“Success in sports is built on four interconnected pillars – fitness, physical skill, tactics and strategy, and mental skills. If any one of these pillars is weak performance will suffer. During the last fifteen years this has been a problem with the West Indies cricket team. Although the players have been fit, athletic and talented they still performed poorly because of inadequate strategies and a weak mental pillar,” Dr Rudi Webster, renowned sports psychologist, delivering a lecture in Barbados in early 2015.
A quick glance at Dr Webster’s resume will only serve to confirm that the man knows what he speaketh of. The Barbados-born Webster received his medical training at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland before proceeding to New Zealand and Australia for post-graduate studies in Diagnostic Radiology. In the latter territory, Dr Webster became well known for his pioneering work in the area of mental performance, especially in the field of sport.
Greg Norman, the former Australian golf professional spent 331 weeks at the top of the golf world rankings and won 91 tournaments around the world, including two British Opens. In 1986. Norman won 11 tournaments but is best remembered for what is now termed the Norman Slam, for having led all four majors at the start of the final round. He managed to conquer only the British Open, and then missed winning the next major, the 1987 Masters, by mere millimetres, as his 20 foot-putt for birdie trickled over the lip of the cup on the final hole. Today, Norman, with wide ranging business interests, is among the most successful businessmen of former professional sportsmen. In his book, My Story, Norman considers his best investment to have been his decision to work with Dr Webster.
Viv Richards and Greg Chappell are two names which will appear on any list of the world’s leading batsmen of the 1970s and 1980s. At one point in both of their respective careers, Dr Webster had a profound effect on these two maestros.
Richards was struggling at the crease during the early going of the disastrous 1975-76 West Indies visit to Australia, his second overseas tour. Confronting the fearsome pace duo of Dennis Lillee (another Webster client) and Jeff Thomson, Richards admits in his autobiography, following scores of 0, 12, and 12, in his first three innings, that, “It created some doubts in my own mind as to my own abilities at this rarefied level; in fact, it was panic stations.” Discussions with Dr Webster revealed that Richards’ concentration was waning during a certain stage of his innings and a step by step approach was adopted to confront the problem going forward.
Promoted to open with Roy Fredericks, Richards reeled off scores of 30, 101, 50, and 98. The Master Blaster had been unleashed on the world’s bowling and as the saying goes the rest is history. In 1976, Richards, in eleven Test matches versus Australia, India and England, reeled off 1710 runs in 19 innings, including seven centuries and five fifties at an average of 90, a record that would stand for 30 years.
The dominant Chappell experienced a slump during ten Tests in 1981-82, managing only 164 runs and gave serious thought to quitting the game altogether. Sessions with Dr Webster led to the discovery that Chappell was not picking up the ball early in flight and thus was in the incorrect position to play his shot. Armed with this information, Chappell was soon back to his dominant self, gathering three centuries in four Test matches. As India’s coach, he sought Dr Webster’s assistance for his young charges during the 2006 visit to the Caribbean.
So, with the ICC World Cup just days away, what is the mental state of mind of today’s West Indies team? It has to be the most positive it has been in a long time following their performances against a highly regarded England team during their recent tour of the Caribbean, whom former Indian batting great Sunil Gavaskar, considers the favourite for the ICC World Cup.
On Sunday, the duo of Shai Hope and John Campbell plundered Ireland’s modest attack to an ODI record of 365, falling just 17 balls short of becoming the first opening pair to bat through an entire first innings of an ODI. The West Indies total of 385, their second highest, coming just two matches after their highest ever, will only serve as a further confidence booster.
Can the West Indies ignore the shackles imposed by their lowly ICC ranking and the recent history of squabbles with the previous CWI Board and focus on the field of play? Will their mental pillar be able to withstand the rigours and demands of a month-long tournament? Will it be a pillar fashioned out of steel and concrete or sand and water? When confronted with a tough opponent in the ICC World Cup, we will soon find out how mentally tough this West Indian team is.