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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Viru and the power of concentration

Virender Sehwag's 293 against Sri Lanka compels one to admire his deep commitment to the sport, and more importantly, his ability to concentrate during such long knocks.

Thursday's feat comes about a year after he constructed 319 off only 278 balls against South Africa to break his own record of the highest individual score by an Indian in Tests.
This unique quality of playing flamboyantly -- and along with that -- managing to retain concentration for such prolonged periods demarks the 31-year-old from the rest of the great Indian batsmen.

Intense concentration is a quality which is required to excel in any form of human endeavour. And even though we all know what concentration is, I would like to offer a very apt definition of concentration which has been given by Swami Parthasarathy in his book, The Vedanta Treatise. The book defines concentration as, "The intellect supervising the mind to remain in the present". This is a definition which every sportsperson can relate to because typically in any sporting situation when one is poised at a crucial juncture, the mind collapses thinking about a disappointing past incident or reaches a premature state of euphoria even before scoring the winning stroke and in the process is unable to finish the task at hand.

The 'nervous nineties' in cricket is a case in point and if one goes through the record books, one will find countless batsmen across the world having succumbed when in the nineties. The state of the mind, like I mentioned earlier, either remembers a disappointing incident of the past or begins the process of sub-conscious celebration even before reaching the 100-run mark.

Ironically, it is the ability to play each ball with the mind only on 'that ball' -- and not for any record -- that make great cricketers of the world actually establish those records.

They just focus on keeping the mind in the present.

And can concentration be developed over a period of time or are great athletes born with it? Concentration can be developed. For a sportsperson, hours of practice on the field help in building concentration. The intensity of concentration is built over a period of time, increases with an athlete's involvement with his particular sport and peaks after the athlete has spent about 10,000 hours honing his skills in his or her respective sport. This is a theory put forth by Michael Gladwell in his recent book, The Outliers, wherein he has documented a very strong correlation between achieving excellence and 10,000 hours of work by a person in any particular field.

And most of the great records in sport have been created by athletes who have completed their 10,000 hours. It is for this reason they say that success is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.

So whilst we salute Sehwag for yet another praiseworthy innings, let us also remember that behind his talent, concentration and ability to score runs with such effortless ease, lies a lot of hard work.

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