Muhammad Haaris

Muhammad Haaris

An aspiring psychiatrist with enormous interest in cultural anthropology. My love for extracting logic from abstract concepts makes me feel like I can unite people where they divide - through emotions.
Muhammad Haaris

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The Pakistani cricketing culture is beginning to polarize in to two distinct mind-sets. One group confuses talent with the flamboyance of the mighty nineties. They miss Imran Khan and his vibrant leadership. The other group plays the patience game which completely baffles the staunch Imran supporters. They hail Misbah-ul-Haq as their king and savior and feel that his “tuk tuk” is the soul of the resilience that Pakistan is famous for. This sets the stage for the greatest debate – who has been the best test captain for Pakistan?

To make some sense of this confusion, we try to understand what talent is and how it gets manifested as aggression. And how patience is important for the process to continue and repeat.

David Epstein, an investigative reporter, who has an enthusiasm to explore the overlap between sports and science tried figuring out what makes athletes extraordinary. His book “The Sports Gene” explored the question of age old nature versus nurture argument as it pertains to training for athletes. Through various anecdotes, he makes a strong case for role of nurturing in all dynamics whether you are favored by nature or not. For example, he illustrated that in a match between pro baseball and pro softball teams, the baseball batters were never able to hit a ball pitched by softball pitchers. It had nothing to do with genetics or the reaction times as it was mistakenly thought. It had everything to do with training that helped them develop the subconscious cues. Some of the best baseball players had average reaction times.

If we try to explore hardcore scientific evidence for such an observation, we come across the HERITAGE family study. This study was designed by Claude Bouchard and his colleagues to investigate the role of genetics in exercise training. Its results, published in Journal of Applied Physiology in 1999, showed that VO2 max, which is the maximum rate of oxygen consumption during exercise and determines the level of physical fitness of an individual, is a “trainable phenotype”. Which means that this most basic talent of physical fitness appears at training and not at baseline.

Based on this evidence, talent – the ability to be successful in a sporting event – is not only based on a history of outstanding performances but also on the ability to train hard as it would pave way for further improvement. This further improvement is an integral part of talent but a tricky part to comprehend. The human nature yearns for stability. When you reach a certain level, you feel you have achieved what you needed and now you can relax. While it is true that you have achieved what you needed but the relaxation is in the journey itself rather than the destination. It is a journey of hard work and constant improvement. Because times change, and with changing times, your needs change and you have to achieve those different needs then. The opposition is supposed to find out your flaws. You are supposed to work on your weaknesses. That is the whole point of competitive sports.

We often hear that Imran had the psychology of players figured out. What we often miss is that he also had the understanding of talent figured out. He understood that talent is not only the current ability to be successful, rather it also predicts future performance based on the present technical and psychological qualities of a sportsman.  He knew that it is the ability to nurture the skills that you possess that can help you stay competitive. That sense of competitiveness leads to inner belief that manifests as aggression and flair.

If we revisit the eighties and nineties to understand the elusive temporal sequence of the  impact that Imran Khan had on Pakistan cricket, we find that except Inzamam, majority of the players that won the world cup in 1992 had made their ODI debuts in the late eighties. This means that those guys got the exposure in the international arena and did the required training and consistent hard work before they were ready to be selected for the world cup squad. The tours in the decade before the world cup glory when the team constantly challenged the mighty West Indies were a significant prelude to the chapter of eventual world champions. It was in that time, when Imran instilled the skill level and the competitive spirit that he saw in Sheffield Shield in Australia and wanted his team to be as competitive.

 

Over the years that competitive spirit created a level of self belief that was contagious. This display of confidence infected a whole generation in Pakistan. The younger generation which is predisposed to have less patience and is also given the luxury of witnessing the epitome of Pakistan cricket tends to forget it often that this belief was created after a long history of competitiveness. This belief was a luxury to have. The sense of stability provided by that belief is what the Pakistanis are missing the most now. Flair and style was just a by product. Self belief cannot sustain without sustaining the work ethic that made such belief possible.

 

Daniel Gilbert, the Harvard psychologist, says “Human beings are work in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished”. We are a nation in progress. When this greatly resilient nation was prospering, we had the belief which came out as contagious flamboyance. When corruption became mainstream and we had to face our shortcomings, we needed a calm look at ourselves and rebuild ourselves from scratch. This will again, after a certain time, mount to that same self belief and confidence which we have been so fond of. History repeats itself, and it will repeat. We just have to be patient. And grateful. For we have been blessed with a man to lead in both such times and how beautifully both of them did their jobs. We should patiently enjoy the process of acquiring skills, refining them and ultimately displaying the self belief. We will have to incorporate, in our cricket, the most prominent qualities of both Imran and Misbah – of belief and discipline – to be at the top of our game. The game would be less beautiful if we neglected any of these qualities just as the history of Pakistan cricket would be incomplete if we neglected either Misbah’s or Imran’s impact and legacy.

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