In his latest offering for the Cricketer Magazine, Tony Palladino looks at how players like Mitchell Johnson go about regaining lost confidence.
After watching the demolition job done on England this week by a rampant Australian team, this series has all the makings of a classic. England are too good a side to play so badly again and let’s not forget they did have the Aussies struggling at 132 for 6 on the first day. Hopefully they will come out fighting.
What struck me most was the aggression of the Australian bowlers: they ran in hard, whacked the ball in and bowled quickly. The standout was Mitchell Johnson; he bowled like a man possessed all game and watching him steam in and bowl at that sustained high pace was incredible but also slightly worrying. Johnson in this kind of form is a massive problem for England.
As I mentioned in an earlier blog, the Australians needed to come together and become a team in order to win this series and they’ve certainly done that. The celebrations when the last wicket fell – not to mention the barrage of abuse Jimmy Anderson copped – shows that they mean business and they don’t care who they upset in the process. So where did this new-found confidence come from?
Johnson has always been capable of matchwinning performances but has been inconsistent at times in his career. Over the last few years he has been dropped and recalled several times. Confidence has always been an issue with Johnson but after strong performances in India and after a great start to this series he seems to be back to his best. His first-innings runs would have settled any nerves he had and once he got his tail up he bowled wheels all game. I’m sure David ‘sucker punch’ Warner would have enjoyed facing him!
There’s almost a ripple effect throughout the team when someone bowls as he did in that first Test. Confidence grows with every ball that thunders into the keeper’s gloves, more and more players jump onto the bandwagon and the result is 11 players chirping away and playing fearless cricket safe in the knowledge that their opening bowler is turning the game their way. Everyone feeds off it and in no time at all you have a team full of swagger steamrolling the opposition.
Every cricketer has issues either big or small with confidence. How you handle and respond to the factors that trigger the onset of doubt in your own game shapes how the end product looks. An example of a player handling this well and handling it not so well is Steve Harmison. The contrasting between his opening spell in the 2005 Ashes, when he roughed up Justin Langer and Ricky Ponting, to the infamous first ball he delivered at Brisbane 18 months later was stark. I believe this change can be attributed to several things, but in this case it was the fact that Harmison was not comfortable touring and the rampant crowd and media attention got on top of him, causing him to not be 100% mentally when he delivered that ball.
Other factors that can cause a confidence shift can be as simple as bowling to a batter who you know you've got out a few times before. Jonathon Trott coming into bat would have made Johnson find an extra couple of gears because he's had success over him previously.
In my own career there’s been many occasions when I’ve been low in confidence, wondering where my next wicket or run is going to come from and I firmly believe it’s got a lot easier with experience. Settling into a game is always a massive help as well. Any batsman would love to have a leg-stump half volley to clip away first ball just as much as a bowler likes to get an over in the bank cheaply or grab a wicket with a loosener. It gets you into the game and you can grow from there.
So how do you regain confidence if you’ve lost it? If mine is low I like to work through it. I find that this rather than taking a break works better for me. I will go back to basics, put some cones down and bowl until I feel better. This doesn’t work for everyone and some players I know will go away and write some thoughts down, review them and try and find some solutions or plans that way. Sports psychologists also play a key role here in helping identify problems and how they can be solved. We’ve seen this week with Jonathon Trott heading home from the Ashes, sometimes circumstances get so extreme that getting away from the game is absolutely necessary.
I’m sure England will respond well in the next Test. If they can transfer some pressure back onto the Aussies we shall see just how much of this new-found aggression and confidence is real or just bravado.
Tony Palladino has played 90 first-class matches for Derbyshire and Essex and will be writing a column for the Cricketer Magazine every Thursday. To read the full article click here>>>
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