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'Talking back won't annoy Aussies'
October 09, 2007
I've been reading your comments in the press after the Twenty20 World Cup win and till the halfway stage of the Future Cup, and I am sorry to say you've gotten it all wrong.
And this is placing pressure on your game, at a time when you need consistency of performance, and a galvanized attitude, to be successful against Australia.
Three things have been common to your opening matches: open aggressiveness, verbal sledging, and a belief that you are standing up to Australia.
What you need to understand is that these three things are not about physical actions, but about a mental attitude. It is about how you want to think, play and perform in each of the disciplines: batting, bowling, and fielding.
To understand this, you need to first understand how the Australians do it. Out on the field, the Australian players will say things -- little comments, quips, about your game, about your weaknesses. They will also talk of what is going well for them as a team; at times, they will talk about how you failed at key moments in previous games, and how they intend to capitalize on your weaknesses.
They will remind you of the price of failure; they will remind you of what people in your country do when you fail, how they burn your effigies and attack your homes.
The Aussies know that the equation is simple: pressure plus expectation equals failure. They know that the pressure is on you, from your own countrymen, to succeed, and they will use that as a weapon.
Most of the time, these comments will not be addressed directly to you -- the fielders will talk to each other, always in such a way that you can hear. This tactic works in two ways: they continue to build pressure on you, in the hope that it will affect your concentration and morale, and at the same time, it keeps the Aussies themselves focused on your weaknesses, and what they have to do to exploit them.
It is a lot like fishing: you keep tossing out small pieces of bait, and wait for a bite. Once you take that bait, the Aussies will tell each other that they have your number, that what they have been saying about you is true -- and then they will sit back and watch your game unravel.
Sooner or later, you will get out -- and as you walk away, they will confirm, again loud enough for you to hear, that their strategy worked perfectly and that you fell into their trap.
This is intended to annoy you, to make you go back to your dressing room with a negative attitude. You will be angry, you will whinge about them as a team and as a people, and that also plays into the Aussies' hands, because in doing that you will infect the next batsman coming in to bat, who will take guard in a negative frame of mind.
These are not new strategies: the Aussies have practiced them on all kinds of opponents for years. What I fail to understand is, who told you that "standing up to them" means talking back?
I noticed that some of your players have been trying to fight verbal fire with fire -- but what makes you think that will work against a side that has a Masters degree in the art of verbal intimidation?
Talking back won't do the trick for you. What you need to do is use the sledging to sharpen your own intensity. Ignore the banter or, better still, when you feel the need to talk, talk to one another, and not to the Aussies.
If you are batting, and getting your share of the jibes, walk up to your partner, chat casually, laugh, and walk back to the business end -- all the time ignoring the Aussies completely.
Your talking back won't annoy them � they have heard backchat from experts, without getting fazed. But if you ignore them, that gets under their skin � especially if you and your partner seem to be enjoying some private joke they can't hear.
When you do that, you will see them go quiet, they will feel a little lost because they are tossing out bait but no one is biting, they are not getting anything back to feed off; you are not providing any fuel that will keep their fire burning.
At the same time, the tactic helps keep you focused on what you have to do, so in time, you end up gaining the upper hand.
Australians respect an opponent who stands up for himself -- but only if the opponent can show that he cannot be gotten at mentally. If you show that sledging actually galvanizes you and helps you up your performance a gear, they will go quiet, and lose that aggressive edge.
This is true whether you are bowling or batting. And then there is aggressiveness in the field � which is not just about chattering in between deliveries; that tactic only makes the Aussies more determined.
Real aggressiveness on the field is an attitude that says, nothing you hit will get past me. It manifests itself in making great stops, firing in returns to the keeper and the bowler; it means attacking the ball inside the ring -- and when you field and return the ball, it also means running as close to the wicket as you can, just to let the batsman know you are there, you are in his face, and you want and relish the competition.
It is this kind of aggressiveness that works against the Aussies -- not the kind you displayed in the first three games, which are about getting angry and reacting and making faces at them.
The Aussies love that kind of "aggression", which is actually called losing your head. What they don't like is a controlled, well-planned group of competitors who know their game, and have the will to implement their own game plans. That kind of group, that attitude, takes away from the Aussies their sense of control and momentum, and that is when as a team they get uncomfortable.
Also, they like to banter with each other, they like it when their banter works, when it gets under your skin. They feed on that, they use it to give each other the confidence that lets them make the big plays.
But if you ignore their banter, or if you meet it with banter among yourselves while upping your own game and playing aggressively with the bat and ball, and in the field, they tend to wilt a little -- and that is your chance to get the upper hand.
I read somewhere how Sreesanth [Images] had read Steve Waugh's book and learnt aggression from it. He is right about what he read, but what he hasn't understood is that when you attacked Waugh, he would burn up inside, and use that burn to get a controlled, implacable focus that he then brought to his game. What he would not do, though, is let his opponent know at any point what he was feeling inside.
I hope you guys understand what I am trying to say. Good luck India -- you guys have the richest administration and the biggest talent bank in the world of cricket; once your talented youth receives the opportunities it needs, and you galvanize as a group, the world can be your oyster.
Gavin Robertson is a former Australia off-spinner