“On deadly ground, fight…Throw your soldiers into positions whence there is no escape…and there is nothing they may not achieve.” So wrote Sun Tzu, in his Art of War.
That sounds like fighting talk…but what does a Chinese general, strategist and philosopher, writing some 2,500 years ago, have to say about cricket?
I watched the second innings of an indoor game yesterday morning. With little chance of defending a very low first innings total, the bowling side took the only approach open to them – to try to bowl the opposition out. And they succeeded.
OK. Division 3 of a local indoor cricket competition is hardly Sun Tzu’s “deadly ground”, but with nothing to lose, they produced a performance as convincing as any I have seen.
So perhaps there is something in this, for the future of “good cricket”.
“…there is nothing they may not achieve”
The team batting first scored just 61. A good score in this competition might be 100, or more, so the total was a very long way short of par.
When their turn came to bowl, the skipper rotated his top three bowlers, alternating pace and flighted spin, supported keenly in the field.
And to really drive home the commitment to fighting for the win, rather than lobbing the ball gently back to the bowler, or rolling it back along the ground (I have seen this, even in senior 1st XI), the ball was whizzed around the field, from hand to hand, at pace. I have seen this done at professional twenty20 matches and (with more effect, given the catching gloves) in baseball. It can look look like showing off – yesterday morning, it gave exactly the right impression of competence and aggression in the field.
And the pressure told. Two early run outs and a sharp catch put the batting team immediately behind the clock. And they subsided for just 38, defeated by a team committed to escaping from “deadly ground.”
Of course, I am not advocating deliberately under-performing for half the game, only to switch to “deadly ground” mode and produce a triumphant do-or-die last innings. Why not take this approach from the first ball of the game (from the first moment of pre-season practice, even)?
And it is probably easier, psychologically, to produce this type of effort in a shorter form of the game – if you lose indoors, it is only an hour of your day; lose on a Saturday afternoon and it is 6 hours, plus (probably) an hour or more travel, plus League points and bragging rights with the opposition if you play them often.
But maybe this should not be true – if you have bothered to take the time to play, why not do it “properly” every time? And that is the coach’s challenge (and the captain’s, and the players’) – to instil that commitment, not to winning at all costs, but to competing, to playing good cricket.
It has to be more fun to commit to winning every game (actively winning it, rather than passively not losing). And results will (almost certainly) be better.