Sunday, June 3, 2012

Bob Woolmer's Art and Science of Cricket - Bob Woolmer, Prof. Tim Noakes and Dr. Helen Moffet

Bob Woolmer was a cricketer who gave pretty much everything to the game and someone who sadly died while on duty as coach to Pakistan in the 2007 World Cup in West Indies. He was a cricketer of reasonably good standing, having played for England in International cricket, but it was as a coach that he made a big impression, bringing technology into the game and trying to make the game better in his own way.
Woolmer's Art and Science of Cricket, Supernova Publishers

I saw this book, a 654 page tome (30 pounds, Supernova Publishers), which Rajesh had bought, and wondered what Woolmer and his co-authors, Professor Tim Noakes and Dr.Helen Moffet, wrote in such great detail. This was the book that he was in the process of completing when he passed away suddenly. I flipped through the pages and saw some pictures and familiar shots of cricketing techniques being demonstrated but what caught my attention was the first part which contained a large section called 'The Mind Game'. Appropriately, this section got almost 70 pages and I thought that was interesting. There have been enough books on technique, rules and regulations anyway.

Right up front in the Mind Game section comes the quote from Tony Francis, the author of the book 'Zen and Cricket' - who says that he became three times the player he was by getting his thinking right. Francis went to the extent of saying that he believed that cricket at the professional level is 90% in the mind and only 10% raw ability. (I think its true even at other levels.) And then the book quotes Sandy Gordon, the well-known Australian mental toughness coach, and his definition of mental toughness - as the ability to "(a) Generally, cope better than your opponents with the demands of the game and (b) Specifically, to be more consistent and better than the opponents in remaining determined, focussed, confident and in control under pressure."

With certain examples the book deals with the mental toughness part. How some crumble under criticism (which one gets a lot of, beyond a level anyway) and how some turn it into success. The book deals with basic mental techniques such as Deep Breathing, Deep Relaxation (including hypnosis) and Visualization. At a basic level they can be used by anyone to prepare better for games. Interesting to know how Wasim Akram used hypnosis (from his wife) to perofrm better in big games.

The book then delves into the psychology of the player and his fears that affect his performance - fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of success, fear of injury and fear of losing form. While on that the book delves into the 5 lessons that Steve Waugh learnt from his failure - (1) Ask for help (2) Learn from the opponents (3) Use good luck charms only to get morale up and not bring morale down (4) Find out what works for you as a preparation and stick with it and (5) Relish the challenge of playing the best. This he learnt on a tough tour against India in India.

On mental strategies for batting the book talks of preparing for the innings being the key - so the mind is at rest and fully geared up. Getting information about the pitch, the weather, the opponents, the grounds, the refreshments available to start with. Also getting the gear completely ready well before the game so there are no surprises. Also, to participate proactively in team talks and enlist family support to complete the circle. Woolmer's personal strategy is about visualising the perfect innings one has played so one is in that frame of mind and carry it to the next day. Woolmer recommends it before big games. There are some tips on handling danger points in the innings (the 30s and the 70s apart from the beginning of the inning) and how to counter sledging.

For bowlers the book emphasises the importance of getting psyched up. Here he brings in some wonderful points from Peter Philpott's book 'The Art of Wrist Spin Bowling" where he says that the bowler has to "clear the mind of everything except what you want to bowl and where". He says the bowler has to decide first on that and concentrate on that fully. Bowlers can gain from the concept of Circle of Concentration - which is about things the bowler can control such as to (1) steady oneself (2) grip the ball properly (3) make up the mind about what to bowl and where (4) run in rhythmically (5) stare at target (6) have a clear mind and (7) bowl. All else about the batsman, the spectators, the pitch, the weather, and all other things that we cannot control and should be blanked out.

There are several chapters that cover techniques of batting, bowling, fielding and wicket keeping which most other books do. I found nothing new here and that was rather disappointing. I did find an excerpt from Richie Benaud's book about the atributes a slow bowler should have interesting (or any bowler in general) which include Patience, Concentration, Economy, Attitude and Practice.

There are chapters that discuss Strategies and Captaincy, Use of Statistics, Coaching, Cricket and Science and the Future of the Game. I read briefly through these - though they may interest an academic.

To me the book was rather confused in the target it was writing for. It has techniques for the beginner but also deals with the pressures of a cricketer including women and sex (which only international cricketers would be exposed to). The statistics and scientific aspects would appeal to some academics perhaps. In strategies and captaincy I found little insight. With the services of the South African team and his vast experience and access to all International cricketers and authorities, I expected more meat, more finer points on the 'keys' that guide all the aspects than mere 'how to' of the technique. It fell short of my expectations over all but its singular biggest contribution was bringing the mental part right up front in the book for me. But its an honest and comprehensive effort that tries to cover as many aspects of the game and its history and its future and for that I appreciate what it tries to convey. More depth, more content, more live examples from internationals, would have given this book an edge that no other book has. A lost opportunity. Rather steep at its price as well. But for one who has not read a book on the 'Art and Science of Cricket' in contemporary days, this book is a good one to have, though, it may not be the best in covering all the aspects.

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