BCCI has roped in Paddy Upton as the Indian team’s mental conditioning coach, this paper has learnt. Upton, 53, will start working immediately, from the upcoming five-match T20I series against the West Indies that commences in Tarouba from Friday. The mental conditioning expert has already reached the Caribbean to join the team and his contract will run until the T20 World Cup in Australia in October-November.
“Rahul Dravid (Indian team head coach) proposed his name to the BCCI and accordingly, Upton has been added to the support staff to help the team prepare for the T20 World Cup,” a top BCCI official told The Indian Express.
Upton was part of India’s 2011 World Cup-winning set-up, handpicked by then India coach Gary Kirsten. During his first stint with the Indian team, between 2008 and 2011, Upton worked in the dual role of mental conditioning coach and strategic leadership coach, developing a fine rapport with a lot of players, including Dravid. India also briefly reached the top of the ICC Test tree during that period. Later, the two worked together as coaches in the IPL.
Following the launch of The Barefoot Coach, a book by Upton, the latter was effusive in Dravid’s praise, as he posted on Twitter: “Rahul Dravid played an integral part in my coaching journey, since first working with him back in 1995! I’ve since learned loads from him, about cricket and life – the best of which is shared in my book, The Barefoot Coach. Thanks RSD”.
The admiration is mutual, attested by Dravid’s words in Upton’s book: “Paddy is a thought-leader. He brings a unique approach and relevant approach to cricket and life.”
India haven’t won an ICC trophy since 2013 and the BCCI is leaving no stone unturned to end the drought. Before the T20 World Cup last year, MS Dhoni was included in the set-up as team mentor, the idea being to pick the brain of the former captain whose career was embellished with three ICC titles. Dhoni was pretty hands-on during the team’s training sessions in the United Arab Emirates, but India failed to qualify for the semifinals, losing to Pakistan and New Zealand in their first two matches. With the appointment of Upton, the BCCI and the head coach have ostensibly gone back to move forward.
Appointing sports psychologists/mental conditioning experts is nothing new in Indian cricket. Renowned sports psychologist Sandy Gordon joined the Sourav Ganguly-led Indian team before the 2003 World Cup and made his ‘now or never’ catchphrase very popular in the camp. India went on to play the final.
Greg Chappell as the Indian team head coach had brought in sports psychologist Rudi Webster. The practice of appointing a mind coach was done away with after Shastri took charge of the Indian team. His successor has decided to return to the old ways.
At the end of the 2011 World Cup, Upton joined the South African team as its performance director and stayed in that role until 2014. He has also worked as the head coach of Pune Warriors, Rajasthan Royals and Delhi Daredevils in the IPL. He had his stints as head coach in the Big Bash League and the Pakistan Super League as well, with Sydney Thunder and Lahore Qalandars respectively.
“So we really did not focus on losing or winning, but on the kind of cricket we’re playing. We knew at that point that we were already playing good cricket throughout the 100 overs of a one-day game, both with the bat and ball. The focus was to keep playing the best possible cricket and not worry too much about the result,” Upton wrote on The Indian Express last year, offering an insight to his working style during India’s World Cup-winning campaign.
“In reality, apart from a few, I have never worked or met any athlete in cricket or any other sport who doesn’t have insecurity, doubt, vulnerability and negative thoughts. It’s normal. We all have them and the expectation that athletes should not have these (emotions) is rubbish … The single biggest mental obstacle to success in cricket, and probably any sport, is fear of failure and pressure. When you have a senior player who gets very emotional around mistakes, that increases the fear of failure and the pressure, and decreases the chance of younger players performing” he said in Express Idea Exchange.
Those who have seen him at close quarters would confirm that the man, who has a degree in Human Movement Sciences, likes to keep things simple.