Mindfulness fuels Starc, Boult and Ashwin’s stellar displays in big-ticket play-off matches

Mitchell Starc in Qualifier 1
Mitchell Starc in Qualifier 1 (Source: X)

Mitchell Starc on Tuesday as well as Trent Boult and R Ashwin on Wednesday gave fans of the Indian Premier League a glimpse of what master actors do when the arc lights are turned on and the director says ‘Action’. They acquire a different persona, getting beneath the skin of the character they are portraying.

Such cricketers who lift their game and deliver in the big-ticket matches are worth their weight in gold, not just the price they command because of the dynamics of the IPL Players’ Auction. Their ability to step up and deliver quality performances makes them stand tall and hold their own.

If sport is largely about the ability to take responsibility in crunch situations and how athletes respond to pressure by being in control of their reactions and responses, Starc, Boult and Ashwin have served excellent examples in the first two IPL Playoff matches this season. These world class bowlers played no mean roles in setting up victories for their teams before they headed to Chennai.

For weeks, Mitchell Starc was copping criticism of being an expensive buy with a rather low return on investment. Then his Australian Test skipper Pat Cummins gifted him the opportunity of bowling on a deck that would have been sweating under the covers that were meant to protect it from rain not blazing heat.

Starc is certainly not the sort who looks at a gift horse in its mouth. The Australian star left-am paceman downplayed his being the big-occasion player by saying he was fortunate to feature in some big games and focused more on how he wanted to make a difference by picking up a couple of Sunrisers Hyderabad wickets in Power Play.

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Trent Boult for RR
Trent Boult for RR (PC: X)

It did not need Kolkata Knight Riders wicketkeeper Rahmanullah Gurbaz to tell us that Mitchell Starc was ‘totally different’ in the play-off match against Sunrisers Hyderabad than in the league games. It did not need any of the Sunrisers batters to concede that they were up against a seasoned professional who knew what exactly he needed to do to crank up the pressure.

While he was having a better time in IPL than Starc, Boult was not exactly setting the Dravyavati or the Brahmaputra on fire. The Rajasthan Royals attack was being led by wrist spinner Yuzvendra Chahal and paceman Avesh Khan. Though Boult was not giving away any easy runs to the opposition, the New Zealand left-am seamer was not exactly decimating the rival top-order.

Not that he did that on Wednesday against the high-flying Royal Challengers Bengaluru line-up. But by taking his parsimony to the next level in conceding just six runs in three overs with the new ball, he had done enough to sow the seeds of doubt in the minds of the batters at the start of the match. Of course, he was helped by a stunning catch taken by Rovman Powell to dimiss Faf du Plessis.

There is an incredible lesson in how Boult went about his business while he searched for the white ball to swing in the heat and humidity across India. “I have been dying for the ball to swing for the last six or seven weeks,” he told the host broadcaster, revealing that the key was to stay in the fight and not give up when the batters were dominating this season more than ever in the past.

It was left to the vastly experienced R Ashwin to ensure a strong Indian presence in this list of those who delivered quality performances in the two play-off games so far. For someone who told Ian Bishop at the presentation ceremony after Rajasthan Royals beat Royal Challengers Bengaluru that he was ageing, India’s premier spin bowler came into his own in the crunch game.

Ravichandran Ashwin for RR
Ravichandran Ashwin for RR (PC: IPL/X)

Rajat Patidar can be devastating against the spin bowlers and Ashwin succeeded in tying him down. He was unfortunate to see Dhruv Jurel drop a skyed catch to give Patidar an extended run at the batting crease, but he reaped his rewards with Cameron Green and Glenn Maxwell’s wickets off successive deliveries in his final over.

Ashwin confessed that he was not at his best in the first half of the tournament and felt that he was ‘ageing’. “Truth be told, my body wasn’t moving at all in the first half of the season. I felt like I wasn’t able to complete my action on many occasions. I had a little bit of an abdomen injury as well. So I couldn’t really get through it a lot,” he told the official broadcaster.

Does it then boil down to what we call the big-match temperament which makes them effortlessly draw their A game when there is all to play for? Without taking anything away from the others on the field – and there are some real big names and fabulous performers around – it must be said that these men have stood out with their match-defining efforts with the cricket ball.

It was almost as if they commandeered their minds for the big occasion on the banks of the Sabarmati. The three champions were also a great illustration of performers who fell back on their strong basics while showing a great acceptance of where they found themselves in, used their focus on problem solving rather than gratifying their egos by trotting out some excuse or the other.

From a distance, it appears that by employing a simple and clear mind, they could deliver strong and straight-forward performances. The trio was a great example of mindfulness under pressure, locking their focus on the present and not being weighed down by either their underwhelming displays earlier in the tournament or their immense record in their glittering careers.

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