21 November 2018

There’s always just one more game left

Focus is what every coach at one time or another will tell those under his or her charge. It’s not something that’s easy to teach. Certain people seem born to be dogged, able to absorb all pressure and be totally oblivious to things external to the matter at hand. Many are not. 

It is easy to let situations get under one’s skin, so to speak. Often it’s a personal issue, but sometimes it is actually related to the game, whatever it may be. Maybe the particular player is upset about something tragic in his or her personal life. It could also be a run of poor form. It could be that he or she suddenly finds himself or herself in a back-to-the-wall situation.  

It could happen in any sport and at any level too. At stumps on the second day of the 113th Battle of the Blues (between Royal and St Thomas’, Mt Lavinia), Royal were 53 for 4, after the Thomians declared their first innings at 328 for 9 with a lead of 183.  Royal lost their fifth wicket early on the third day and few would have imagined that the match would even last until the lunch interval.

What happened subsequently is now part of the epic history of the Roy-Tho encounter. Gamini Perera scored 144 and Royal went on to score 351setting their arch rivals a target of 168 to score in 14 overs. 

There are times when you hit yourself out of trouble, following perhaps the adage ‘attack is the best form of defense,’ but for the most part it is not advisable to throw all caution to the winds. The problem lies in managing or even putting aside emotion. One has to be cold sober. One has to let reason quell emotions. One has to focus on the moment.  

About a decade ago, a top chess player started the National A poorly. The National A is the apex individual tournament in the island and the top five players make it to the national team. An old chess player, who was never really a top player in the country, asked the young boy two questions.

‘How many rounds have you played so far?’ he asked.


‘How many more?’ 


‘Both answers are wrong,’ he said.

The player was puzzled. The retired player, more a chess enthusiast than a player really, explained: ‘The correct answer to the first question is “none” and the right answer to the next question is “one”. You see, what’s gone before does not count and all that matters is the game at hand. You learn whatever lessons there is to learn from the previous games and don’t get ahead of yourself in the games to follow. Concentrate on the next game.’

He got it.  He did much better in the rest of the games. A year or two later, Athula Russell, one of the best players Sri Lanka has produced in the past twenty years or so, found himself in quite a spot half way into the National A. G.C. Anuruddha, a former national champ, was three points clear of the rest.  Russell did not show any sign of being perturbed. He took one game at a time. He won the nationals that year.  

It’s always about the next thing you have to do. The next delivery you have to face, the next delivery you have to bowl, the need of a fielder to be alert to the whatever might happen next, the next serve for a tennis, badminton or table tennis player, the next serve to receive, etc., etc.  

Focus on that and you would have retired all things external to the matter at hand, as we mentioned above — the emotions of a personal issue, the match situation, the sledging, the error you made a little while ago, the requirements of the next few days etc.

Ricky Ponting, when asked about the secret of his success said simple, ‘I treat every ball with respect.’  You have to start from scratch, regardless of whether you were beaten in the previous delivery or you whacked it for a six. New deliver, new situation. Focus. Key.