All International sportsmen, cricketers included, are well equipped in their sport, physically, mentally as well as emotionally. Still some players and teams are more successful than others. What is it that sets them apart from the rest?
The answer is, the above three factors enable one to become a good participant, but there is a fourth factor that separates the best from the rest. It is spirit (or passion or faith or belief for that matter). Spirit is the power that propels us past our mental, emotional and physical limitations.
In the absence of spirit one needs to get externally motivated frequently and any shortage of this external motivation gives rise to self doubts and resultant drop in performance. On the other hand, the motivation comes from within in the presence of spirit. This self motivation sustains itself in a player and help raise the playing standard quite considerably. It turbo charges the player and the team.
Let us take some real life examples. In Tennis, Jimmy Connors used to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat against players who were technically better equipped than himself, because Connors was able to get himself roused into the turbo charged zone which gave him extra energy to turn the tables on his opponents. To take an example from nearby, Leander Paes, the Indian tennis player has a very modest record in singles, but in Davis cup, he was able to rouse himself into that zone and could frequently defeat any player however high his ranking might be, in singles. Interestingly, Paes could raise himself to play above himself only when he was playing for his country. He would lose tamely to the same player in other tournaments.
To take the example of cricket, Pakistan were constantly able to raise their game against India and win from impossible situations till a few years back. Interestingly, Pakistan were able to do it only against India. They were largely flat against teams like Australia and South Africa.
Why Pakistan could not beat India this time the way they used to do till recently? Why they could not bring their spirit into play this time? The answer, in my opinion, is that they were not allowed to bring their spirit into play by India.
Masud demoralized the Windies
India have grown extremely tough in the last few years. They had the physical, mental and emotional strengths in the past also, but now they have added spirit (passion) which has almost gone unnoticed by many.
When the crunch comes and the match/series is in the balance, the Indians can now raise their game, something which Pakistan were able to do against India in the past and change the complexion of the game/series.
In the 4th ODI of the recently concluded series in Pakistan, India were on the mat. Shoaib Akhtar was on fire and top Indian batsmen e.g. Tendulkar, Sehwag, Ganguli, Laxman were all at sea. One could make out that they were not able to see the deliveries of Shoaib and Sami. In reply to a huge target of 293, India seemed down and out at 4 down for 90 odd runs. Rahul Dravid was still there. He frustrated the Pakistani bowlers so much in the company of Yuvraj and then Kaif that the spirit of Pakistan was effectively broken.
A batsman like Lara can take a match away from the opposition but he cannot break the spirit of the opposition. The opposition feel that they have a chance in the next game. That is not the case with Dravid. He frustrates the opposition so much that the opposition gets dispirited for the whole series and for the future as well. This was proved in the third test where again the series was in the balance with India at 130 for 3 replying to Pak total of 200+. Shoaib was on fire again, but the sight of Dravid and the memory of the ODI series came to haunt him. He got dispirited and got injured never to come back again in the match to bowl. Shoaib has been widely condemned for not bowling again. Shoaib can bowl well even when injured as he has been proving now a days, but most people have not taken into account the effect Dravid had on him. He can frustrate the opposition and suck their spirit for a long time.
That is why I think Dravid is the most dangerous batsman in the world. He changes the course of present as well as future matches. Next time when Pakistan plays India, they will still be haunted and will not be able to play to the best of their ability against India.
Javed Miandad did similar damage to India in 1986. India were ahead of Pakistan for 99.5 overs and only one more ball was left to be bowled. That one ball, which went for the winning six broke India's spirit against Pakistan for the next 15 years. Thus Miandad decided the results of Indo-Pak matches for next 15 years with that single stroke.
Steve Waugh of Australia is the biggest spirit breaker of recent times. His knocks against South Africa in tests and ODIs broke the spirit of South Africa so much that till date they have not been able to recover and they continue to lose to Australia rather tamely. Same is the case of England against Australia.
Thus spirit in the team acts two ways. It helps raise the level of one's team and helps break the spirit of the opposition softening them much more effectively than a bouncer.
Australia have been world champions because of their ability to do irreparable psychological damage to the opponents by breaking their spirit. India were the only team who refused to get browbeaten because they have also learnt to do the same to the opposition. That is why their forthcoming series is so eagerly awaited. Both are spirited teams and it is to be seen who can break the spirit of the other.
In "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban", a film released recently, Dementors were the most feared creatures because they sucked the soul. Both teams are full of cricketing Dementors and that is why their clash is as eagerly awaited as the above mentioned Harry Potter film.
My opinion is that one needs spirit (passion) to maximise one's output. Bangladesh should look to turbo charge its team by learning to play with passion. It is not that only top teams can show passion, any team can learn to play with passion to maximise the achievement. That is what Kenya did in the previous world cup and Zimbabwe did in the world cup prior to that.
In the just concluded test series of WI vs BD, BD did well enough in the first test for Lara to threaten to resign if the Windies failed to win the second test. In effect BD had managed to bring down WI spirits. It is clear now that the absence of Whatmore for the second test robbed Bangladesh of the external motivation that the players needed regularly. If the BD players could have learnt to play with passion, they would not have missed Whatmore's motivational talks. They could have stayed motivated on their own and who knew, WI would have had a new captain by now. Just imagine what disarray this could have caused in the WI cricket. I felt that Bangladesh missed a golden chance of playing Dementors against the Windies in the Kingston test.