When I was a boy, I wanted nothing more than to play cricket full time. I would go to sleep dreaming of playing for England and winning the Ashes (with the occasional foray into scoring the winning goal in the FA Cup Final).
I would study my heroes on TV, read magazines and books, and play, play, play.
When there were no club games we played in the garden or on the outfield at the cricket club until we couldn't see the ball any more (and sometimes even when we couldn't).
It seemed like the perfect life.
When I went to University I chose to study sport and fitness and focus on cricket. To call me a tragic - or a badger - would be an underestimation. Yet I never became a cricketer. I was found wanting when it came to runs and wickets despite my desires. I got into coaching instead and watched as others made similar mistakes to me.
Now I want to do my bit to stem that tide.
If I could jump in a time machine and go back to advise the 11-16 year old David Hinchiffe, here is what I would say. And if you have ambitions and want to avoid the pitfalls, you could eavesdrop on my time paradox conversation too.
It might just make the difference you need.
You take a short, soft look
It's easy to say "I'm just not good enough".
Maybe you are not, but as soon as you say it to yourself you are doing a surface analysis. You are looking for an excuse to stay the same, rather than a reason to get better. It's the opposite of a "long, hard look".
Many people assume that talent is a fixed, born thing: You have got it or you have not. That's why it's so easy to think that you are not talented when you have a bad run of form. Yet, studies into performance are beginning to show a different picture. In this world, talent is tied as much to perseverance as it is to a born ability.
In this world, failure is not a sign that you need to give up.
Failure is the same as success. You still need to review to keep getting better no matter what the outcome.
Self-reflection is a powerful tool that can help you apply your determination in the face of failure. That's how players make it. They ask themselves:
These questions - especially the last one - are not easy to answer. Everyone is different and there is no shortcut to finding your method other than trial and error. However, when you realise that failure is not a dead end, it's a detour, you can adjust your route and carry on with your plan.
You wait for a chance
There is another kind of assumption many players make; that they are a hidden talent waiting for the chance to prove it. These players ride what they have as long as they can in the hope they will be spotted. Players like Dinesh.
Are you waiting for your chance?
I argue that no matter what your talent, you are not given chances. You have to take them.
Occasionally a good player will be lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. Success comes along by chance combined with talent. Much more often, becoming a cricketer is about making those chances happen yourself.
So seek out your local pathways and contact the coaches to find out what is required. Perhaps it is a local Academy that gives opportunities to players who show talent and determination regardless of their financial condition. Maybe it's your local club or representative level team in a formal structure.
Find it, and find out what it takes.
Then go and take it.
It helps to be flexible and do the work the coach wants to see, even if it's not what you feel is right. It's reasonable to take your evidence to your pathway and be confident it will help you take the next step.
The point is, the more you take control the less you have to rely on fate to get you to where you want to be.
You focus on technique
We all appreciate good technique, but you don't need to focus on it to become a cricketer.
Firstly, everyone is different. you can't expect a sport that can incorporate Alvin Kallicharran (5ft 4) and Chris Tremlett (6ft 7) to create identikit techniques. And even if you could, it would be pretty boring.
Secondly, as the history of professional cricket shows, you can get away with a lot of technical imperfections and still be a successful cricketer. For every Tendulkar and Bell there are a great many more with techniques that are not out of "the book". Even the book can't decide what's in the book.
The pitfall here is that coaches (and armchair coaches, and commentators) like to call out technical flaws to show knowledge. This is mostly a waste of time. Only the player can understand their own technique, and it is very rarely something that can be categorised as "perfect". Yet, through this drip feed of coaching and commentating, players assume technique is everything.
Technique is a factor, but it has to be your technique. It can only ever be perfect for you.
Besides, if you focus on technique alone you ignore the important mental and physical factors of the game that both feed and starve technique.
Scoring runs and taking wickets does not come about through technique alone. It's a combination of many factors, so to obsess about the perfect back lift or looking like Brett Lee when you bowl is missing great chunks of your chance to become a cricketer.
You listen to your coach
A coach is not a guru with all the answers. There is only one person who has those; it's you. Yet we assume with all the training and skills a good coach has, he or she must know everything and you only need to listen to advice and put it into action. Both player and coach can fall into this trap easily.
It's your job as a player to hear the coach, but never to assume he is correct.
Use respectful challenging to find out what is going on. Be prepared to try something, but be equally prepared to push it aside if it doesn't work for you.
This method of self-discovery is a lot harder than just listening to someone tell you what to do, but the chances of the latter ever working are very small. The chances of becoming a cricketer go up a great deal when you are open to eliminating techniques and drills that don't work for you, and developing ones that do.
The bottom line is that it take more than a solid cover drive or a 140kph bowling action to become a cricketer. We all say that most of the game is in the head, and that's right when you are developing your skills. The mind feeds the body, the body feeds the mind. Getting the whole picture right and understanding yourself will give you the best chance of becoming a cricketer.
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