By Suresh Menon
In sport, great teams make no excuses; good teams attempt to analyse defeats. There is a third category - mediocre teams which are under-confident to begin with. They make their excuses before a match or a tournament. In the past, Indian teams at world meets often made preemptive excuses. We have come here not to win, but for the experience of playing. We had to leave behind our star players who were injured. It is not the winning or the losing, but the taking part that is important.
And so on.
When England captain Paul Collingwood said at the Twenty20 World Cup that he and his team "had a big year ahead" and implied that they could not focus on the matter at hand, it may not have been the defeat against the Netherlands they were preparing for, but defeat in general. They picked the wrong team, did the wrong things tactically, and demonstrated once again the curious psychology behind Twenty20, and by extension, anything new in sport.
Collingwood was saying that the World Cup was not as important as the Ashes series to follow, that England, who had invented the Twenty20 game could not be bothered about trying to win a format they were uncomfortable with, that they may be the hosts but this was a distraction before the real business began.
By beating Pakistan, England have kept themselves in the running and avoided the ignominy of being knocked out of a tournament within 48 hours of its start. Ten years ago, they were eliminated from the World Cup at home even before the official song was released.
If Twenty20 has shown anything - and with everything it has done, it has merely highlighted this psychology which is a part of sport in general - it is that you have to win in your mind first before you win on the field. Australia, by their own admission are uncomfortable with the format, and it will surprise no one if Sri Lanka beat them to a spot in the Super Eight. But they are a team that can grow, and once they decide that losing in whatever form is unacceptable, they have the team to win the tournament.
Two years ago, India were in the position England are now in, believing that the new format was beneath them. Yet today they look the team most likely to win in England. Their superiority is of the same magnitude as that of the West Indies in the World Cups of the 1970s. And that came about because they shook off their superior air of unconcern and won the inaugural tournament in South Africa.
It is not that teams like England are not trying hard enough (after the Pakistan victory, we might see a completely different outfit altogether, a psychologically enhanced one), but that they are too keen on getting their excuses in first. No team ought to go into a tournament with an attitude which says, "We don't care if we don't win, there are more important things to do". Professional teams play every tournament as if it is the most important. This is how Australia, and before them the West Indies, dominated world cricket for so long.
In 1987, Australia were one of the weaker sides in the World Cup. Yet, under Allan Border, they won the title, and began their long reign. Any world tournament affords a team the confidence they can carry into other forms of the game. India's unexpected win in 2007 has seen them push Australia as the leading side in all forms of the game.
The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins once suggested that the springs of sorrow are the same. So too are the springs of self-confidence.