The franchise based T20 leagues around the world have recently had their fair share of the publicity and hype in the media but there is a different feeling in the air when a World Cup comes around, whether 50 or 20 overs. For the players, there is a lot more than money on the line: the pride of a nation, the expectations of the people and the right to call themselves ‘World Champions.’
While most of us could have predicted which teams would advance to the Super Eights with some degree of certainty, predicting what will follow in the next few days will require some sort of supernatural powers. The tournament is now set up to be one of the most open and captivating global ICC tournaments held in recent history. As we enter the ‘business end’ of the tournament, the question now becomes –What is it that will determine this year’s World T20 champion?
Knowledge of local conditions provides little advantage to teams from the subcontinent as it used to with the recent rise of franchise based cricket. Many players from countries such as New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and England, who once found these conditions foreign, now feel very much at home. The case for familiarity of conditions for teams from the subcontinent is further weakened given the recent change in pitch-conditions in Sri Lanka from the traditional slow, low turners to seamer-friendly tracks providing decent carry.
Although a handful of teams such as South Africa and Pakistan have been in relatively good form in the last few weeks, T20 is not a format that lends itself to predictions based on form-analysis. Given the shorter format and the ability of one or two players changing the course of the game within a couple of overs, there is no such thing as form in T20 cricket. I would caution the gurus and fans trying to predict winners on recent form. "Form" can be gained or lost with one game.
For me, this World T20 is about handling pressure and having self belief. With so many of the teams evenly matched on paper, a lot of games will go down to the wire and undoubtedly test the character of the players and the cohesiveness of the teams. Pressure is often experienced as a constraining influence on the mind, or an urgent demand that must be met. The critical concept in dealing with pressure is to realize that there is no such thing as competition pressure, except what you make of it in your mind. One also must be aware that it isn’t necessarily bad – it can enhance motivation, concentration and overall performance. That feeling of stress that often accompanies a pressure situation can help keep players on their toes, ready to rise to a challenge.
We’ve seen pressure both propel and paralyze cricket teams over the last few years. Australia has historically been a team that has thrived under pressure. John Buchanan and Steve Waugh furthered Australia’s ability to handle pressure when they decided to emphasize two simple ideas – focus on the process, not the outcome and practice at the same level you compete at.The first eliminates an uncontrollable (the major contributor of stress) and the second trains the body to control its involuntary biological reactions through repetition. South Africa has been on the other end of the spectrum in the recent past. The term "chokers" is eternally associated with the South African cricket team and maybe for good reason too. South Africa has had the strongest and most talented team on many occasions, however, they still haven’t managed to lift the silverware at a major ICC event. Why? Because when the stakes are high, they have not been able to get the mind and body to work together. And that is what pressure can do.
The teams that are able to develop a positive attitude towards pressure and maintain an unwavering self-belief will go the distance over the next few days.