14 Mar 2018

Black Caps need to realise they're choking

8:58 am on 14 March 2018

The Black Caps need to not only recognise they have a problem winning series deciding matches but also deal with the issue properly says a leading sports psychologist.

The recent series loss to England highlighted a growing problem for the Black Caps.

It's the fifth series in the past two years where the Black Caps have lost the final and deciding games of an ODI series.

Of their last nine ODI bi-lateral series four have come down to series deciders and the Black Caps have lost each of them - twice to India, once to Pakistan and last weekend's one against England.

A similar pattern is emerging in T20 cricket too, with New Zealand having lost series to Pakistan, India and South in a similar fashion in the game's shortest format.

Sports psychologist Gary Hermansson, who has worked with Olympic athletes and several New Zealand national teams says the issue is a common problem.

Mike Hesson and Kane Williamson.ponder the series loss to England.

Mike Hesson and Kane Williamson.ponder the series loss to England. Photo: Photosport

"I think they (New Zealand Cricket) are aware of the problem ... but they haven't dug deeper into the real reasons why it's going on, beyond just the fact 'the boys didn't play too well'.

Professor Hermansson said what needs to be looked at is the "brain to body relationship and how that gets triggered where there is some kind of desire but also some fear of failure.

Professor Hermansson believes a large part of the problem is the emphasis that is placed on sport in New Zealand society.

"You get to the stage where (you tell yourself) this game really really matters and by definition it's also really uncertain ... and what happens is your mind is pushed ahead to the future to try and control the outcome rather than doing what you have been doing up to that point which is being able to stay together in harmony."

Professor Gary Hermansson.

Professor Gary Hermansson. Photo: Massey University

Another factor that also plays a part is fear.

"When the mind focuses on something that has some danger associated with it - danger about letting people down, worries about self esteem or being humiliated in some we have an instinct in us that pushes us into that fight, flight or freeze reaction and when that happens we just don't deliver as well as we could.

"We're best when we are underdogs as the expectations aren't there and we'll come through and take on anyone but when you make us favourites or contends we struggle."

That is borne out by the Black Caps too. Often the side has battled back into a series, coming from behind to level it and then lose the final.

"(In that situation) people are preparing for us to be beaten quite severely and therefore because the expectations are not quite so intense we then perform well to meet the challenge to show what we are made of.

"Then suddenly things reverse and expectations get higher - everyone that was at Hagley Oval on the weekend would have been part of this high expectation that 'hey we have a chance of winning this and the players would have been carrying this as well and when that happens it's a challenge to keep your head in the right place as well."

The Black Caps and coach Mike Hesson celebrate their Chappell-Hadlee series win.

Black Caps coach Mike Hesson celebrates the last time New Zealand won an ODI series decider - 2016 against Australia. Photo: Photosport

Black Caps coach Mike Hesson has often talked of the side not getting too hyped up over winning or too down about losing but Professor Hermansson said "that's Mike's way of taking away the favourites tag and perhaps give the side a bit more freedom to go in with lesser expectations which can help a bit but we have to be able to go a little bit further than that if we are to make a difference."

Professor Hermansson said only now are sports teams starting to go beyond "the business of we need to think more positively, or we need to have more desire or be more consistent.

"All the (right) language is there but ...but sports psychology now about understanding the way in which we handle anxiety and what the effect of it is on the mind and body under pressure."