"In recent times, [England]... knew their numbers, they were precise. They had their theories. Three maidens leads to a wicket. If a player in your top three scores a ton in an ODI game, you’ll generally win. It’s a mindset of conservative trust in your plans and in pre-determined patterns of play prevailing. Sam Curran, and particularly his display in this match, couldn’t be further from that era... Today at Edgbaston he showed he’s a gambler, and he broke the Test right open."
Sam Curran swinging England back into a Test match is a great story. But it's this above quote I'm interested in. The dicotomy set up is trusted plans versus confident gambling. And it's clear CricViz prefer the latter.
But how different are the two options?
You can have a plan that is based on precision and conservative trust and also be able to take a risk based on a hunch. To me they are not in opposition.
It's a little like driving. Here in the UK - where roads are among the safest - there are strict rules that allow you to get to your destination safely and efficiently. If you ignored those rules totally (running red lights, driving the wrong side of the road, breaking the speed limit and so on) in the hope of getting somewhere more quickly, you would likely have an accident. Reckless abandon is not a good solution in any situation. At best, you get away with doing something silly.
On the other hand, if you stick to the letter of the Highway Code totally, you will sometimes find yourself in situations that slow you down. Unusual road layouts, or safe overtaking for example, mean you have to "break the rules" to remain safe and efficient. This is mindful execution of skill. You are not shackled by premeditation. You are still largely following a plan, you are just adapting to changing situations as you go.
Remind you of batting?
I'll give you an example. You are driving on a two lane road in traffic that seems to be getting heavy up ahead. From the way the traffic moves, you get a sense for needing to change lanes early. If you wait too long you end up slowing everyone down by changing lanes in heavy traffic. But you can't be sure a lane change so early will be helpful yet. Your instincts just tell you it's time to go and you make a decision in the moment. Get it right and you reach your destination sooner. In cricket, you can have a similar sense. A bowling change brings on someone young who looks nervous. You can't be sure, but you think this could be the player to take a chance at attack. You make a decision in the moment. Get it right, and your chase looks confident as you blaze past the target.
In other words, there is room for both safety in a well-established plan, and an instinctive breaking from the plan in the moment.
To return fully to cricket, you could argue Curran took too many risks and just got lucky. He seemed to run a few red lights! Yet, more important than the level of risk, he clearly felt able to make a decision and go with his own way.
As coaches, our job is to create an environment where this can happen. There will be rules and theories and plans. Yet, there will also be a feeling of "trust your gut". If a player feels the situation requires something outside the plan, they must feel able to try.
In Curran's case, it worked. In many other cases it will not. It almost doesn't matter.
As long as the player can walk off the park - performed or failed - with their head high saying "that was my plan" then there are no recriminations from the team, the captain or the coach. That's a great culture, great mindset, great team spirit and a team with a good chance of success.