It is trite, and completely wrong, to call cricket a simple game. It is not. It is as complex a sport invented, where an individual faces an individual, each striving for a team. The contest between bowler and batsmen is distorted through the prism of what is required by the team. As interpreted by the captain. As relayed by the 12th man who has come out with gloves or drink. The contest bounces around the cranium of bowler and batsman as the former stands at his scuffed mark. Psychoses meet and greet. And then the bowler begins his run up.
The bowler’s insecurities can manifest themselves by not being able to hit the pitch. See Steve Harmison’s frisbee at the start of the Ashes. Michael Mason’s debut. Daryl Tuffey’s 14 ball over. Or Robert Kennedy’s career.
The batsman’s psyche is displayed by feet and bat. If the feet aren’t moving there is something wrong. The bat being away from the body is as basic to Freudian psychoanalysis of cricket as the Oedipus complex.
Of course this doesn’t isn’t true for every batsman. Some players have minds like a Grahame Sydney painting, all emptiness and benign hills. These players succeed because of simplicity, because their eye is good, or the swing of their bat so unalterable. One of the dumbest people I have ever met played first class cricket. Just a few times, but nevertheless, enough to suggest the Spotless Mind is a boon, not a bane. Then there are players who have balsa wood psyches, their talent wrestling with innate lack of self-belief, fear of failure, or problems beyond the oval. I think of Martin Crowe playing psychological sudoku, tying his talent in knots. The extraordinary cat-on-a-hot-tin roof footwork of Matthew Bell. The demons that haunted Blair Hartland every time he batted. South Africa displayed a collective brain fart against Sri Lanka only yesterday.
Most batsmen will tell you the best thing is to reach the zen-like state of calm where you remove the mental element from batting, and rely purely on instinct, on hundreds of hours of training. Jacques Kallis finds that regularly, but often, as against Australia the other day, at the expense of what is needed by his team. Matthew Hayden finds the zone regularly and takes up residency rent free.
The Black Caps have had a psychologist for many years. Gilbert Enoka was a crucial part of our late 1990s revival. Now we have Gary Hermansson on board. Ian Botham came out all very macho suggesting it was like having a witch doctor or water diviner in the squad – this from a man whose captaincy techniques included squirting a water pistol at his team-mates (tests won as captain - zilch).
Hermansson has work to do. Hamish “Mary-Kate” Marshall has parachuted in to replace friendly-fire victim Lou Vincent. Hamish Marshall has not hit a score exceeding 50 in international cricket since April 2005. That is 38 international innings, if you’re counting. His last test innings against South Africa had a Lions v Christians quality. He is an excellent fielder, so it is like for like, in some ways. But Lou Vincent has viral charisma, and self-belief as big as his Clutch Cargo jaw. He bounces around the crease as if heavily caffeinated, and when he goes out, looks to be in disbelief that this could have happened to him, the Hammer of the Gods. Hamish Marshall has the resigned air of someone wearing an orange jumpsuit.
I like Hamish Marshall. His name is only four letters different to mine. I met him many years ago at Lord’s. He was affable and funny. His century against Australia was as spectacular as any I had seen since, well, Lou Vincent in 2001. He created the greatest catch I have ever seen, leaping over the boundary to parry the ball for another fielder. If ever the Black Caps could use an innings of chutzpah like his maiden century, now would be it. By the time you read this we will probably know if jetlag has operated like a short-term lobotomy and he is scoring the runs his talent deserves, or if he is, as usual, flailing at balls outside off stump like my granny trying to swat flies beyond the reaches of her eyesight.
I love cricket. Not because it is simple, but because, occasionally, it is an examination of the frayed fibres of the mind.