What a victory! West Indies’ brilliant performance against England in the first Test at Kensington Oval, Barbados will long be acclaimed, remembered and treasured by generations of West Indians.
The players displayed immense talent, outstanding teamwork, and exceptional self-discipline and self-motivation. But, in assessing this outstanding performance, one must wonder why this latent talent is so rarely displayed.
England’s coaches and players must be in a state of shock following their team’s capitulation and emasculation. The players’ self-confidence took a big hit. Identifying the reasons for the team’s unforced errors, poor judgment and substandard execution must be the coach’s first important priority. In such circumstances, coaches and players tend to focus exclusively on technique, especially technical mistakes. But the real answers are not usually found there. The players didn’t suddenly lose their technical skills during the game; they just expressed them poorly.
The England coaches will do well to remember an old African adage: “When a man falls look at where he slips not where he falls.”
Reviewing the players’ attitudes and activities in the days leading up to the game might reveal the real culprits – perhaps overconfidence, social distractions and inadequate mental and physical preparation.
Performance experts will tell you that desire, preparation and self-discipline can at times make up for lack of skill, but skill alone cannot compensate for inadequate preparation, lack of discipline and suboptimal motivation.
Before the series started, the England team was repeatedly warned about the dangers of underestimating the West Indies team.
Of overconfidence, Sir Garfield Sobers often highlights its perils: “It is only human to be overconfident at times but I tried not to be because overconfidence is very dangerous; it is a prescription for failure. No matter how good you think you are there is always somebody who might be better on the day, or some bowler who can produce the unplayable ball. I never underestimated my opponent or the situation. When things go wrong with overconfident players and pressure is placed on them their thinking and concentration often deteriorate, and mental and physical distortions usually show their ugly heads. Their bodies then tighten and they lose rhythm, tempo and free movements. That’s not all. The ball seems to come to them faster, bounce higher, swing more and spin more. It is not unusual for good batsmen to struggle in these situations and for mediocre bowlers to get lots of wickets.”
West Indies must be vigilant and well prepared for the next Test. The players’ self-confidence and expectations are high. They must guard against false confidence and overconfidence because the England team will be mentally and physically different. It will be highly disciplined and motivated and eager to avenge its defeat in Barbados.
Every team has a baseline self image. This image exists in the players’ subconscious mind and it determines how well they play. It acts like a sensor or thermostat that regulates performance. We must remember that the subconscious mind controls more than 90% of all of the body’s functions and activities, including its movements
When a mediocre team has a good game and exceeds its normal standard, its confidence increases and its expectations of doing well in the next game rise. But the subconscious sensor detects a deviation from normal and then self-corrects downwards. The team’s collective minds might then say, “What do you think you are doing? That’s not like you. Correct yourself and get back to where you belong.” The brain will then take the team’s performance back down to its normal level.
And when a good team like England that is used to winning performs poorly, its subconscious sensor notices the deviation and self-corrects upwards. The sensor might say, “C’mon this is not like you. You are much better than this. Get back to where you belong.” Performance then improves considerably.
Chances are that West Indies will follow the first example and England the second.
Here are two examples of these subconscious self-corrections. In the first Test at Edgbaston in 2017 West Indies was humiliated by England and lost the Test match by an innings and 209 runs. As predicted, the West Indies self-corrected upwards and had a complete transformation in the second Test at Headingly. It lifted its performance to an amazingly high level and won the match by five wickets. In the third Test at Lords the team self-corrected downwards, went back to its usual standard and lost the game by nine wickets.
A similar set of events took place in the 2018 Test Series between India and England. In the second Test at Lords England demolished India and won the match by an innings and 159 runs. Again as predicted, India self-corrected upwards and won the third Test at Trent Bridge by 203 runs. In the next two Tests, India reverted to its normal standard losing the fourth Test at the Rose Bowl by 60 runs and the fifth Test at the Oval by 118 runs.
Throughout the ages, that pattern has often repeated itself.
The Test in Antigua should be an interesting game. West Indies must improve its self-awareness and self-responsibility. The odds of winning are in England’s favour but if West Indies can eliminate the expected downward self-correction the team could once more surprise us.