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Lessons learned from playing in teams at the highest level

Insight

16 November 2018

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Interview with visually impaired cricket player Sam Murray: lessons learned from playing in teams at the highest level.

Sam Murray plays cricket for England’s visually impaired GB team. He has a visual impairment, with restricted visual field along with cataracts, which affects his detail of vision.

Here Sam talks to us about the game of visually impaired cricket, the team’s 2018 India tour and lessons learned since his move, from GB Rowing, to cricket.

Sport has always been a big part of who I am. I previously rowed for the GB rowing team and wanted to continue playing a sport I could work around my new role at Lane4.

In 2018 I decided to move my sport from rowing to cricket and tried out for England Cricket. They invited me to join their academy programme, which fitted around my new job, and soon enough I was selected for the performance squad. This came with an opportunity to tour India. It feels like a whirlwind because all of this happened within the space of a year.

 

The difference between visually-impaired cricket and mainstream cricket

In visually impaired cricket we are categorised into three levels of sight: B1, B2 and B3. I play in the B2 category.

In B1 four players are almost completely blind or have very low-level sight. For fairness, they all wear goggles or blacked out glasses to make the level of sight equal across those players.

You then have another three players in B2, with mid-range sight, and up to four players in B3 who are visually impaired but have a little more sight than the middle category.

Then there are a couple of other differences:

  • In visually impaired cricket the ball is bowled underarm at speeds of 70-75mph. An underarm bowl means it’s hard to spot the ball because it moves across you low to the ground.

  • The ball itself is the same size as a standard cricket ball but it’s made of white hard plastic and has ball bearings inside it.

  • The lowest sight players score double runs, so, if they’re able to hit a 4 then that’s actually 8 runs.

  • In the batting line-up, the sequence has to go B1, B2, B3 and if you’re B1, almost completely blind, you don’t run for yourself. Instead the higher sight category runs for you. We therefore have to be really tactical about how certain players are used and where they might bat.

 

The India tour

To help us train and prepare for our two-week tour to India this year, the English Cricket Board provided a full-time coach, Ross Hunter. Aside from coaching us for the tour, Ross’ goal is to direct us towards our vision of being world leaders in three years.

Part of this preparation was a decision to go on tour to play two of the leading teams in the world: India and Sri Lanka. The strategy was to play India as much as we can, to learn what they’re doing well and identify if they’re doing anything differently to us. From this we could then work out what we need to be doing tactically on the pitch.

We played an initial series of three games against India, then a triangular series against India and Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka are ranked similarly to us but have improved since they have the opportunity to play India more often. India are the leading team and won the last World Cup.

To give you a comparison, England has 1,000 players to select from, and India has 40,000. They also get around 60-70 games of cricket in a year as well as training camps, which means the standard is very high.

On tour we didn’t get a win. But, it was more important that we focused on our success as a team. What this looked like for us was the performance under our two new young captains aged just 21 and 25. They conducted themselves on the pitch in an impeccable manner, developed an awareness of their teams’ feelings, and how they want to adapt within a new game. A refreshing change from the rather dominating leadership style that we sometimes experience in other sport.

 

Lessons from the tour and playing visually impaired cricket

Be adaptable and flexible in a team

I was impressed at how well my teammates were able to adapt relatively easily and respond to their environment. It’s quite a contrast to my experience of rowing, where there’s a set plan and focus, with only a few minutes to execute. There’s not as much time to adapt. In a race you can make small changes to your game play, but, ultimately, you’re out there to keep your plan.

In cricket there’s a lot more flexibility to deviate from the plan because there are more variables.

We’ve got some brilliant bowlers on the team. They can bounce the ball well and bowl at around 65mph. Interestingly, we found that on tour we had more success from the slower bowlers. Adaptability became really important. Players who had been practicing fast bowling all year suddenly had to adapt their technique to bowl slower balls as these were more effective.

My key takeaway: keep noticing what’s going on around you and your team and encourage people to stay flexible so you can adapt quickly when something happens that might be unexpected.

 

A team leader and culture that is supportive

In sport there’s sometimes a perception you’ve got to be a shouty person to be a leader.

I think it’s more important to provide an environment where everyone can be their best which our coach championed. He commented on how supportive our team is. As a leader, I think it’s important to strike the right balance, as we all care about having the motivation to win in a supportive environment.

In rowing, if you miss a stroke, or make a mistake, you’ve still got six minutes to make up for that, and you can use that motivation to your advantage. On a cricket pitch, if you allow your head to drop at any point in the game, that’s your wicket gone, and you’ve got to wait for the next game. The team environment is so important for setting players up for success in cricket. If they play that wrong shot off the first ball, the team needs to support them in getting back on track for the remainder of the game.

My key takeaway: As a team leader it’s important to remember the power of role modelling. If you want to create a supportive culture, make sure you role model that in your own actions.

 

Be focused on your goal

When you’re playing in a series of cricket games and find yourself on a bit of a losing streak, you’ve got to find the purpose to what you’re doing and focus on the elements of your performance that will eventually enable you to win. You need the motivation to train, have sight of the goal, and find those bits that worked even though you didn’t get the win.

My key takeaway: if you find your team on a bit of a losing streak it can be easy for people to feel down - help restore motivation by reminding people of the purpose behind what you’re there to achieve and get them excited about it.

 

Learn and improve

Instead of going to India, we could have gone to the West Indies or Australia and stood a better chance of winning. But was that going to help us achieve our goal of winning the World Cup in 2021?

Our coaching and support staff felt it was more purposeful to play a difficult opponent, in difficult conditions - 35-degree heat and 95% humidity - with a much smaller chance of winning.

The goal was not necessarily to win the series, but to work out what we needed to achieve, and how we needed to play, in order to improve and put in our best performance at the World Cup.

My key takeaway: when setting team goals, think beyond what’s going to drive short term performance improvement and considered the longer term

 

Would you like to know more about visually impaired cricket, or even try it for yourself?

Lane4 regularly runs sessions with the England coach, Ross Hunter, who helps to facilitate an exercise where clients can practice a number of leadership lessons such as:

  • Practising resilience and performing under pressure

  • Improving feedback and communication

  • Creating a high performing team

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