We’ve all been there, scrolling through the TV and clicking past the plentiful repeats of Premiership Years and How the World Cup Was Won. It was during such a viewing session that we stumbled across Mind Games – a cricket focused four part series that attempted to address the least talked attribute of a sportsman’s armoury, and often the difference between the best and the rest – mental toughness.
Mental toughness within cricket has long been associated with sledging, following the famous Australian term of ‘mental disintegration’. To be mentally tough was seen to be an ability to withstand abuse and hold your own in hostile situations. However, the sad end to Jonathan Trott’s test career and accompanying hard hitting autobiography brought the issue of mental well-being and impact on elite performance into greater focus, as Trott’s mental struggles acted as a vice to his talent, reducing one of England’s best batsmen during its arguably greatest ever era to someone who was merely going through the motions, a lamb put out to slaughter.
Mind Games attempts to square the circle on why being mentally tough is such a key ingredient for success and why it has the potential to define a career and either constrain ability or maximise perceived lesser plays. The 4 part show interviews a number of players who have experienced both the highs and lows at the elite level of the game, including Nasser Hussain and Mark Ramprakash, and highlights how this under appreciated commodity can be as essential as a bowling action or batting timing. Indeed, in the case of Ramprakash, comments from former team mates within the show tell their own story, highlighting their belief that Ramprakash’s international career would have found a more prosperous path had he played in the modern era, where greater emphasis is placed on all components of elite performance.
The show also draws parallels from a number of other sports, including stars such as Anthony Joshua. It is this that is perhaps best emphasises the importance of the mental side of the game, with clarity of thought as much of an essential component for a batsman on day 1 of a test match as it is to landing a punch in a heavyweight bout. With this in mind, the series poses the question as to whether more credit should be given to those have demonstrated elite levels of mental resilience over the years, with the outgoing Alastair Cook surely one of the finest exponents, and whether our coaches of the future should place a greater emphasis on this attributing of ever increasing performance.
Mind Games was originally shown on sky sports and is available on demand.