Free your mind of fear.
It sounds like a strapline you’d see on one of those giant easels at your local Marriott Hotel, advertising a self-help conference doesn’t it?
Personally I’d run a mile (actually far further) to avoid sitting in on one of those seminars, but thankfully England’s one-day cricket team didn’t snub the exact same message ahead of their series against New Zealand.
Free your mind of fear. That’s what they were told by caretaker coach Paul Farbrace prior to their opening game against the brilliant Black Caps this week – and wow, what a difference it made!
The records tumbled…
Eoin Morgan’s side compiled their highest ever 50-over score, 408-9.
The 210-run winning margin was England’s biggest of all-time in this form of cricket.
Jos Buttler’s century – accumulated in just 66 balls – was the second fastest ODI 100 scored by an Englishman.
It was a staggeringly promising performance.
So much so, that scribbling new numbers into the history books was a barely consequential bonus. It wasn’t about that. The true victory occurred in the minds of the fans, and the players themselves.
Shedding the cloak of uptightness that had made them look like grey, meek, second-rate players at the 2015 World Cup, Farbrace’s freshly assembled XI (most likely selected by new incoming head coach Trevor Bayliss) categorically proved they have the ability and temperament to compete with the world’s best in this format, after all – if they have the right attitude.
New Zealand are rated as the second best side on the planet, but they were pulverized in every department.
England hit their shots like they meant it. They bowled to take wickets. Radiating energy and enterprise, they trusted their talent and accepted that risk-taking was required.
They played with zero fear.
Not everything went to plan. Rookies Jason Roy, Alex Hales, Sam Billings and Ben Stokes only managed 33 runs between them, but at least they failed by trying to be dynamic. It’s paramount England’s management now make them feel like they did the right thing.
For as long as I can remember psychologists have been telling ‘players’ across all sports to be positive, to express themselves, to have fun, and to have total belief that their ability will guide them to success.
Athletes are forever being reminded to focus on what they can do rather than what they can’t, to relax, to have the guts to unleash their best, to take risks and dominate their opponents.
It’s not rocket science, and it never has been.
The tough part is executing all that under pressure.
And this is an issue that has stumped England’s football team at major tournaments for decades, just as much as it’s affected the cricketers. Asking someone to ignore pressure is far easier said than done.
But we’ve seen how powerful a weapon that mindset can be now. Through thick and thin, England’s one-day cricket team must retain the same approach.
On occasion the very same players that annihilated New Zealand will play with just as much freedom and confidence – and they’ll get beaten. Nine or ten of them will fluff their lines and they will feel awful.
That doesn’t matter, because when it clicks, just as it did at Edgbaston, it’s an attitude and style that will help them beat any team in the world.
England’s players are good enough to mix it with the elite. They’ve shown that now. And as a fan I honestly don’t mind if they win or lose this series, so long as they go for it.
A non-jittery England, is a better England.