A Most Public Humiliation
September 18, 2013 6:07 AM   Subscribe

Boswell's head started to swim. He had been struggling to bowl to left-handers. Suddenly [the batsman] "looked as though he was 50 yards away. He was like a tiny dot. I just couldn't see him. Then I bowled a wide and I heard the noise of the crowd. I bowled a second wide, and the noise got louder and louder and louder." His muscles grew tight. His fingers grew tense. He began to sweat.
On the first day of September 2001, promising young fast bowler Scott Boswell came in to bowl for Leicestershire in the final of the C & G one-day cricket tournament against Somerset. A few minutes later, Boswell had given rise to a dark cricketing legend, TV footage that would eventually become one of the most watched cricket clips on Youtube, and his professional career was effectively over. In his first interview since that day, Boswell talks to Andy Bull about what happens after a bowler gets the yips.
posted by Sonny Jim (28 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow. I had no idea the yips existed in any sport other than baseball. Thanks for the post.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:15 AM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I thought it was just a golf thing, myself.
posted by jquinby at 6:20 AM on September 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


I distantly remember that match, and over bowled. Poor captaincy from Vince Wells (exacerbated by what sounds like a lack of support at the club) during the match. When you're playing cricket and it's going well, there is no feeling like it. But when it's going badly, and it's going badly because of your performance with bat, ball, or in the field, then it's a damned lonely and psychologically destructive sport.

It's interesting that the yips mainly affects left arm spinners. But also other forms of bowling, such as Steve Harmison on and off, who did well to come back from the first ball of the 2006/07 Ashes.
posted by Wordshore at 6:34 AM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Another variation on the yips is Dartitis which did Bristow in - one of the biggest players of the game
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:57 AM on September 18, 2013


I vividly remember watching that match and the transition from funny to sad, pleading at the screen "just put your fingers across the seam and get it in play".

Good story, and I'm glad he is both still involved on the sport and that he found some measure of atonement at Lord's.

(The slightly bonkers bit from a cricket point of view is him bowling a 28 ball over in club second XI cricket, where they have much milder restrictions on wides; having played a fair bit of club cricket, I can't think of anything vaguely comparable. It shows how much it must have written itself deep into his body.)
posted by Hartster at 6:57 AM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


[Comment removed. Nothing against "Nobody understands cricket" jokes, but, well, they're hardly inventive and people who comment here will probably be tired of them. You're more than welcome to sit this one out if cricket is not your thing. And email me your "Nobody understands cricket" jokes, I love 'em.]
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 7:04 AM on September 18, 2013 [10 favorites]


I just remembered playing a fun match years ago and bowling about 3 wides in a row and it's not a great feeling to put it mildly. I got a wicket with the next bowl so kind of redeemed myself, it must have been hell for Boswell
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:19 AM on September 18, 2013


Yeah, but how does it compare to getting hit for six sixes in the over a la Stuart Broad?
posted by Gyan at 7:36 AM on September 18, 2013


Um, really not a cricket joke, I watched the clip but being unfamiliar with the sport it did not seem particularly unusual. Was it that none of the pitches were hit, or that the pitches were wild?
posted by sammyo at 7:38 AM on September 18, 2013


Um, really not a cricket joke, I watched the clip but being unfamiliar with the sport it did not seem particularly unusual. Was it that none of the pitches were hit, or that the pitches were wild?

It was that the pitches (balls bowled) were wild (so far wide of the batsman that a penalty run is given for the batting side, and the bowler has to redo that particular delivery). Hence many balls were bowled in the over, instead of the usual six.
posted by Wordshore at 7:40 AM on September 18, 2013


Abstract of article about the yips in cricket, which leads to another one about the yips in golf and "choking".

n.b. choking is also used as an informal and derogatory term in cricket for a teams performance when they lose from a winning position, often applied to the South Africa national side.
posted by Wordshore at 7:44 AM on September 18, 2013


I'm forgetting the example, but something resembling the yips has also affected piano players.
posted by oneironaut at 7:59 AM on September 18, 2013


Um, really not a cricket joke, I watched the clip but being unfamiliar with the sport it did not seem particularly unusual. Was it that none of the pitches were hit, or that the pitches were wild?
Yeah, the thing with cricket (like, I guess, baseball from the pitcher's perspective) is that the game wholly relies on the bowler for its shape and rhythm. If the bowler goes to pieces (as Boswell did), the whole game effectively freezes too. As a bowler, you feel horribly exposed in this situation, and the psychology of that exposure is awful. You can sense Boswell visibly panicking and losing all composure during the clip.

Re: the "cricket joke" thing, yeah, that's understandable. Cricket seems like a dense knot of arcana from the outside, but it's just terminology. Once you know what the referents are, it's easy enough to piece together what people are saying. The reason I posted this was I thought the Guardian piece was unusually well written and tells a very human story of failure and redemption that one doesn't have to know a whole lot about cricket to understand.
posted by Sonny Jim at 8:14 AM on September 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


The "yips" happen in every sport with set-piece plays. Free-throw shooters get them, hockey players taking faceoffs and penalty shots get them, I'm sure corner-kick specialists get them in hockey.
posted by downing street memo at 8:16 AM on September 18, 2013


So why didn't they pull the guy? Do they not have replacement bowlers?
posted by cjorgensen at 8:43 AM on September 18, 2013


So why didn't they pull the guy? Do they not have replacement bowlers?

Unless he becomes injured, he has to complete his "over" of bowling, an over being 6 legitimate (not wide, or no ball) balls.

He was pulled after that, only the second over he bowled that day. See the scorecard; note he bowled only two overs ("O"), with all the other regular bowlers bowling the maximum 10 overs in this format of cricket, and DL Maddy bowling in his place after he was pulled.
posted by Wordshore at 8:50 AM on September 18, 2013


Cricket seems like a dense knot of arcana from the outside, but it's just terminology.

Terminology and a mass of statistics, yes. My two great loves in life (erm, apart from my fiancee) are cricket and baseball. The former I grew up with. The latter I did not understand from reading about it, even extensively; until I went to a few matches, sat down and actually figured it out from watching people play in front of me. Most of it then made sense.

Guessing the same is true for many people with cricket, perhaps. You can read all you want, and watch clips online, but going to a match and being immersed in it is often the easiest way to get it. There's a lot of club cricket in North America and cricket has been played in the USA for a surprisingly long time...
posted by Wordshore at 8:59 AM on September 18, 2013


I'm surprised that the concept of "yips" isn't common in the sport of bowling. Pro bowlers do "choke," but I can't find any equivalent phenomenon of an otherwise-great bowler who just loses the ability to bowl. Chris Barnes is well-known for choking at the ends of tournaments that he should have won, but he's still a future hall-of-famer (and that was even before he worked through whatever nerves were affecting his game - he's apparently been playing great this year).

I wonder if it's because with bowling, there's so much non-physical change-ups that can be made - a bowler can change their approach, they can change their grip, they can change their ball, etc. Maybe there's a kind of placebo effect. Even looking at some of Barnes's recent interviews, he attributes his improved play not to any sort of mental game, but because he got a new coach who's been working on his approach.

In cricket, baseball, and basketball, there's a regulation ball. That's really all you're working with.
posted by muddgirl at 9:02 AM on September 18, 2013


muddgirl: I wonder if it's because with bowling, there's so much non-physical change-ups that can be made - a bowler can change their approach, they can change their grip, they can change their ball, etc.

There is also, at least with baseball pitching, cricket bowling, and golf putting a sense of "potential infinity" to the stress. A pitcher/bowler who can't get it over the plate/wicket and a golfer who can't get it in the hole could theoretically be at it forever, surrendering bases/wides/strokes ad infinitum. In bowling at least you've got a few seconds to sit down and breathe after your frame while the other person bowls.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:08 AM on September 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


The yips also happen in American football so often that we have a position based term for the process of inviting them onto the field.
posted by Blue_Villain at 11:47 AM on September 18, 2013


Definitely real in soccer, specifically forwards and goalkeepers. Fernando Torres is probably the most famous recent example - he seemed to go almost overnight from one of the most confident and skillful players in the world to one who avoided putting himself in goalscoring positions in case he fluffed it. Often happens after a big transfer (£50 million in Torres' case). The huge price tags put pressure on a player to start performing immediately.
posted by kersplunk at 11:52 AM on September 18, 2013


Blue_Villain: The yips also happen in American football so often that we have a position based term for the process of inviting them onto the field.

The yips are different from icing the kicker though, in that they are at least semi-permanent and generally come out of nowhere.

kersplunk: Fernando Torres is probably the most famous recent example

I wish you had told me that before I fielded my Premiere League Fantasy Team this year.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:58 AM on September 18, 2013


The yips have traditionally been thought to being an extreme form of performance anxiety, but there is some preliminary research that the yips are actually focal dystonia, a very poorly understood neurological condition. There is anecdotal evidence that relearning whatever skill is being effected differently can be curative. Bernhard Langer had the yips putting and corrected them by learning to putt cross-handed. As a hand surgeon, I see professional musicians, most commonly pianists, with this condition and it can be career ending. It is heartbreaking to see as there is no reliable treatment currently.
posted by karlos at 5:46 PM on September 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


the pitches were wild?

Yes, exactly. Imagine a baseball pitcher throwing five wild pitches in a row, or six in an inning. A baseball pitcher is unlikely to last that long, but a cricket bowler has to finish his over. Note that Phil Niekro, one of the greatest pitchers of all time, threw six wild pitches in a game once, as did Bill Gullickson and J. R. Richards, so it's not unheard of. For a knuckleballer like Niekro, being wild was part of his arsenal; fear (and possible mental instability) is an advantage.

Cricket and baseball are the same game, as alike as ketchup and HP sauce.
posted by Fnarf at 11:44 PM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Dot a few seconds I was thinking, "huh. James Boswell played cricket, too."
posted by professor plum with a rope at 2:15 AM on September 19, 2013


karlos: As a hand surgeon, I see professional musicians, most commonly pianists, with this condition and it can be career ending.

Oh, wow. I'd love to hear more about the artistic yips.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:52 AM on September 19, 2013


Someone in the Guardian comments section mentions this more recent incident, involving New Zealand bowler Darryl Tuffey in a one-day match against Australia. It gives a sense of the "potential infinity" problem that Rock Steady talks about above and the acute stress it can generate.

There are also some interesting points of similarity here. Tuffey's also bowling to a left-hander: Adam Gilchrist, at the time one of the most intimidating and destructive batsmen in cricket. (Boswell had been bowling to the left-handed Marcus Trescothick, one of the best English batsmen of his generation.) But there are also interesting differences. Tuffey was a class above Boswell and had been bowling at international level for a number of years. (Which makes his sudden attack of paralysing nerves in the Australia game that much more puzzling.) He has a supportive captain: notice Stephen Fleming coming across from his fielding position at slip to reassure him on several occasions. And he eventually pulls it together: after that nightmare start where he can't seem to bowl a legal delivery to save his life, whatever fog was shrouding his mind lifts. The end of the over is quite good and he gets in one absolutely cracking delivery to Gilchrist. And he never suffers from a similar event again, so it's not the "yips" in the classic sense.

The Tuffey clip, though, probably gives a better sense of how Boswell's nightmare over looked in real time than the edited version on Youtube does.
posted by Sonny Jim at 6:13 AM on September 19, 2013


Rocksteady, not all that interesting, I'm afraid. When they are playing a piece, their fingers just won't go where they know they need them to go, striking the wrong keys. Try as they might, and they do because serious musicians border on madness with their dedication, they can't make it through a piece of music without a significant mistake. This happens when practicing alone as well as in front of an audience. They get small relief in that there is a "diagnosis" but increased frustration in that there is no cure.
posted by karlos at 1:21 PM on September 20, 2013


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