Putting mind over matter

Indian cricketers get tips from motivational speaker Mike Horn

 India’s conditioning coach Paddy Upton (left) with Mike Horn. DH photo

The gentle limbering up of the previous day was relegated to history as Gary Kirsten put the team through the wringer on a blistering forenoon which began with an extended ground-fielding and catching session at the Chinnaswamy stadium.

The squad then retired to the nets at the KSCA ‘B’ ground which houses facilities of both the National Cricket Academy and the Karnataka Cricket Academy, whose chairman Gundappa Viswanath was much in demand for his words of wisdom. All the specialist batsmen had long hits though, interestingly, Suresh Raina didn’t get as much batting as the rest and had to patiently bide his time as his batting mates alternated between the pacers’ net, the spinners’ net and the Kirsten net -- the throwdown arena.

Zaheer Khan looked in outstanding rhythm as he worked up excellent pace and bounce; he was quite the cynosure even as Mahendra Singh Dhoni sent a net bowler away for medical attention after pinging him with one of several massively powerful blows, but it was a gentleman clad in blue jeans and wearing the new red practice shirt -- the sponsor’s choice, Dhoni pointed out -- that attracted plenty of attention.

Mike Horn is no stranger to Indian cricket. The 44-year-old South African is the king of expeditions, having paraglided and rafted in the Peruvian Andes, descended the Mont Blanc Glacier on a body board, broken the world record for the highest descent of a waterfall with a hydrospeed on the Pacuare River in Costa Rica, and beaten the trans-Atlantic world record in sailing.

He is also a motivational speaker who met with the Indian team on the eve of the second Test against South Africa in Kolkata last February. India had gone into the Test needing to win to square the series and preserve their number one ranking. Horn’s interactions obviously made an impression on the team, which pulled off a famous late innings victory; his long-term association with Gary Kirsten has made it possible for the team to feed off his expertise for a second time, this time with the larger goal of victory in the World Cup beckoning.

India have had several trysts with mind-men. Sandy Gordon and Rudi Webster readily come to mind, while Charles Krebbs, essentially a kinesiologist, also spent time with the team during the Greg Chappell era. Different individuals have benefited from such interactions with different results, a direct result of the amount of trust the men have been able to generate in the players.

Horn, who made a presentation to the team on Thursday evening and is said to have given a CD to each of the players, is perhaps less of a psycho-analyst than a motivator. Having put in the hard yards and gone through the grind, he is an unqualified master who has managed to garner the respect and admiration of the Indian team. He will not travel with the team during the World Cup -- his association will end after the warm-up game against Australia here on Sunday -- but in whatever time he gets with the team, his expertise and experience is bound to rub off on Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men.

Horn was elected a member of the Laureus World Sports Academy in January 2007, reward for his multitudinal achievements mirroring the strength of the human spirit. If he can stoke the fire in an already charged-up squad and further strengthen the collective Indian spirit, Kirsten will have pulled off another in a series of masterstrokes.

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