"You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup" - Bruce Lee.
If there is one thing you cannot accuse of the IPL, or any form of Twenty20 cricket for that matter, it's of the quiet calmness of a cup of water.
Bouncers fly past noses, stumps get destroyed, sixes get bludgeoned and the crowds go berserk (except when Sachin gets out).
It's noisy chaos.
Which is why the secret to success in this format is to be able to filter out all that noise and, as Bruce Lee said, become the cup.
No, it's not new-age nonsense - Bruce Lee kicked serious booty in his time - it means, like water, you are ready to respond to anything that comes your way in exactly the appropriate manner.
If you drop a pebble into water, it ripples the exact right amount. If you throw a rock in, the ripples get bigger but the response from the water remains correct.
It never braces for impact.
The best cricketers are also able to do this. They can ignore extraneous information, distractions and noise and focus on the appropriate response.
That's part of the reason Chris Gayle looks so cool under pressure. To him there is no pressure, there is simply the ball. He knows he is capable of hitting a six every 9 balls in the IPL.
So he waits for the appropriate ball then does so.
Then waits for the next one to come along.
How do you follow the example of Gayle (and water) yourself?
Thinking like water
Cricket seems wonderfully simple, especially when you can sum up mental game by saying "have a mind like water", but the reality is more complex; everyone has a different combination of physical attributes, playing style, confidence and response to stimuli.
However, one thing that always works is having the confidence of understanding your game. That only comes about through;
- Meaningful, deliberate practice
- Experience of success
Going back to our Gayle example, he can stay calm because he spent endless hours practising as a youngster, which lead to him scoring runs in the middle.
As he scored more runs, he learned a method that worked perfectly for him. He knew when and where to hit boundaries, block it, or rotate the strike. The sheer number of balls he hit both in the nets and in games had taught him what worked and what didn't.
This then game him the confidence to stop worrying about everything irrelevant and focus on his way of playing. Then when Twenty20 came along he found he was built both physically and mentally to excel.
This is not just a story of a big hitting batter. It's true for fast bowlers, spinners, stroke makers and wicketkeepers. Every single one has a database of practice and play from which to draw the confidence to just play, never over-think and always be like water.
You might be thinking "that's all well and good for these heroic IPL guys, but what do I do when I'm in the middle and panicking? All this natter about water doesn't help! I'm worried now!"
Getting THE FEAR in games is very common, although not universal. Ian Pont calls it "the power of the preceding delivery", where you bowl a bad ball (or play a bad shot) and start to worry about it so much it dominates your thoughts for the next ball, the next over, the next match and even the whole next season!
Confidence is a big way to beat THE FEAR, but until you have that, the best thing to do is,
- Learn to recognise when your worries are taking you out of the moment.
- Have a method for getting yourself back into the moment and forgetting your fear.
One thing that works for many types who worry is to use triggers, or a simple phrase you can say to yourself that gets you back to open and ready for the next ball.
Of course, this trick is only as effective as your ability to plan how to pull off your role in the match and put it into action on the fly. So you still need to be able to think clearly about game situations. Something that Michael Bevan was a master of, so if you struggle with the tactical side, its crucial to learn this from someone who has the experience.
Overall, it's a slow process and a path that only you can take. You can get advice along the way; technical, tactical and mental tips all have a place in helping you achieve a mind like water, but in the end it must be you finding your way of doing it.
That's how everyone from Gayle to Malinga did it to get IPL success.