“Nobody has seen form. It’s a state of mind where you are confident and you think very positively and everything you think about, It’s about how you treat the mind.” – MS Dhoni
Mental training is probably the most important skill to possess for any sportsman. While physical fitness can get you into the team, it is the mental strength that can win you a game.
It is unfortunate how little importance mental strength is given in comparison to physical strength. Entire matches are lost due to a moment of madness, or a ‘brain fade’.
We have seen a lot of individuals and teams crumble under pressure and lose from a winning position. Bangladesh’s loss against India in the World T20 2016 is a perfect example of this. While they had the skill and the ability to win the match, it was a brain-fade in the final over which led to the near impossible victory for the Men in Blue.
Quite often, cricketers struggle more due to mental aspect rather than their physical fitness. We have seen incredibly talented cricketers quit the sport too due to a mental issue. Jonathan Trott and Marcus Trescothick who were two fantastic English batsmen had premature retirements due to depression.
On the other hand, we have seen cricketers thrive on the field due to their mental prowess and high temperament. Yuvraj Singh is a great example of this. As we all know, he was diagnosed with a malignant tumor shortly after India’s World Cup triumph in 2011.
However, he battled the odds, made a spectacular comeback and to this date continues to shine for the Men in Blue.
Similarly, MS Dhoni’s constant selection in the team this year has been questioned by many people. Such pressure can easily lead to a mental breakdown. However, the champion he is, DHoni has shut up his critics over the past few months with dazzling performances. He has been dismissed only twice since the Champions Trophy final and his wicket-keeping skills seem to improve as he gets older.
There are thousands of cricketers who dream to be in Yuvraj, or Dhoni’s shoes one day. One such individual is the 27-year-old Kaunain Abbas.
Currently playing for the Belagavi Panthers in the Karnataka Premier League, the talented lad from Karnataka made his Ranji Trophy debut last year. With a solid technique and consistent scores last year, he could be well on his way to the bigger stages in a few years from now.
However, it was not all hunky dory and easy for the 27-year-old. In fact, he was on the cusp of quitting the sport during his teenage years. At such an age, a lot of teenagers tend to quit the sport and move on to different things.
Kaunain was very close to doing so himself. Mentally drained and exhausted, he found support from his father and a mind coach – Ian Faria. These two gentlemen helped him come out of the abyss and start loving the sport again.
Sportskeeda caught up with the talented Kaunain Abbas during the KPL. Here are the excerpts of the interview where Abbas has opened up about his career and the importance of mental toughness in the game of cricket.
Q. You made your mark with your performances in University cricket a few years ago. How has your journey as a cricketer been so far?
A. It is an exciting journey to be very honest. It has been an experience of a lifetime. I never expected the University to go on such a big stage. From there I went on to represent my state after a couple of years. What I did differently was that I changed my mindset. I started to think like international cricketers. If you have to make it big in life, you have to start thinking like them and performing like them and that is what I did. That is what changed my perception to the game. From thinking of being an average cricketer to thinking of being the best, a lot has changed for me.
Q. Who has been your role model growing up?
A. My role model is Rahul Dravid. The way he is on the field and off the field is just fantastic. I feel is the perfect gentleman off the field and I idolize him for all this.
Q. How important is mental strength in a game like cricket?
A. It is a must. It is the same as doing your physical workout or your skill set workout. I think 90% of the game is played in the mind. Whatever you do, you cannot keep the mind out of the game. I have seen so many cricketers who are nowhere today because their mind and mental setup is not in place. Even if your skill set is less but your mind is strong you can get to a higher level. Marvan (Attapattu) told us the importance of mental strength by giving the example of Sachin Tendulkar. When you are in form and you are mentally strong as well nobody can get you out. In the end, it is a mind game after all.
Q. You have been through a few ups and downs in your career. How did you tackle the difficulties you faced early on?
A. At a point in my life when I was around 17 or 18 I actually wanted to give up. I told myself this is not happening, I am not playing for the junior state even though I was working so hard for a long time. People told me that if I do not play for the junior state until the age of 19 or 20 there is no chance I will go to a higher level. But it was my dad who inspired me. He told me that this was not the age to give up. From there on I started working hard, if not for me for him. Over a period of time the passion kicked in and I told myself that I have to do it and that is when I met Ian and he helped me. In fact, from there on, I have met a lot of other people who have helped me through this journey. For my mind, I have Ian, for my Yoga I have somebody else - Mr. Banerjee who has supported me and encourage me a lot. Meditation has helped me a lot. In addition to that, my mind coach told me that I am special. Today, to be in the Ranji Trophy team with 9 International cricketers it is a different feeling altogether.
Q. How did Ian Faria help you in your transformation?
A. The transformation in my life has been because of the change in mindset and it has all been because of this man - Ian Faria. He did not do anything much but these words tell resonate in my mind –‘There are millions of people in this world but nobody is DNA matches one another’. That makes me feel special, so that is still stuck in my head. I need to give a big thank you to him because he has been a big support for me. I also want to thank my parents who have always been very supportive. My father who is a very big sports lover has always given me whatever I want.
Q. What have you changed in your batting over the years to improve?
A. I can play any format of the game. Even T20 cricket is not unorthodox cricket if you play orthodox shots, you do well in this format. I have not changed much technically. I am fortunate to have a good base and good foundation when I was very young so I have not had to change my technique too much. I have done some fine-tuning over the years in my stance, my back lift, and my head position. But most of all like I said before it is a mind game.
Q. How is it to be part of a squad which consists of a lot of international superstars such as Manish Pandey, Sreenath Aravind, and Stuart Binny?
A. It is definitely a proud feeling to be a part of such a team which has Indian players who have played at the highest level. I also looked at it as an opportunity for me and when I don't see them performing, that is the time I should put my hands up and say that I should do it. To play at the higher level like they have done I should start thinking like them. It is definitely a good feeling and it gives me the confidence.
Q. What changed in the Belagavi Panthers’ dressing room after the first loss?
A. We were shaky at the start because we had new faces in the team and there was a bit of confusion. As the first match went along we sat and discussed what areas we have to improve upon. The main thing we did in the second match was that we remained calm. We were losing the second match also along the way but we remained calm and we told ourselves in the team huddle that irrespective of the result we have to stick to the plan.
Q. Now that you have been a part of T20 cricket for a long time, what is next? Are you aiming for the IPL?
A. I would really love to be a part of the IPL team there are IPL Scouts watching us in the KPL. In fact, I am not too worried about getting into the IPL. My biggest goal is to play for the country. I want to represent them in tests and then maybe ODIs as well. It would be a great feeling to represent the team in all formats of the game. I had a good first season last year. I could have done a lot better. I will look to perform well this year because Ranji Trophy is the biggest platform in India for domestic cricketers. I feel that I am up there and hopefully, in the coming years, I will be a part of the Indian team. Irrespective of what happens it is a passion which will keep me going I enjoy playing and I have a lot of fun.