Are lucky charms, auspicious acts, and talismans more important than the skills of individual players, or the collective strength of a team?
Some people seem to think so.
For how often have you heard of a certain player insisting on keeping a particular jersey, wearing it during important games, and swearing not to wash the prized shirt until the end of a season?
Ridiculous, you might say, but they do happen more often than you think, in practically all sports events, including football and cricket, and across the globe.
In some instances, a fan may insist on watching the game from a particular side of a stadium to cheer his favourite team to victory, or sitting on a specific couch in the living room for luck while the game progresses on TV.
After all, all sports are games of chance, where even the ablest and most skilful teams could lose to underdogs. Click here to read more about games of chance.
This is where the logic behind favourites and underdogs comes into play. While training, skills, and teamwork add more winning opportunities, they do not guarantee a victory.
There is always the probability that one or two players of the underdog team would play an exceptional game on a specific play date, while the favourites would have a bad day, so to speak, when they could not simply find their rhythm.
A player could actually blame himself for his team's loss just because he did not wear his lucky shirt or take a lucky charm with him at game time. Or a fan could throw a fit just because someone else took his lucky chair that resulted in his team losing a game.
In an article entitled "Crazy superstitious beliefs in the world of cricket" by Dr KN Raghavan, the former cricket player turned medical practitioner noted an incident in the 1987 World Cup of Cricket finals won by India over title favourite and then reigning world champion West Indies.
After watching India fall behind West Indies at the start of the contest, Dr Raghavan noted that an Indian fan stood up – visibly disappointed – to take a few puffs of a cigarette, away from his seat. He was on his first puff when West Indies batsman Viv Richards committed a mistake on a pull, with middle-order batsman Kapil Dev taking advantage of the situation with a dazzling running catch.
As the fan excitedly returned to his seat, he was stopped by his friends, who insisted that he should remain where he was and continue smoking his cigarette to sustain India's sudden change of fortune and winning run.
Sports analysts would have had a litany of explanations to describe India's unexpected finals victory against the Goliath of cricket, but as far as the group of friends was concerned, it was their chain-smoking pal who made the almost improbable victory possible.
Superstitious beliefs are not India's exclusive domain. They cross borders and include first-world countries, where some games are also won or lost by lucky breaks – or the lack of them. Like when a star player is injured or given a red flag just before a match with an underdog.
A study was conducted in the United States to determine the role of superstitions and the result was that more than 50% of Americans engage in superstitious beliefs. Among them are former basketball superstar Michael Jordan and tennis great Bjorn Borg. MJ is known to conceal his lucky North Carolina jersey under his Chicago Bulls team kit. Swedish tennis legend Bjorn Borg reportedly always wore the same brand of shirt when preparing for the prestigious Wimbledon tennis events.
This is nothing outrageous considering that four of five professional athletes are known to perform or engage in at least one superstitious act before a performance.
While there appears to be no connection between superstitions and winning or losing, psychologists agree that superstitions have been known to reduce tension and provide a sense of control over unknown and unpredictable factors.
And if only for this reason, coaches tend to tolerate, and yes, accommodate the superstitious beliefs of their players.