Paddy Upton was India's mental conditioning coach at the 2011 Cricket World Cup, which India won under the leadership of MS Dhoni. Paddy, who has come out with his new book The Barefoot Coach, spoke to Shubham Pandey, on how he prepared players for the big moments, MS Dhoni's lack of form throughout the tournament and those two moments when he felt India were going to lift the trophy.
If I have to go back to the beginning of this journey with the Indian team, I have to remember Gary Kirsten and my first assignment, which was the Test series against South Africa. Gary had played 101 Tests for South Africa. I was a South African, who had spent ten days in India in a new role. I remember Gary and me having an honest conversation one night. It was about patriotism versus our new roles as Indian coaches and honestly, we did not know the answers. But moments before we won our first Test match against South Africa, it was crystal clear, in every cell of my body, that I wanted India to beat South Africa. That's when I realised I am completely engrossed in this journey. That I am Indian in every sense. Gary said the same thing. We both never expected this but we wanted everyone of those South African players to fail.
My biggest challenge during the 2011 ODI World Cup was to prepare players for the big moments when the pressure is really on. We expected to get through the qualifiers. I think we were good enough as a team to do that. When we got through to the qualifiers, we wanted to prepare players for those big moments. We wanted to make players ready for these moments without actually putting pressure on the players. We needed to maintain a delicate balance to prepare them for those moments, by talking about them in a light-hearted manner.
Dhoni's lack of form
There was a very clear understanding that we were going to spread the amount of pressure throughout the tournament among the players. It was clear that we cannot expect only two or three players to deliver results for us because that will put too much pressure on them and when that happens, people tend to either go away or over-strive. As a batsman, even a No 10 was told to take up the responsibility to deliver. Throughout the tournament, we won games because people were standing up when it was their moment. There had not been a moment when MS Dhoni needed to stand up. I think there was always the understanding that his moment would come. And when that comes, he would be ready to make it count. There were not any specific conversations I had with Dhoni through the tournament related to his lack of form with the bat. He waited for the moment to rise up and in the end, we all saw that he did.
I recall Yuvraj coughing a lot. The reality is that in high-pressure tournaments, when the pressure is so much, physically and mentally, people fall sick. The immunity decreases because of pressure. Someone or the other will get a tummy issue or a problem in the chest. I just thought it was the cause of pressure. At that time, it was not that bad to approach him and talk him about it.
'We' are going to win the Cup'
There were two moments when we thought we will go on to win the Cup. One was during the early qualifying games, walking to the breakfast table with R Ashwin. He asked me, "Paddy, do you believe in fate?" I said, "What do you mean?" He replied, "I just feel we are meant to win this World Cup." I actually felt his words deep in my heart when he said that. Both of us somewhere knew now. That did not mean we were going to win. But there was such a deep realisation about it happening in our heart. The second moment was when Dhoni tapped on the glass window and indicated to Gary (Kirsten) that he was batting ahead of Yuvraj and then when he walked down the stairs at Wankhede, I turned to Gary and said that MS is going to win us the World Cup. These were my exact words.
I would say both of the games (QF against Australia and Semi-final against India) were very tough. Playing against Pakistan is itself a huge motivation for the players. You don't need to motivate them. Plus, there was the additional pressure. Everyone knew that if Pakistan beat us, they would go to Mumbai to play in the final. Despite that, we tried to focus on the job that we needed to do. The other thing is that while there is a lot of rivalry, the majority of India and Pakistani players are very good friends. They might be fiercest rivals on the field but they are great friends off it.
Against Australia, we had anticipated that this was a mini-final and whoever wins this, has got the best chance of going on to actually winning the trophy. It was not just a quarter-final win, it was more than that because it would have removed the strongest team and given us a lot of confidence.
If I could take that feeling — when the ball left Dhoni's bat, and soared into the Mumbai sky that night — and bottle it and then sell it, I would be the richest man in the world. It would be the most addictive drug in the world. It is a feeling that is beyond anything that I have comprehended before. It is beyond my vocabulary to define the euphoria, the excitement of winning the tournament. Any Indian who follows cricket, I think, will relate to me at this moment when I talk about winning the 2011 World Cup because we all felt it.
The next morning, we all had a hangover. But there was a sense of emptiness as well. That the journey had come to an end. It was pretty much like post-Olympics blues that people talk about. And we came to know that life is a journey and not a destination.
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