Indulge me, for a second.
Take the hammerSmash the glassTake the glassCut the Mother EarthOpens upAnd sucks you downIt sucks your sorry ass into the ground
Are you pressure man or prey? Do you suffer through the gravity? Are you predator or prey?Will you suffer my reality? Are you pressure man or prey?Do you suffer through the gravity? Are you pressure man or prey
This 1998 New Zealand rock anthem from the Feelers, “Pressure Man” was the theme music for the precursor to T20, Cricket Max. You could say the first verse and chorus above are about short-form cricket. (Well, the song sums up a lot of life. Please replace with any non-gender-specific noun and sing along.)
There is a photo of me from 2009, standing outside of a drink-break huddle. I had just dropped Gautam Gambhir at mid-off; it was day five, and it may have been the game changer.
The song didn’t come to mind at the time, but for the rest of that Daniel Vettori over, I vividly remember carving out a long wound in the pristine McLean Park outfield with the smashed-glass spike of my boot and wanting it to open up and swallow me. In hindsight, the lyrics are as if I wrote them from that one experience.
There are many of these moments in life and in sport. Except, in sport they are replayed and replayed and replayed. You suffer over and over.
And it’s those who suffer over and over who either are or become legends and greats of the game.
A recent brief, innocent, and what seemed insignificant, back and forth on Twitter with the editor of Wisden allowed me to think about the “pressure man or prey” situation New Zealand were in recently while trying to overcome the India T20 team.
“Why do they keep using Southee?” was the question I was posed after another NZ Super Over loss.
The demand of the question, the rhetorical, is that Southee shouldn’t be bowling that Super Over, ever. I don’t think it’s as black and white as that.
Answer me these:
Did Southee get the plan wrong and the execution right?
Did Southee get the plan right and the execution wrong?
Did Southee get the plan and the execution right and the batsman was just better?
We, outside of the inner sanctum of the team, will probably never know.
In what turned out to be my fourth and last T20I, Scotland were our first opponents in the 2009 World T20. Rain cut the game short before it had even started. Seven overs each; a T7, if you like.
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I bowled the first over. With The Oval Members End behind me, I ran in and delivered maybe my most perfect over. The plan locked in and every ball was perfect.
The over went for 18, with two leg-byes. It was the best over I had ever bowled. It was the best I had ever kept to a plan. Ever! And I was ignominiously clubbed for four brutal fours.
I do have to let you in on one thing, though. In the Scotland team, there was a Watts and a Watson. According to our scouting, Watts would open and Watson would bat about eight.
I checked the plan for the opener and nailed it.
Except, Watts wasn’t the opener. It was Watson, who normally batted eight. I missed the slight difference in name, which led to the massive difference in individual plans.
I didn’t play another T20I. I admitted my mistake in the team debrief the next morning. I got the plan wrong but executed it right. Does that make me a bad bowler, or a good bowler who misread a name?
I could have sat on that shame, that failure. I could have dwelled on the fact that no one on the park had thought to make sure I had the right plan after I was spanked for a couple of fours.
I didn’t, though.
Watts. Watson. Damn it!
Some 11 years on from that game, I reflect with a greater knowledge of what I allowed myself then. It was probably the first time, and one of the very few times in my career, that I allowed myself some compassion.
I failed many, many times. And almost every time I lived that failure. I endured the pain and allowed it to become more of me, more of my personality, than it should have been. All that self-loathing left me not knowing who I was and what I was. Putting on a mask to keep going, to keep being. Tired. Drained. Sleepless. Tears. Disgust.
Southee stepped up and took the ball. And failed in the third T20I against India, in the Super Over.
And again in the fourth T20I, in the Super Over.
But did he fail?
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If we go back to the question of whether he nailed the plan and execution (and to the correct batsman – not like my stupid folly!), might it be that the batsmen were just better than him at that place and time?
Fine lines. Very small margins.
I think we need to give the opposition more credit than we strip credit from Southee. Or at least we need to consider doing so. And also consider that those piling onto the bowler here are adding to it their feelings and frustrations that New Zealand didn’t get over the line in regular time.
You can succeed by failing. One such instance stands out in my mind – in a T20I at the SCG, against Australia, in the penultimate over.
Cam White hit a straight, length delivery of mine to somewhere near the moon. Somehow, on its way down, it didn’t quite clear the rope and Vettori completed a special catch.
We celebrated the wicket – me, not quite so much. Vettori to me in the huddle: “Not quite your best ball, OB?” It certainly wasn’t, at all! Got lucky with the launch angle from White’s bat. Fine lines. Very small margins.
But it was a success, right?
The more I study our stupid/bonkers/mad/brilliant human mind, the more I realise that in 2009 I had done something to myself that was just becoming a recognised form of mental healthcare.
Compassion-focused therapy was just becoming a wholesome part of psychology. Being able to have compassion for oneself or another, as a way to deal with the emotions and outcomes of decisions and actions, whether good or bad, is an essential aspect of well-being.
Imagine not being able to have compassion for yourself even if you have, to the best of your abilities, done what was required.
Players hide behind the saying “having a short memory” when they’re asked how they deal with the massive lows of sport. But in reality, a lot have learnt to have the capacity to sit back, say, “I did my best, they were better,” shrug their shoulders, look for a lesson, let it all just wash over (like a kid would), and go again with the full backing of their team-mates.
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That’s why I’d back Southee again. And again. That may be the definition of insanity (as in the quote attributed to Albert Einstein), but I’m backing that the plan and execution were right (or so damn close to right that no one in that line-up could have done better), and the opponent was just too good on that day. And the next.
Michael Jordan once said: “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
If the execution was poor, then, yes it may be right for someone else to bowl those overs that nobody really wants to bowl. But I’d still back Southee in this instance – why waste the investment?
Some people carry scars of battle; some people carry a smile. Some people sleep at night; some don’t. I wish I could have shown myself more compassion when I was playing.
Are you pressure man or prey?
Indulge me, for a second.