Sachin Tendulkar’s mental toughness a lesson for batsmen around the world: Justin Langer

Justin Langer also shared his thoughts on the importance of mental toughness that is required to be a successful batsman © Getty Images

Oct 9, 2013

Former Australian Test opener Justin Langer and the coach of the Perth Scorchers praised Sachin Tendulkar’s mental toughness during the Champions League Twenty20 2013 and spoke of it as a lesson for all the young aspiring cricketers.

“I watched him [Tendulkar] bat in the nets during this CLT20 and he watched the ball so closely. He looked like a kid who’d tasted a chocolate for the first time. He did that for two hours, ball after ball. I told the Perth Scorchers batsmen, ‘just watch that. You don’t need any other lessons’. That’s the essence of mental toughness for me,” Langer said in an interview with bcci.tv.

Talking further about the mental side of the game, he said, “They say cricket is a very mental game and I agree with that, because probably the hardest thing to do on the field is to eliminate all the distractions and live in the present moment. Having said that, technique and a certain level of physical fitness is also very important to succeed.”

“I think mental toughness is the ability to eliminate all distractions and give a 100 per cent attention to the next ball about to be bowled to you. As humans we tend to either live in the past or in the future,” he added.

Stressing on the importance of concentration and giving it everything while batting, Langer said, “In cricket you are required to give your all to the ball you’re about to face. If you train yourself to do that, you generally get an idea what the bowler is about to bowl at you and you score more runs.”

“I’ve always thought there’s a spiritual side as well. You have to be happy off the field to be able to perform well on it. Sometimes, your game becomes an obsession and when that happens, you try too hard. The harder you try, the worse it gets. You take any great athlete — the great sprinters, boxers, tennis players – they’re all very loose and free in their body although they concentrate hard in their minds. It’s hard to have that balance if you’re not happy off the field.”

Talking about what goes through a batsman’s mind before and after an innings, Langer said, “You’ve got to be able to see the ball as soon as possible out of the bowler’s hand. Sometimes, it gets worse when, as an opening batsman, you get out early. You have to sit for so long in the dressing room and your mind gets cluttered thinking stuff like ‘What if I have another failure? What if I score another duck? What are people going to think of me? What is the press going to write?’ You have so much thinking time on your hand and you’re like, ‘Maybe I should do this or that differently, change my head position or feet movement, stance….’ Your mind goes crazy!”

Langer also shed light on the difference between two key aspects of a cricketer — physical and mental toughness.

“Physical toughness is very different from the mental side. Unless you’re badly hurt, your body can cope with a blow. On that occasion, I knew that if I got hit in the head or body, it meant I wasn’t concentrating or watching the ball early enough. That gave me an opportunity to take steps to master my concentration at watching the ball from the bowler’s hand all the way to my bat as closely as possible.”

Reiterating further on the importance of mental strength and ability to face the ball in the middle, Langer said, “The natural reaction is to save yourself from the ball. But as a batsman, if I turn my head in defense, I’ll get hit. The same goes with boxing and wrestling – you can’t take your eyes off the opponent. Similarly, as a batsman, you cannot take your eyes off the ball. That was one aspect of cricket that fascinated me the most, not the cover drive or the cut shot – you can practice them and learn – but the sheer need to concentrate on that one ball under all the pressure inside and around you.”

He went on state an example from the field of tennis, quoting what Martina Navratilova was once asked.
“Martina Navratilova was once asked, ‘How do you still keep playing at the age of 43?’ She said, ‘The ball doesn’t know how old I am’. It’s the same with batting in cricket. The ball doesn’t know what the batsman is thinking and yet the difference between his success and failure is just that ball.

Langer also shared how he dealt with players while coaching the Perth Scorchers.

“As a coach, the first and the most important thing I tell the kids is to learn how to watch the ball as closely and early as possible. Once you do that, it takes away two biggest fears of a batsman – the fear of getting hit and that of getting out. But it’s not that simple.”

In an era where sledging and verbal tiffs on the field have become a part of strategy, Langer talks about the role played by emotions.

“Emotions play a big role and they work differently for every person. I, for instance, if the opposition tried to ruffle me verbally or physically, my fighter instinct would come out. And I needed that to perform on the big stage. It gave me energy and my eyes, hands and feet worked better when I was fired up. On the other hand, when the opposition didn’t say anything to me and just changed the field a bit, that was the best way to ruffle me because it would get my mind thinking, ‘Why did he do that? What did they discuss about me in the team meeting? What’s their plan?’ So, that was the better way to get to me rather than attacking me verbally or physically. My batting coach used to say that early in my innings he’d like to see me getting hit on the body because that aroused me. Sometimes, I would provoke the bowler so that he starts verbalizing me and I get that fire.”