KARACHI: After their gallant defeat in the opening Test of the three-match series against Australia earlier this week in Brisbane, a Pakistan-born sports psychologist has urged Misbah-ul-Haq’s men to be more aggressive and give tit-for-tat to the Aussies in the remaining two games.

Taimoor Ali Khan, a former first-class player who played for Islamabad in the 1990s, has been based in the UK since 1999 and did his MBA and MSc in Elite Performance Sport Psychology from the School of Sport, Health and Exercise Science at the Bangor University, Gwyned in Wales.

Commenting on Pakistan’s 39-run loss in the day-night match at the Gabba, Taimoor observed the touring team’s bowlers were ‘soft’ toward the Australian batsmen and allowed the home side dominate for most of the game.

“The biggest problem the Pakistan team facing is the soft image of their fast bowlers. Even though they have got pace and skill of fast bowlers, they lack the personality to unsettle the batsmen,” Taimoor told Dawn from England on Thursday. “I have failed to understand that who has advised Wahab Riaz and Yasir Shah to keep smiling at the opposing batsmen? Because psychologically, smile gives comfort to person you are playing against.

“I have noticed when Wahab gets hit for a six, he smiles whereas he should adopt a serious look and express anger at the batsmen. Sadly our bowlers don’t even say anything to the batsmen to break their concentration.

“Batsmen psychologically want comfort at the crease and bowlers and fielders need to make sure that they [batsmen] do not settle and find comfort while batting. But by smiling Wahab and Yasir are making opposing batsmen comfortable in the middle.”

Taimoor pointed out that the Pakistan bowlers of the past era were more mean that the current lot now at Misbah’s disposal.

“Did we ever see Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Saqlain Mushtaq and Shoaib Akhtar smiling at the batsmen after getting hit for a boundary? Never, if memory serves me correct. They were always at the batsman’s face, gave a mean stare or said something and unsettled them by putting doubt in their mind,” Taimoor reminded. “Now Wahab, Yasir and other bowlers in the team are too soft at the opposition; probably making efforts hard enough to get the badge of a ‘Good Guy’ for some reason. Smiling is not sportsmanship and you do not smile after being hit for a boundary or when opponents have amassed 400-plus totals.

“I strongly believe that the only part lacking in the Pakistan team is aggression from the bowling unit. They must stop smiling when they walk onto the field and need to show controlled aggression and anger as if to say that they mean business and there are playing to compete on equal terms.

Taimoor also advised the Pakistan team to score psychological points by learning the art of doing it.

“I think in modern day cricket, it is a very important factor that we tend to overlook. If you hear or read whatever they say at the media conferences, it’s more like bland stuff.

“To challenge the opponents, it is imperative to be aggressive from onset. Whenever Pakistan tour Australia, England or even New Zealand, they approach the series with a mindset of winning a game or two at the most if the home side had experienced a bad day or someone had performed a miracle,” he explained. “In modern day cricket pre-match and post-match media conferences have become a norm. This is a brilliant opportunity for players and coaches who are nominated to speak at the briefings. They should go there well prepared with an agenda and wordings that can create doubt in the opposition players.

“Highlighting their weakness publicly will put doubt in conscious or subconscious mind of your opponents. Players who are performing well are normally made target of such approach. The purpose of planting seed of doubt in your opponents’ mind is to hinder their performance and make their mind focus on that problem.

“This results in attentional control system of mind to disturb the focus. Such doubts also have an impact on neural transmission where signals from mind to body are interrupted which in the sport science term, have a negative effect on muscle memory, body movement or motor skills.

“Cricket these days demands relentlessness and controlled aggression. Batsmen look to settle down when they arrive at the crease. Methods and tactics need to be adopted to unsettle batsmen early on to give bowlers the opportunity to get them out. There are 15 individuals on the field at any given time, including the two umpires. The 11 players of the fielding side need to create an environment on the field which is unfriendly, neither comfortable nor settling.

“The body language, controlled verbal attack and face expressions have to be such that gives the two batsmen a very unwelcoming environment. Our senses are receptive to environment which has a massive impact on mind.

“On a cricket field environment is created by the fielding team through their energy, approach, aggression, attacking fielding placements and above all fearsome body language,” Taimoor concluded.

Published in Dawn, December 23rd, 2016

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