I don't know what happens to a person when they walk out to bat. People tend to be nervous and so out of breath that it almost feels they are walking to the gallows instead of a game of cricket. Walking to the crease with 11 eyes watching you, taking guard, standing and actually being able to spot the ball rushing towards you seems like the most scariest thing in the world. It seems so easy in the nets but a completely different experience in a match. Its like presenting in front of a few people or giving a speech at your school assembly (which is freakin' scary). Opening the innings is probably as tough as it is made out to be. After a few failures one thinks to self that maybe - I am an opener because I want to be a good opener - rather than the more preferred - I am an opener because I am built to be a good opener. One feeds the other but once you start thinking like that it can ruin things a little bit. I have argued both sides on mental ability Vs talent. And this where I think being (relatively) comfortable with fear is a key mental skill that cannot be underestimated in any sphere of life.
Last year I was the new guy in the team, so this South African opening partner (who looked like Hudson with a moustache) asked me to go face the first ball. Now if there is something more scarier than opening the innings - it is facing the first ball. It is the unfortunate new guy or the person who can't say "no" who gets to do that. I do not know if there is any real psychological advantage of being a non-striker and getting to see a few balls being bowled before taking strike. But the perception of such an advantage is powerful and very popular. When I started opening for the very first time I'd insist that I be the non-striker. From last year onwards, I simply asked my partner to pick his preference and then do the other thing. This time however, I selfishly asked poor Niyantha to take first strike and he manfully did the task.
Division B cricket in the US is never a tough division. Most teams have one good bowler and then 3-4 others who can roll their arm over. So if you saw the opening spell off the only person who can get you out was you. And people who could stop their alter-egos from going for cross-batted heave across the line typically did well. Niyantha faced a bowler who was clearly moving the ball away. He pitched at 2/3rds length and it would move away at about shoulder height. The bowler I faced had just one good ball - the attempted "in-swinging" "yorker" at gentle pace. It is made a difficult ball to play only because you are new to the crease, cannot sight the ball and are nervous as hell. The other variation he bowled was the wide ball. With the heart thumping and brain not wanting to focus I was barely seeing the ball and sometimes was relieved that it hit my bat because it happened to travel in the direction where I poked my bat out. Typically teams all over the world have 3 or 4 default sledges that they repeat like a parrot everywhere. They shout "batsman has no clue. no clue at all" or something like "he wants to give his wicket away. let us help him" with the hope that you hear them and get that into your head. It works surprisingly well and that's why people keep saying that again and again.
5th over Niyantha fished outside off and got beaten. The very next ball he was tempted to go for a cover drive, was late and edged to slips. Felt very sorry for him. But he is very talented and am sure he will do well this season. Next over the new batsman faces this in-swinging yorker guy. I pleaded to this batsman that he should not play across the line, which he duly did play and top edged a catch to mid-wicket. Next batter walks-in and is warned by the outgoing batsman and me that the bowler really knows to bowl just one ball and a "non-straight bat" response would mean that he'd hit if we miss. He too plays across to an in-swinging yorker and is LBW first ball. So we are 3 down for 30 or so. The #5 batsman and I shut shop and defend like there is no tomorrow. Over time the ball's visibility gets better and I can actually see it hit my bat. Then comes the 10th over and the last over of the in-swinger's spell. The non-striker and I decide that we are going to ultra-defend until the 15th over. Now I am standing a foot outside the crease to counter the swing. That makes this bowler's delivery a rank full toss. I can't resist. I heave across the line, miss, get hit on the back-foot. LBW. 10 overs of defending comes to a naught.
Lost the opening bowling spot, again, as a result of last week's heroics. We pretty much sucked and gave the game away soon. Niyantha, was our best bowler and as I keep telling him he has an exact replica of Kumara Dharmasena's action. The day ended with a terrible defeat to a team with as vile a name as "Chuck De Oregons".