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County pro NED ECKERSLEY discusses what goes on behind dressing room doors and in players' minds when an innings spirals out of control
When as a team we are in the midst of a batting collapse, the most crucial thing we are reminded to do is stay as relaxed and as calm as possible. We must ‘stay level’.
In theory, this means that the atmosphere within our changing room should remain consistent whether the team is 300 for 1 or 30 for 5.
However, in reality what tends to happen is the environment becomes tense and nervous. It takes a lot of confidence for a player to carry on having that casual conversation or make a light-hearted remark when there is a flow of dismissed batsman re-entering the ‘sheds’ one after the other. Plainly, it is much easier said than done.
Where in normal situations there is expectancy that the current pair will rectify the flow of the game, a sharing of group hope now prevails. Hope that somehow proceedings will just swiftly and unexpectedly turn in our favour.
The batting collapse is a familiar phenomenon in cricket, and England were at it again on Thursday
All of a sudden the pavilion becomes a place of silence, where to talk would be seen as either disrespectful to both the incoming and outgoing batters, or even worse, that there is a lack of care. When in times of trouble, habitually keeping quiet and waiting it out seems to be the order of the day.
This is one of the reasons why batting collapses can be so difficult to stop. We all go in to our shell and allow the pressure to build, not only out in the middle, but also in the supposed sanctity of our changing room. The place where I should feel most relaxed suddenly turns into a claustrophobic cubicle of high emotion and fear.
"One of the key reasons to avoid the atmosphere becoming quiet and tense is that talking and making a clear plan, both as a team and as an individual, can be a great way to arrest the escalating crisis"
This fear can clearly be seen in the heart of the action, where as players we become increasingly tentative and indecisive in both our decision-making and execution. The number of times the scoring rate becomes virtually non-existent during a batting collapse is a prime example.
Natural inclinations of batsman to score and take the positive approach are replaced by fight responses to defend for our cricketing lives and grind the team out of trouble. In the majority of cases all this leads to is the bowling side maintaining control of the game and the pressure building to such a level that more quick wickets are inevitable. It feels like an unstoppable train rolling downhill.
I distinctly remember a situation like this when I was playing for Leicestershire against Durham at the Emirates ICG in the 2018 season. Chasing 148 to win on the final day of a County Championship game everything seemed to be going to plan.
County pro Ned Eckersley
A solid enough start saw us reach 29 for 1 off the first eight overs and with plenty of batting left to come a big away win seemed on the cards. However, that turned into 61 for five in the space of just seven overs. In the changing room the atmosphere was so tense and quiet that none of the communication that was required took place.
It wasn’t for the lack of trying that the innings spiralled out of control, it was because each batsman went to the wicket without a clear plan of how they were going to put a stop to the flow of wickets. In the end we were bowled out for just 101 in under 30 overs, losing the game by 46 runs. We had lost nine wickets for 72 runs and lost a game that seemed to be in the bag.
One of the key reasons to avoid the atmosphere becoming quiet and tense is that talking and making a clear plan, both as a team and as an individual, can be a great way to arrest the escalating crisis. Previously dismissed batsmen can not only provide crucial information about pitch conditions and bowlers, but can also join discussions about what may be the best strategy or tactic to swing the momentum back in our favour.
Is it a time to ‘dig in’ and soak up the increasing pressure? Or is it the moment for a higher risk counter attacking style of batting, aiming to halt the energy of the fielding side with more aggressive stroke play?
These are all discussions and decisions that we need to have as a group before the moment has passed. The time has arrived for us, as a team, to be proactive and get ahead of the situation. After all, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, is it not?
Whatever the decision and whichever strategy is ultimately decided upon, it requires that both the players and the coaches trust each other. There must be no hesitancy or doubt conveyed to the group.
If clarity and belief are communicated to the remaining batsmen it should allow them to have both the conviction and confidence to apply the plan where it matters the most, out in the middle, hopefully putting an end to the catastrophic batting collapse.