Take a handful of sand and throw it over a flat surface. Toss a coin and record the number of heads and tails.

Now take stock prices and look at the variation over time. In each case, the human eye picks out patterns, recurring themes, yet the first two events are totally random, and the equity markets are nonrandom, even if those factors driving it are complex and difficult to understand.

Humans are designed to see patterns, to use past events to predict likely future outcomes. So if X often follows Y, it makes sense to look out for Y. This works because there is often a reason why X follows Y, even if we can't be sure what it is.

So even if we can't deduce what drives a share price in a certain direction, because it regularly reacts in a certain way to a particular set of circumstances, we infer that there must be a reason.

This is almost a defining feature of intelligence: the recognition of patterns in behaviour and the subsequent attempt to understand the causes.

The downside to this urge, however, is the over-subscription of intent: in a random system patterns are not caused by any factor, they are merely an artefact. This is especially the case when looking at the system in micro detail. Take the coin toss example, in a short space of time perhaps ten heads could show, which if looked at in isolation could lead us to infer a biased coin.

Cricketers' performances can be seen in a similar light. Assume that a cricketer has a talent quotient (TQ) which is a reflection of how good he is at his chosen skill. So a batsman with a high TQ is more likely to middle the ball for a given shot than one with a low TQ.

So, for example, if Matthew Hayden and Jason Gillespie attempt to play an off drive to exactly the same delivery, there is a greater chance that Hayden will successfully complete the shot than Gillespie.

There can be a wide range on each individual shot, with a slight bias depending on his TQ, but that doesn't preclude a high TQ batsman mis-hitting a number of consecutive balls, the same situation as a coin returning ten consecutive heads.

Looked at in isolation, one could presume that something was causing the run of mishits whereas in fact it is merely an artefact, a shortterm pattern which is not caused by a change in the underlying fundamentals. Over time, the better players will hit the ball more successfully on each occasion and score more runs than the less able players.

These random fluctuations have a habit of spiralling into dreaded territory - bad form. It's like an illness: the stricken patient talked of in sympathetic tones, news of the infection spreads like wildfire, until the unfortunate's condition is universally known. Subsequent failures are only to be expected, what else could happen?

There is a finality, an inevitable spiral into introspection, self-doubt, endless ( albeit well-meaning) advice, and confusion, the moment bad form is diagnosed. That crucial ingredient for success - confidence - vanishes.

The look on the captain's face if a yorker turns into a half-volley, the coach's reaction if a lofted drive transmogrifies into an uncultured hoick, these thoughts dominate one's thinking when that cloud of negative expectation, which is bad form's allpowerful enforcer, enshrouds the wretched cricketer.

Salvation can come in many guises. Sometimes a batsman may try to hit his way out of the rut, death or glory stuff. Nick Knight was going through a lean patch on a tour to New Zealand before a one-day series. But he believed that the emphasis to hit the ball in the limited-overs game helped him back into form.

A bowler may go back to basics and concentrate on his stock ball. A player can ask the advice of a good bottle of red; advice which seems to make more sense the longer one spends in its company.

Sometimes a small technical change can reap rewards, or a change in personal circumstances can relieve subconscious pressures. What worked last time may not work this time or next. One thing is certain: the moment the corner is turned, the world suddenly seems a very fine place again.