John Scott Masthead
March 13 2012 at 11:20

If you complete a sudoku puzzle just before going in to bat, your cricketing performance is likely to improve.

So Dr Sharhidd Taliep informs me. I forgot to ask him yesterday whether he had also told the South African cricket administrators of his discovery. It could have our padded-up Test batsmen all sucking their pencils while they waited for the next wicket to fall.

I met Sharhidd last week at the annual Wynberg Old Boys’ match. He was one of several Old Boys who had played for Western Province and been invited to a mid-match tea party.

The headmaster, Keith Richardson, introduced him to me with the words: “This is the man who got his doctorate on swing bowling.”

“Actually, it was more about batsmen facing swing bowling,” Sharhidd modestly corrected him.

Whatever the technical nature of the topic, it was certainly one up on former cabinet minister Connie Mulder whose MA thesis examined the intricacies of hopscotch.

Connie, like most ministers, hopped from one portfolio to another, and ended up by changing the name of “Bantu Affairs” to Plural Relations. Whereupon his detractors immediately began referring to all those under his department’s administration as plurals.

But Connie was well before Sharhidd’s time. The full title of this class of ’95 pupil’s thesis was: “An investigation into the kinematic cortical electrical and visual search strategy of skilled and less-skilled cricket batsmen in response to projected video footage of a medium-fast bowler.”

There was only one response of my own to this, and that was “Ja, well, no fine”.

In layman’s language it was measuring the mechanics, the brain function and the visual tracking by batsmen of provincial standard on the one hand, and by average club batsmen on the other, of in-swing and out-swing bowling.

The more skilled players were able to detect the direction of swing about 2m sooner than the less skilled players.

It all had to do with high alpha waves in the left temple cortex of the brain, apparently. They inhibited language processing and enabled the batsman to play the right shot automatically.

Sharhidd, who lectures in exercise science at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, has subsequently discovered that doing analytical work, such as sudoku, just before batting, helps inhibit language processing and improves batting performance.

Putting at golf, too.

“I knew my sudoku would finally come in handy,” my wife exclaimed, who knew there had to be a key to more consistent putting after a long-shafted putter failed to do the trick.

Another former Western Province cricketer I chatted to was Dave McMeeking. He was instantly recognisable though the last time I saw him was when I left school 57 years ago.

At home afterwards I dug up a photograph of him and me in the same under-14 A team, presided over by a stern-looking Bill Bowden, then the headmaster.

I also shook hands with Richard Levi, who rained sixes down on hapless New Zealand spectators the other day.

“You should still be in New Zealand,” I told him, except there would have been nobody to save the Cobras at Paarl on Sunday if he had been.

Now there’s a man with no need to do sudoku before going in to bat.


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