Towards the end of the first season of Netflix show ‘Selection Day’, the younger brother questions his older brother for sabotaging another player’s century, and the older one argues back, ‘He was about to break my record.’ Soon enough, he was to face the retribution for that, putting his own career in jeopardy. The lack of sportsmanship that the older brother displays doesn’t arise from his ambition alone, but is rooted in the kind of parenting and pressure that he has been subjected to, all his life, making him believe that victory has to be achieved at any cost.
This might be an extreme example of how teenagers can act out under pressure, but for former Indian Test player and captain of Tamil Nadu Ranji team Abhinav Mukund, such scenes would bring back memories of his own childhood of performing under pressure and the fear of that dreaded ‘Selection Day’.
As we sit down to chat about it, I ask him what was his best memory of the day when he was to know if he would make it to the India team or not. “I was sitting alone in a hotel room,” he says with a mild laugh. “The system is such that the media gets to know about who got selected before we do, the selection committee releases the list publicly, everyone finds out along with you. So, I was constantly refreshing the feed on my phone, or waiting for a call for someone to tell me if my name was on the list. I was keeping my fingers crossed. And then they released the list, and my phone blew up!”
The wait to get into the Indian team can be an emotional rollercoaster. “Whenever I thought I would be in the Indian team, I was not there. And when I least expected it, I got through.”
Abhinav has a lot to offer for the millions of kids and their parents who are eyeing an international cricket career. For the children, making it into First Class cricket is the only reward for their hard work, but Abhinav talks about how the path to international stardom is built on a positive attitude and encouraging parents.
“Especially in junior cricket, kids should not lose hope. They should not feel bad just because of one bad match or a few bad performances. It is a game with a lot of variables, and sometimes it could even be a bad decision which leads to a dismissal on the field, or not being selected to a team. You cannot be disheartened by that,” he says.
“Every selection, no matter what, even if you are sure, there is still a little bit of nervousness,” he recounts.” I still remember how about 150-200 of us used to stand outside the TNCA (Tamil Nadu Cricket Association), waiting to know if we would be chosen in the top 60. But there is also a lot of excitement being there. We would be discussing with a lot of passion on who would get selected, or who would be the captain.
And was there fear? “Definitely. Of course, there was the fear of not getting selected. Every boy feels that even more when you are playing junior cricket. But when you get older, you have the maturity to deal with it. As children, several thoughts run through our head and it is difficult to deal with the pressure.”
“And that is why all these children need a lot of validation and encouragement,” he says, pointing out that parents and the immediate social circle of a good player can apply immense pressure on children, which can have a bad impact on the child.
“Personally, I was very lucky to have a family where many had played the sport, they understood the sport and knew that there are variables which are beyond my control. They were all mature enough to understand that they cannot push me beyond a point,” he says. “But I know a lot of people who used to push their sons or nephews to go the extra mile, they would talk to selectors about them. It is make-or-break at 14 years of age, so they would do that extra pushing to that child.”
That pressure doesn’t work for everyone, right, especially if the dream of international cricket has been foisted on you. “Yes, eventually somewhere down the line, it takes a toll. When you become an adult, you realise that this is not a dream. They tend to lose the passion for the sport. You start seeing that they don’t want to do it anymore. I have had such conversations with other players, who say that they just want to leave the sport and go. It is not a pleasant feeling.”
Parents putting pressure on children, is unacceptable, he says. “There are a lot of things they can do to be encouraging. They can help them with the practice sessions, and just be around for moral support and encouragement. Parents should not show disappointment on their faces, I see that happen. And I hope that changes.”
Abhinav dealt with the pressure with a positive attitude. “I always believed that I practiced the hardest among everyone. I practiced a lot more than the others, which is why I feel I was successful at junior level, so I was confident.”
And family support can be crucial. “My dad was a cricketer, he invested a lot in my skills. A lot of people thought he used to get angry with me or harsh, but he has never yelled at me. We have only had good conversations about the sport and my performance.” But he hastens to add that some of amount of pressure can be good. “If you want to be a sportsman at 14, you have to take it very seriously. By 17, you will be in the big league, and that is the time your body is changing and you start playing with adults. So that pressure is good, but it is important to take it well. And I know it is easy to say that, but tough to deal with that pressure.”
And as important as dealing with the pressure, is dealing with failure. “Multiple times I have had to face failure, and everyone must. I remember my failures more, in fact. These things stick for a long time. If I look back, I do feel bad. People bashing you on social media, you feel like you have let your team and country down. Eventually, with time, your wounds heal and you do get the opportunity to prove yourself again. And that has happened to me to. So, it is important to stay positive.”
Watch Selection Day on Netflix: