Pressure In Sport

Robert has a very astute observation about Rugby. He said that he likes it because of the pressure that can build up over a period of minutes. Since it’s a game of territory and possession as much as anything else sides can build up an irresistible muscular rhythm.

Cricket too can be a game of pressure. I’ll always remember the last hour or so of play in an England vs. South Africa test a couple of years ago. Michael Atherton, a potent personification of Lancashire grit was digging in for yet another long haul. He was one of the few English batsmen the South Africans feared and they gave everything they could to try and get him out. The ball was given to Allan Donald, one of the best fast bowlers in the world and feared throughout for his manic warpaint as much as his bowling prowess. The gloom was settling in and the South Africans knew that if they could just winkle out Atherton the rest of the English batting lineup must inevitably follow.

What occurred was one of the most thorough dissections of cricketing technique I’ve ever seen. There were in-swingers, out-swingers, yorkers, bouncers and half a dozen balls I have no name for. After every ball Donald would walk menacingly down the wicket staring at Atherton, occasionally throwing a couple of words of choice Zulu in his direction for good measure. Atherton just stood there, looked at him, rotated his shoulders and settled into his guard for the next 85mph plus ball. For the next hour the cricketing world held it’s breath as the most potent attack assaulted the most potent defence with the rapidly growing gloom his only hope of relief. At last the umpires offered the light to the batsmen who went off heads high. I can’t remember the eventual outcome of the series but I believe that it was either drawn or England won. All commentators agreed that that murky evening was the turning point where England took everything the South Africans could throw at them and stood up for more.

Football (that’s Soccer to you Americanisms out there) isn’t really such a game of pressure, even the Italian cateanaccio defence doesn’t really convince. it’s a game where the base unit is the triangle not the line. It’s fluidity is its strength but to me it lacks the satisfying ‘go forward’ of rugby. The only time you get any real pressure in the rugby sense is in a penalty shoot out where the rigid formalism and set piece play conspire to produce a binary outcome. He shoots, he scores. These are just musings really, many of which I’ve had on the back burner for a while.