Cricket Australia Items/Blogs/george-bailey/2013/1/29/envious-of-tennis-players-and-the-freedom-their-sport-allows

George Bailey

Bailey: Envious of freedom

29 January 2013 1

I love this time of year. Plenty of cricket on and plenty of tennis to go with it, which is always a great recipe and reminder of an Australian summer.

I am slightly envious of tennis players and the freedom their sport allows.

The ability to go for a point, a game or even an entire set armed with the knowledge that one mistake won't finish off their night. This is a freedom that as a cricket batsman I am envious of.

I have been in awe at the level of preparation and knowing their games to such an extent they can come out and play in the big tournaments, the Grand Slams, with such precision.

Their execution from match to match is magnificent, as is the elite’s ability to save their best for the finals.

That is a real challenge for us at the moment in the shorter forms of cricket.

In the recent Commonwealth Bank Series against Sri Lanka, despite missing some key batsmen, we performed really well in the first match at the MCG.

We prepared well, as always, and then went and executed those skills on the day very well.

Our planning and preparation for the next few games was the same, however it was the execution of decision-making and skills on game day that ultimately let us down.

The challenge for any cricket team is to start well, regardless of the toss, this serves to settle the rest of the side and build momentum.

It’s all about providing a great platform with bat or ball for the rest of the side to execute their skills with freedom.

Early in the tennis we saw Sam Stosur openly admit she had 'choked' upon nearing completion of her match.

Choking is simply losing the ability to focus in the present and to work through your normal processes for executing skills.

It is not uncommon, though publically admitting to it is, and is one of the great challenges facing individuals playing sport. To be able to stay in the moment and not focus too far ahead on the outcome or on what has previously occurred.

Playing one-day cricket and T20 is all about weighing up mathematical equations - how to score as quickly as you can as safely as you can. Or how to take as many wickets as possible whilst conceding minimum runs.

The very best players are those that can rationalise those thought processes quickly and work out how best to angle the risk versus reward nature of the game to their favour.

David Warner's innings on Saturday night, in our close loss to Sri Lanka in the opening KFC T20 International, was a wonderful example of this at its very best.
His ability to pick the right ball to clear the boundary showed its imperious best.

The game to game challenge of an international series has been the biggest step up from domestic cricket for me.

Domestically you play the best team or the best fast bowler once or twice a season.

The challenge of an international series is facing international class bowlers day in day out, with very short breaks in between game.

 You don't have long to prepare much differently, but mentally and technically you need to find a way to succeed.

One of the great things it teaches is to focus on what you do well, your individual strengths, as there is no doubt that the only way to succeed is to give as good as you get.

Whilst happy with how we had conquered the new the Sri Lankan bowlers and batsmen in Melbourne we knew onwards it would continue to be a real challenge.

This was compounded by a very disappointing result in Brisbane.

That game in particular hurt after much had been made of the players left out of the first couple of games

We were back to full strength but unfortunately the execution of our skills did not match our preparation and expectations.

Though perhaps the game was not quite so lopsided as the result may have suggested.

We felt an extra 30 runs would have made it very interesting.

After a team loses early wickets the battle to regain ascendancy becomes as much mental as technical.

You begin to limit the risks you take, erring on the side of caution and partnership building.
Whilst this may enable you to survive it also means the bowlers can dictate terms.

The old saying of attack being the best form of defence often rings true.

But the ability to attack without risking the loss of another wicket is a challenge that only the very best make look easy.

Change rooms can be become chaotic with players passing in the corridor as some head down to pad up whilst others are taking theirs off pondering what may have been.

The challenge of replacing great players such as Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey begins obviously with a high level of skill and technical nous.

Surviving and succeeding at international level, however, takes so much more than that.
The mental battle of staying in the moment, being able to work through challenging periods in games and challenging series and finding a way to break through to the other side all so important.

Underpinning that as a team is the mantra 'whatever you do first do it well'. With bat or ball, starting well and grabbing the momentum is a real key.

It was great to see Phil Hughes grab his opportunity with both hands. He is a run-scoring machine and to see him step straight into one-day cricket and play and dominate the way he has in domestic cricket for the past couple seasons was inspiring.

Hughesy knows his own game very well, has a great plan and goes out and executes to his strengths.

He sticks to the way he plays and does not panic and stays in the moment something all sports lovers can certainly learn from. I know I take a lot out of it.

As the tennis concluded on Sunday night I realised that my favourite quality about the top tennis players is not just how good their skills are but their consistency.

The ability of Federer, Djokovic, Murray and Nadal to make so many semi-finals and finals of Grand Slams is outstanding.

Succeeding in the big tournaments and the key matches is really the ability to execute your best under pressure.

Their ability to prepare so well allows them the freedom to play as well as they do.

That is the great lesson that transcends all sports and something that we as players strive to get better at as we now prepare to face the West Indies.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Cricket Australia
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