How Did Steve Smith Go From Near Lethal Injury to Ashes Winner?
Steve Smith has become one more case study in sports psychology. Lethal injuries are part of any sport. However, bouncing back immediately to competitive sport and setting phenomenal standard is something rarely heard of.
When he got struck by that Joffra Archer ‘smell the leather stuff’ the very ghastly scenes of Philip Huge incidence must have been looming large in Lords. But far from the blow piercing the membrane of Smith’s steely mind, it thickened it. The Old Trafford saga has thrown open a puzzle – by what brand of steel is Smith’s mind made of?
Although this being not the domain of a fitness coach, I dare to explore it for the fact that sports psychology forms a part of our curriculum. Before the advent of the helmet many a cricketer succumbed to short balls simply from the fear of getting hit. India’s Brijesh Patel and Ashoke Mankad, both prolific run getters in domestic circuit in the 70’s were susceptible to shorts balls. The so called prodigy Vinod Kamblli’s fallibility to short ball became viral. Kambli could never overcome it.
What happens after being hit badly or the fear of getting hit? According to Sigmund Freud’s theory of repetition compulsion, a psychological phenomenon occurs where a person repeats an event or its circumstances over and over again. This includes reenacting the event or putting oneself in situations where the event is likely to happen again. It is the characteristics of an individual that makes him a victim to this phenomenon.
Former India batsman Mohinder Amarnath with whom I have worked when he was the coach of Bengal’s first class team, was hit on the head around 5-6 times. Once the helmet arrived ‘Jimmy thy name is courage” as coined by Sunil Gavaskar showed the world exactly what Steve Smith is doing.
Amarnath told me how he would visualize on smacking Malcom Marshal out of the park rather than having a nightmare of getting hit. He used to practice hooking the bouncers in the net than trying to defend. He told himself that it’s not the fast bowlers, but he would become their tormentor. The data box of Jimmy Amarnath’s brain could delete every blow on his skull.
In applied sports psychology they say that post injury, may it be a trauma or something else, a sport person needs to do three things.
- Incorporate imagery: mentally rehearse the skills of the sports he/she plays. He repeatedly visualizes how he successfully wins over his opponents. The trauma gets completely erased from mind with this reinforcement.
- Sports Specific preparation: his practice is creative and specific to the sport. In doing so he starts getting into the groove and the belief ‘I am the same man” resurfaces.
- Goal setting: setting small goals like first trying to be back to practice. Next, getting the same feel of the situation he was in before being hit. Then he visualizes on back to playing the game competitively.
Steve Smith without a shadow of doubt went through all these processes perfectly with a capital P. And so the ghost of Joffra Archer’s short stuff seemed to be history as Smith’s bat rewrote one history after another. Ewen Chatfield of New Zealand was nastily hit by a Peter Liver bouncer in the 70’s. Being a bowler it hardly mattered whether it dented Chatfield’s confidence or not. So the repetitive compulsion plays havoc with especially, the batsmen.
In 1975 Jeff Thomson and Dennis Lille were literally hurling grenades towards the West Indian batsmen. A Thomson short ball hit Roy Fredricks on the head in Perth and went to fine leg boundary. As the umpire declared it leg byes a bemused Thomson saw Fredricks taking guard without even touching his head. No wonder it earned Fredricks the nickname – cement. Remember the broken nose of Mike Gatting by Malcom Marshal’s short ball in 1986. But it never threw Gatting under any mental crisis when the West Indian quickies tried to pepper him with short stuff in the following test.
Like Smith’s, these are all case studies for sports psychology from which anyone who are struggling to overcome their traumatic injury can draw inspiration from.
© Cricket World 2019