Cricket has long been a game played in the mind. From when the bowler pitches the ball, to how a field is set, to how aggressive a batter decides to play the first over – it all adds up to an enthralling sport where the brain is key.
People have often compared it to chess, but for sure it’s more like another game played over an oval of green: poker.
The similarities between cricket and poker are remarkable, which is why Shane Warne has 708 test wickets and $71,528 in live poker earnings. The skills make the transition from the field of play to the poker tables comfortably. Mike Atherton is comfortable at the tables, as is former England and Hampshire all-rounder Dimitri Mascarenhas, who competed in the 2013 Aussie Millions. But how can we match the required skills for cricket to the likes of Texas Hold’em?
The Art Of Deception
We’ll of course start with the art of deception and that man with 708 wickets. The Australian legend Shane Warne was the master when it came to confusing batsmen. He was the ultimate bluffer in the sport with a range of deliveries to keep batsmen on their toes – most notably, the flipper.
Like top poker pro Daniel Negreanu making a bluff, the difference in the leg spinner’s delivery was unnoticeable, drawing opposition into the wrong shots, and more often than not making the man who stood opposite look rather stupid. The big difference is that Negreanu takes prize pots, Shane Warne takes wickets.
Of course he’s not the only one. Muttiah Muralitharan had the doosra, and many fast bowlers have worked at length to master the slower ball, again luring even the best batsmen into a false sense of security.
Know Your Opponent
Like poker, and indeed most sports, knowing your opponent is essential. In a poker versus cricket infographic, it details that in both disciplines it’s hugely important to know players inside and out so you can react to moves they make. In cricket, huge teams of researchers study each player’s batting and bowling style, looking for weaknesses in order to not only get players out, but select their side too.
Using Negreanu as an example once again, he once said during an interview with ESPN that poker is all about playing the man. And that applies to cricket too. In recent months we’ve seen rising England star Moeen Ali hugely struggles with the short ball, and oppositions have targeted that, taking his wicket numerous times during the early stages of his career.
And it works both ways; batsmen will deliberately attack a bowler to affect their mentality, all to get an edge in the match.
Getting Inside Their Mind
In poker it’s called trash talk, in cricket it’s sledging, but both are integral parts of the game (and exciting for many fans too). Tony G is a good poker player known to get in the mind of an opponent, whilst Australia’s Mitchell Johnson’s efforts (shown in the video above) didn’t quite have the desired effect.
Chirping away at opponents is part and parcel of both, and has come under some criticism. However, it is an important way of getting in the mind-set. In James Anderson’s case, it had the adverse effect – going on to take a wicket – but often putting a niggly thought into an opponent will have them back in the pavilion in no time.
Playing The Waiting Game
In both cricket and poker you can be sitting around for hours at a time – waiting to bat, waiting for that good hand to attack – and it’s essential you keep your mind focused on the task ahead. If you are a batsman without concentration, you could be on your way back to the pavilion almost immediately, head in hand, with the most embarrassing score in the sport – a golden duck.
If you are a poker player, you could lose a lot of money or your chance to win the tournament. Self-talk is a good way to combat that, and many pros talk about what was good and bad about hands in their head. The same is done in dressing rooms, with players padded up, watching how every delivery is bowled, looking at how quick the wicket is.
Despite cricket and poker being hugely different sports, what goes on in the brain is incredibly similar. A strong focus and deceptive tactics, all in good spirit of course, is why top poker pros and international cricketers are where they are. Whether it be the spin of Murali or the mind-tricks of Negreanu, you have to admire and learn from them; you’ll certainly walk out to the crease a much more confident player – that’s for sure.