Alison Mitchell takes a look at the strategies that may help two England men as they strive for form this summer
The weakness of the Sri Lanka Test side has not done anything to help Nick Compton in his quest to find runs and form at the start of this international season.
Victory for England by an innings at Headingley meant he only had one chance to bat, and it could have been a similar story at Durham. However, he acquitted himself well in partnership with Alastair Cook to hit the winning runs on day four, which would have helped him feel better about the world.
Whether a second innings in Leeds or a longer second knock at the Riverside would have brought the big score he desperately desires, we’ll never know, but he has been unfortunate to have had little over half the opportunities he might have expected thus far in the series.
With such as Scott Borthwick and Tom Westley already talked about as potential No.3s, the Lord’s Test could present itself as Compton’s last chance in an England shirt. Given the discussion over his form it could also be dangerously easy for Compton to become seized up by the level of scrutiny and judgment already accompanying his performances. Instead, he needs to view Lord’s as a massive, positive, opportunity; one to be relished, rather than feared.
Perspective can be difficult when striving for perfection. It is not uncommon for people, in whatever profession, to slip into the habit of defining themselves by what they do in their job, as opposed to who they are as a person.
The danger is that a person starts to correlate their sense of self-worth with their professional performance and they lose sight of any wider purpose in life expect that for which they are trained and paid. It can make the prospect of not achieving one’s goals, or having professional aspirations impeded cut to the very core of your persona. The double whammy is that this then cripples your ability to perform and the result can be something of a vortex.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Psychologists sometimes use a method where they encourage their clients to “care less” about the task at hand.
It sounds flippant yet it’s not a question of dropping standards or lowering the potential for achievement but recognising there is a reason why you have already achieved a level of success, taking on a state of quiet confidence from that, and taking forward a sense of perspective where you ask, “what’s the worst that can happen, and how bad can that be?”
It is a way of taking internal pressure away. Self-talk and positive reinforcement through mantras is another tool that can rewire the mind when it is consumed by negative thoughts. I know, because I’ve been through such a process myself.
Compton is a man who has a healthy intellectual curiosity and who cares deeply about his international career.
He was also deeply wounded when dropped in 2013 after twin centuries against New Zealand were followed by six low scores and a disagreement over a rib injury. He was dropped too soon then. Approaching Lord’s, it may be that he needs to “care less” in his own mind, be true to himself and trust in the cricketing ability that gave him an average in excess of 50 over the last five years in the County Championship and won him a place in an England side that is yet to lose a series when he plays.
Prior to Compton’s re-selection, coach Trevor Bayliss obviously saw something in the 32 year old that he likes, and assistant coach Paul Farbrace has stated recently that they’re not looking to try to turn him into a more aggressive batsman, despite Bayliss’ comments in South Africa that he’d ideally like two out of the top three to be attacking. The side wants runs from Compton, but Farbrace was unequivocal in saying there has been no pressure from him or Bayliss for Compton to do anything other than hold an innings together and look to bat for a long time.
During this series he has been able to do neither so far – getting out to a good ball in Headingley and falling victim to a very good catch in Durham – but it doesn’t mean he can’t do it at Lord’s or indeed in the future. His gritty 85 in tough conditions in Durban was a key innings on the way to an England victory and it marked a solid re-entry to Test cricket.
England could well do with a batsman capable of grinding out an innings when they travel to India this winter, and Compton has good memories of the historic series win there in 2012.
Speaking of memories, Compton could compare notes with his Middlesex team mate Steven Finn, who spoke to me on my BBC radio programme Stumped about the “happy place” he takes himself to when things aren’t going his way. His coping mechanism when struggling for form or rhythm, as was the case in Durham, is to purposefully turn his mind to an experience that has brought him contentment in the past.
“You try to take yourself into that peaceful tranquil space where there is no stress,” he explains. “Where you allow yourself to almost accept people’s judgment, and say, so what, you’re judging me, but I’m in my happy place and I’m just going to play cricket.”
One of Finn’s current happy places is somewhat surprisingly a rhino conservation centre near Port Elizabeth, which he visited with Stuart Broad. The theory behind him choosing that comes from the idea of living your personal and professional life ‘without ego’ – the leadership philosophy developed by former Middlesex left-armer Steven Sylvester, who has recently returned to the club for a second spell as team psychologist, having built up his own reputation in both business and sport.
“It was just the most beautiful experience,” Finn said of the conservation park. “We got to touch and help a two year old Rhino who needed help. He could be poached any day by poachers in South Africa. There’s a greater good in that regard. You take yourself to those places where cricket matters but it’s not life and death. It’s not the be-all and end-all. If do have that attitude it brings the best out of you.”
Both Finn and Compton will be hoping they can bring out the best in themselves at Lord’s next week.
This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, Friday June 3 2016