yet he does not think.”.
The above statement of Setz Suzuki is the essence of Zen Philosophy, a two thousand years old Chinese art of improving focus and connections in any sports. Much about Zen has been written in a book titled “Tao Te Ching” (The Book of the Way) by Lao-tzu. The book has been translated into many languages and is an ocean of wealth for athletes and coaches who want to know the value of connecting and not overthinking in critical moments of sports and life.
When players come under stress due to any personal problem or bad performance, he or she starts condemning, questioning and reflecting. By doing so, the athlete becomes disconnected, tentative and distracted. The original and natural childlike bond between mind and mind, mind and body, mind and task, mind and creation or mind and nature is broken. The coach fails to educate the player that there are times for thinking and reflection, but there are also times for connecting totally with what you are doing thus leaving your conscious thinking behind. Performance in sports is a time for connection rather than reflection and this is what our players should understand while performing in South Africa.
They need to understand a little about the Zen connection which is something like wind that you can’t grab in your hand, but you can breath it and feel it as it becomes part of you.
To enter the Zen zone, the players should let go of forcing the things, stop thinking of the outcomes, connect only to the doing in present, being the being and being all here, completely present and being fully connected, thus achieving the goal of pure connection.
Daisetz T. Suzuki (1193) in his book Zen and Japanese Culture touched eloquently on all aspects of Zen. While discussing the connection between Zen and ancient art of swordsmanship, he states that if one really wishes to be master of an art, technical knowledge is not enough. One has to transcend the technique. The player must let the unconscious come forward. In such case, you cease to be your own conscious master but become an instrument in the hands of unknown. It is for this reason that sword moves where it ought to move. To excel or even survive, a swordsman has to free himself of all ideas of life and death, gain or loss, right and wrong and give himself upto a power that lives deep within him.
The bat would be the sword in the hands of our cricketers in South Africa. How they focus and battle themselves against South African attack is just a matter of time now. There is no more time left to work on improving the techniques of game, but to apply themselves with calm and connection. The fielders will have to support our decent bowling attack to get the desired results.
The series will make and break a few. Imam-ul-Haq will have to prove that it’s neither Imzmam nor the placid UAE wickets that support him but it’s the quality of his batting that matters. Babar Azam, Asad Shafiq and Haris Sohail will form the backbone of Pakistani batting. Muhammad Amir will get the last chance to prove his worth. The leadership of Sarfraz despite support from Wasim Akram is under scrutiny. In such a situation, distracting thought and emotions could result in a swordsman failing to see or direct the movements of the enemy’s sword with the immediacy of the moon casting its reflections on the water.
Our players according to Zen philosophy will have to turn themselves into dolls made of wood that has no ego, thinks nothing and let the body and limbs work themselves out in accordance with the discipline it has undergone. This is the only way to win in South Africa.