Defeating defeat

In cricket there are ongoing ‘moment to moment’ battles between ball and bat.

War strategists believe that if you win the little battles, you will ultimately win the war. From a logical perspective, for example, if there are 15 battles and you can win 10 of these, then you should win the war. But life does not work in logical, ‘straight lines’. Some battles could be considered more important than others.

Besides looking at the score or statistics in the match to determine who is victorious in sporting competition, you also need to look at the body language, urgency and determination of the players as they enter the fray of battle.

In test cricket there are 15 2-hour sessions that unfold over 5 days. In the Ashes test that ended yesterday, I believe that England only managed to win 1 of the 15 sessions. It was the last of the 15 sessions. Battles that are won when the ‘chips are down’, when the ‘odds are stacked against you’, and where no one expects a victory are very significant. Anderson and Panesar followed the determination that Collingwood had set as they stood their ground against the 11 Australians.

Developing mental fortitude: Monty Panesar training in the Drakensberg, South Africa, January 2009

Anderson and Panesar are not really considered to be batsmen of class, yet they showed their more illustrious peers that mental toughness far outweighs any skill level. The crowd noticed this and every time the bat overcame the threat of the ball a loud applause erupted. Each defensive shot was a victorious moment acknowledged by the crowd.

The crowd were applauding because Panesar and Anderson were resisting defeat. I suppose it was the typical old bulldog determination that the crowd were aligning themselves with. They were witnessing two batsmen surviving. It was a victory against expected defeat.

Being victorious against defeat is a strange sort of victory. It can be interpreted in a number of ways. Depending of which side you are on, teams will either overplay or downplay the significance of such a victory. This should be kept in mind, especially by England.

But what does this mean when one considers the bigger picture of the war that has started and still has 4 test matches to go? On a statistical level, the England team go to the Lords test still on an equal footing with the Australians with the series 0-0. While Anderson and Panesar have given the team hope, they have also shown a psychological characteristic that I believe the England team needs to examine if they are going to win the war. And that is the willingness to endure ‘uncomfortable intensity’. At the moment when the pressure is intensely concentrated on a player, how does he respond? In particular, what is his own strategy in the heat of battle? This is not a technical skill, but rather the mental fortitude to endure the ongoing intensity of the battle. Being clear on the strategy is one factor that can help the decision-making in the heat of battle.

The strategy to survive is usually much clearer (and sometimes easier) than the strategy to ‘out fox’, ‘out play’ or ‘out grind’ the opposition to be the ultimate victor in the long run. That’s how a war is won. Now that would be something for the crowds to applaud.


2 thoughts on “Defeating defeat

  1. Wayne


    I agree that in this case, surviving is equivalent to victory for the team under pressure but you cannot win a series or become a champion by only defeating defeat. Defeating defeat does give you the opportunity to fight another day though, where you must then out-play the opposition to win the war.


  2. Ken Jennings

    As you mentioned, defeating defeat only offers you the opportunity to fight another day. While champions have the ability to survive in tough situations in a protracted war (like the Ashes test series or the Tour de France), they have the added capacity to dominate over time. This dominance is determined by strategies, physical ability, technical skills, belief and mental toughness. Also, the ‘luck factor’ gets reduced.

    In the Tour de France, I have been impressed with how the Astana team has fought the war. For two weeks of the race they have been content to just hold their position and not rush after the yellow jersey. During the first stage in the Alps, however, they exerted tremendous pressure on the opposition and dominated the race for Cantador to win. A dominant team always seems to be in control of the unfolding process.

    I think that the Astana team will exert further pressure on the opposition in the Alps today (where there are 5 major climbs) to see whether they can extend their dominance and in the process ‘break’ the will of the opposition. It will be interesting to see how the race unfolds and whether the other teams have the capacity to respond to this.

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