South Africa look to find ways to deal with 'noise and red mist'

Bowling coach Eric Simons on Jansen's struggles against India: "None of them are technical. It's really about being under pressure"

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
Marco Jansen was taken to the cleaners by Rohit Sharma and Co  •  Associated Press

Marco Jansen was taken to the cleaners by Rohit Sharma and Co  •  Associated Press

Angelo Mathews being timed out. Shakib Al Hasan defending his decision to appeal and then leaving the World Cup with a fractured finger. Glenn Maxwell batting on one leg to score a double-hundred in Australia's highest successful World Cup chase. England and Netherlands fighting for a Champions Trophy place. A lot has happened in the last 48 hours at this World Cup, so it's no wonder South Africa have been "talking about the noise." Of a different kind.
Bowling coach Eric Simons has channeled his inner psychologist in an attempt to understand why his bowlers, the second-best in the tournament in terms of wickets taken and average, came apart against India at Eden Gardens at the weekend. The question Simons is asking stems from psychologist Daniel Kahneman's work on bias, which considers why human judgement in instances such as court cases or doctors' diagnoses, which should be the same, can vary according to time of day or point in the week. Essentially, the "noise," as Kahneman identifies it, is the variation in what should be an objective analysis. Now Simons is asking the same thing of some members of the attack.
"What noise in the system has created the gap between how he actually bowled and the way we know he can bowl?" Simons has asked himself and Marco Jansen, who went from being the leading bowler in the powerplay across seven matches to running into Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill and completely losing his lines and lengths.
The answer is contained in the question itself. Before the match, Jansen told the media he was "very nervous," about the prospect of facing India at Eden Gardens doubtless because of the reputations of their players and enormity of occasion. He did not know how to quieten the internal noise and Simons noticed that he "went from concentrating on himself to concentrating on the opposition, which sometimes happens in those pressure moments."
And that means that Jansen's issue is a fairly easy fix because there's nothing about approach to the crease or his action that needs reworking. "It's not a technical conversation. There's potential and there's performance and he has bowled at a certain level, and then you see performance that is a little bit off," Simons said. "We've got four points that have come out of our conversation that we will focus on. If he gets under pressure again, we will address them. None of them are technical. It's really about being under pressure."
The four points were not divulged to the media but they all seem to be all which has also required the input of high performance coach Tom Dawson-Squibb, who has traveled with the squad to India. Dawson-Squibb has helped Jansen address issues like this in the past and encouraged him to channel any anxiety into positive energy. Having struggled to do that against India, Simons believes he will be better equipped for future assignments. "It's a great learning for him. I had said to the bowling group - to their frustration - that I was hoping we would have some tough situations and we did. It's not that he isn't capable of bowling the way he has done, it's a case of getting him back there," Simons said. "He is a young cricketer, he is new in the game and these things will happen."
In the two days since, Simons has not been able to put an arm around Jansen's shoulder, "because it's too high and I can't reach," but he has created several metaphors for South Africa to mull over. Handling the noise is one of them; dealing with "red mist" is another. An oft-used expression for the feeling of extreme frustration that can cloud judgement, similar to white-line fever, it can often manifest in misdirected aggression. Jansen didn't have any against India but he has previously got into it with Jasprit Bumrah (see the Johannesburg Test of January 2022) and has had some words with batters through this tournament.
While not discouraging his competitiveness, Simons wants to see it lead to something productive as the tournament comes to its most crucial stages. "When the red mist starts creeping in, you want people to identify it and for conversations that have taken place off the field to take place on the field and calm decisions are made in those moments," he said. "Otherwise, when you have those moments when red mist can slip in, you look back you will realise you weren't calm and you weren't in the moment."
And if you haven't quite had enough of buzzwords, here's one more. "Disruptor," is what Simons has labelled batters like Rashid Khan, Roelof van der Merwe and Maxwell. With South Africa set to come up against two of those in the next week, he wants the bowlers to have a plan for how to limit their capabilities.
"The important thing for us is that we do not allow the batters to dictate our tactics. Someone like Rashid Khan is what I call a disruptor. The way that he bats is very disrupting. He hits the ball in strange areas and can take you off your game plans" he said. "That's something that's very important for a bowling line-up to not allow."
South Africa have one more opportunity to practice Simons' methods in their last group game against Afghanistan on Friday before their semi-final against Australia next week which looks increasingly likely to be played in Kolkata (unless Pakistan sneak into the last four) and the familiarity of place, space and conditions is what Simons hopes will help them reduce the noise and stay consistent. "We are very fortunate that we played that match (against India) at what looks like the semi-final venue and we are playing the match against Afghanistan at what is going to be the final venue. We are trying to gather as much information as possible."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent for South Africa and women's cricket