I have been lucky enough (some might think unlucky) to play a lot of cricket with Joe. We both play for Norths and I was playing for QLD when he was coming through the ranks. When Burny started he definitely stood out as someone who loved batting and he showed early doors that he had the skill set to perform at the highest level. I remember having a conversation a few years ago with Clinton Perren (Norths and QLD ex-player) about how Joe’s game had gone to the next level. CP’s exact words were, “What’s happened to Bursny?. When I left he was just a normal batter, nothing like he is now”.
Watching Joe over the last little bit not score runs has been tough for everyone. Tough because we want to see him do well, you always want your mates to do well. You never want to see them struggle and you never want to see them go through the media circus that begins once you are beginning to really fight for your spot. It’s sort of like Murphy’s Law. When you are in form and not a care in the world, you nick them, half-chances go your way and everything just seems to fall in place for you. When you are struggling a bit and fighting to keep your head above water it seems everything goes the other way. Half chances, batting 1st on a green deck, and then just the other night, Joe got caught at deep third man.. I mean seriously if he was supposedly in form that is going 10m to the left or right of the fielder and he would have been off and running.
Almost every cricketer/athlete has been where Joe is right now. At some stage, during our careers, we have all faced the chopping block. We have all been there trying to keep our heads above water and hold onto our spot and sometimes it just feels there is a higher power that is stopping you from actually getting going. It’s hard to explain but once you get stuck in this frame of mind, it’s when you begin to let all of the external/white noise in. It’s about now we start to look at changing things in our game. We start to critique every little thing we are doing. Is my head in line? Are my hands in close to my body? Is my run up the same speed? Is my seam pointing the right way? The list goes on and as an athlete, you don’t sleep. Your mind never stops trying to fix this problem that has suddenly crept into your game and is in danger of contributing to you getting the axe! What if nothing you do will change the course? What if it is just meant to be? What if getting dropped is just a lesson for you to learn and be a better player?
I remember my last test match for Australia. I hadn’t bowled well in the match before in Mohali and Harbajhan had bowled well and he had really strangled us with his lines and his angles. During the 1st test, Punter had actually taken me off in the 2nd innings because I was leaking too many runs and I never saw the ball again. We lost the test by 1 wicket and I had played a small role in a place where I was supposed to play a huge role. My game wasn’t up to scratch bowling against Sehwag, Tendulkar, Laxman, Dhoni, and the very young Pujara. The reporters had actually asked Ricky why I didn’t come back on and his reply was “He knows why”. He then proceeded to tell them that he would like it if I was more like Harbajhan and bowled from a wider angle and drift the ball into the Indians. Well, I heard that and thought, ok if this is what I need to do then I will work on it during the test. I worked with bowling coach Troy Cooley on this for about 5 days and tried to implement it during the test….. Well, what do you think happened?? I got absolutely whacked everywhere. Sachin made a double century and I was just a basket case trying to work out what to do. I remember walking out after lunch on the final day and Jon Davison was there and I was literally spiraling out of control with thoughts and he just said: “make sure you are clear on what you are trying to do”.. As you could imagine we lost and I only took 3 wickets for the test and it was the last test I ever played.
You may be wondering what the point of my story is. My point is this.. When you are selected for a team you are selected because of the skills you have displayed. Others around you believe you are good enough to be playing in that position, if they didn’t then you wouldn’t be playing. When we as an athlete are starting to feel pressured, concerned or nervous about our spots, we look for certain things to fix or tinker with when the reality is, what we need to do is clear our minds, don’t listen to that external noise and get our own routines into the best shape possible. Sounds easy but I guarantee it isn’t. It’s one of the hardest things in the world to do.
If you were an athlete in our position what would you do? Would you change something? Would you listen to the external noise? Would you develop a new shot or new delivery? Or would you trust that 95% of your technique has been good enough up until now, this is just a small glitch in your career that you will overcome with some hard work? I know what I didn’t do and looking back at my career I wish I had done the latter!