Coaching For The Unexpected: Prepare for the “spanner in the works”

Cricket training needs repetitions. Repetitions train muscle memory.

But repetition-based training is dry and formulaic.

Cricket matches can often be none of these things! We need players to be prepared for the unexpected.

This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Most cricket activities are either closed (repeating a set skill in a predictable way) or open (matchplay, with any possibilities). The challenge for a coach is to find something in between these extremes.

It is easier to move from “open” to “closed”. The conditioned match is an excellent way to add make gameplay more focussed with specific goals. But there are precious few ways to make “closed” drills more open.

“Spanner in the works”

Why do we need this? Because it’s the nature of cricket!

  • A ball is thrown in from te boundary. It clips off the stumps and wrong-foots the fielders. All hell breaks loose. Players look at each other instead of the ball.
  • A bowling team has their opponents reeling at 40-6. The No.8 batter throws caution to the wind. A few eccentric shots find the middle of the bat and there is a spike in the run rate. They come down the pitch for one ball, back away for the next.
  • The opening batters are facing a bowler who just hasn’t found their rhythm. They have to contend with a mixed bag of short balls, full tosses….and the odd beautiful delivery. Who knows what will be next!

It is these crucial moments that find many talented cricketers wanting. It is also where the “outside the box” thinkers thrive.

Fielding

In the main, fielding practice is done terribly in club cricket! The same tired drills get rolled out.

Players usually believe that more time doing a drill will automatically bring improvement. It won’t….and could even make them worse.

Take the Triangle Drill, for example. It’s useful; easy to set up; ticks all of the boxes for ground fielding….but everything is predictable. You know exactly what skill you’ll need to perform and where, several seconds in advance.

There is much more you can do, to give this drill freshness and variety.

reverse triangles

EXAMPLE: REVERSE TRIANGLES

When the coach shouts “switch”, the ball goes around the other way.

Players have to move into different space and be proficient fielding on the move in the opposite direction.

I also have a series of points games and team games, to inject a bit of tension and time pressure into the drill:

  • “NO GO ZONE” – A semi circle of cones around the keeper’s stumps (to discourage half-volley throws to the keeper).
  • POINTS SYSTEM- 3 points for a circuit; 5 points for hitting the stumps with an under-arm; 10 points for an over-arm hit.
    **If indoor, try -3 points for “over-throws” (ball hits a side wall).
  • TWO TEAMS – A race to 10 hits (players change stations when they hit the stumps)
  • TIME CHALLENGE – 3 minutes for each team, to get as many points/stump hits as possible.

Chaos Fielding

Adding a pressure element to a drill is one thing. But at the end of the day, drills like “Triangles” are limited. They still rumble along in the same repetitive way. Is it possible to add a touch of randomness to a drill?

I’ve had a go at this, with the “Chaos Fielding Drill”. It follows a pattern, but gives players a bit more to think about (with deliberate attempts to distract). 

chaos fielding setup

 

chaos fielding process

SET-UP

Group 1 = Fielders

Group 2 = Keeper’s end catchers

Group 3 = Bowler’s end catchers

 

STAGE 1

The ball is struck to the fielder. The coach shouts “keeper” or “bowler”. This is where the ball should be thrown.

The catcher taps the stumps, and swaps with the next person in the queue.

chaos fielding next

 

STAGE 2

The catcher has to return the ball to the pile, and get back to their end before their next turn (without getting in the way of the next throw).chaos fielding stage 2

 

STAGE 3

The thrower follows the ball and becomes a catcher. The catcher returns the ball and becomes a thrower.

This results in a lot of players criss-crossing across the hall. The coach starts changing his/her mind about which end at late notice. The fielder has to negotiate this confusion, and perform the stop and throw with composure.

The art of “looking up”

Too many fielders squander run out chances, or release the pressure on a batting team for no reason.

I utilise this drill to encourage my fielders to look up more!

  • Gauge the situation – Check the information in front of you.
  • Assess the risk – Is there an easy run out on? or a difficult run out? Or no chance of a run out at all? Do I need a 50% speed throw or 100%?
  • Pick the end – Perhaps one of the batters has slipped, or been sent back. Establish where you are throwing beyond doubt. The situation can change in an instant!
  • Aim – If you look closely, how many of your players genuinely aim properly before launching the ball?

What if there isn’t time for this?

There is! Way more often than you think!

Over time, fielders become more instinctive. Instead of having to physically look up and analyse everything, you will be able to glance up. Your brain will start computing the information faster and make clearer decisions. Familiarity also helps. Teammates can speed up this process with clear and accurate calls.

A ritual that starts as a clunky and slow, becomes slick and rapid. But it all begins with one principle – looking up!

Bowling

Consistency still has a MASSIVE role in the game. However, T20 has taught us that metronomic accuracy doesn’t always work to our advantage.

Certain situations call for a varied approach, or quick changes at short notice.

Colour targets

Lay out 3 or 4 targets with cones, in different colours. I usually go for:

  • Yorker length – batter’s toes
  • Wider yorker – under the bat
  • Good length – top of off stump
  • Back of a length – angled to the body
  • **You can add some more custom targets for spinners**

As the bowler is running up, shout the colour you want them to aim for. This forces them to make (subtle) adjustments to the target.

The better your players get, the later you can leave the call. This can simulate the actions of a batter to put you off (for example, coming down the pitch, or backing away to give themselves room for a big swing).

Variations

  • Working as 1 team – get a certain amount in the box together.
  • 2-Team Duel – 2 pitches. 1 bowler from each team runs in at the same time.
    Closest to target = 1pt; Hit target = 5pts
  • Points Scale – Quite near = 1pt; Very near = 3pts; Perfect = 10pts.

If you are moving into net practice, you can use the thinking of this drill to encourage your bowlers to think more about:

  • “Which are their “go to” variations”?
  • “Do these “go to” variations change against different batters/in different situations”?
  • “What angle do they need for each variation”? – Wide of the crease? Inwards, outwards or straight? It’s not just where you land it, but how.

Batting

How many batters miss out on the bad ball? How many go even further….and have a habit of getting out to them?

How many players only “see” the straight drive….and don’t spot the wide or short ball in time?

Batting coaching is probably the most complicated of the three disciplines in this respect. You need to hit each shot thousands of times to “groove” the swing. But how do you switch from that narrow focus to “match mode”.

Sometimes the way we coach can confuse batters, without coaches even realising. Feedback for mass practice, for example, may conflict from feedback during a game.

There are several activities you can use to improve batting decision making. Just try to remember that decision making and technique are impossible to think about at the same time. 

Have clarity when you coach – so that the player knows exactly what the goals are for each session.

Leg Side Shots ARE GOOD SHOTS!

shankar battingToo many cricketers tend to see off-side shots as “pure” and leg-side shots as “crude”. 

The cover drive is the pinnacle of batting. The flick through midwicket is treated with disdain….not even a “proper shot” (if you think about it, cricket hasn’t even given that shot a proper name). 

If a batter get a reputation for relying on the leg-side too much, they risk being labelled a “farmer” or a “slogger”.

How many coaches do you know who obsess about the off-side? What effect will this have on their players – who are keen to impress and do the “right thing”?

The leg-side is 50% of the field! Let’s start giving it the attention it deserves. 


Leg-side myths

In previous blogs, I have raised the subject of playing off-side balls and playing with a “straight” bat.

One does not necessarily means the other!

There are similar misunderstandings regarding leg-side shots. They are NOT all swings across the line. Always remember this.


Leg-side “play” V Leg-side “slogs”

Some players are strong on the leg-side….well, sort of. It all depends on….

a) Your Definition – Does their leg-side shot have a name in the textbook? Or is it just a “slap”. Do they just have a good eye….an ability to get bat on ball, but little more?

b) Your Standards – Do they have control over where exactly the ball is going. Or are they just making good contact?
Is their leg-side batting one-dimensional….does it go to the same place every time.

c) Your Memory – Is the big shot sticking in the mind more than the embarrassing miss?

My responsibility as a coach is to distinguish between a) reliable leg-side batting, and b) speculative hitting/thrashing/whacking. This is important, because the latter approach will only work up to a certain point!


Avoiding the leg-side

snasy-practice
Obsessive drills on straight drive may hinder the fluency of leg-side shots…

Lots of players struggle playing to leg. They get trapped in bad positions and try to flick the ball. Or, they over-react, scrambling around the crease when they don’t need to. 

Children are smart. They have a good idea what they can and – even if they won’t admit it – they can’t do. You may find that they have thought about this, and tried to come up with a solution.

But is it the right one?

COMMON MISTAKE 1: Standing to the leg-side – When players realise leg-side batting is their weakness, their instinct is to avoid it. They will end up taking a guard on leg-stump (or sometimes outside leg-stump!).

  • Their AIM is to free up more shots on the off-side….and therefore be exposed to less shots on the leg-side.
  • The RESULT is that the leg-side balls they face become even harder to face (the angle is more acute). they also have to lunge and stretch, to reach shots that should be easy. The worst of both worlds. 

To them, it seems like a good idea. But under scrutiny, this tactic will never work as they hope. They are dodging the problem (unsuccessfully), not fixing it.

COMMON MISTAKE 2: Backing away – This is sometimes because players are worried about being hit….but not always! They will back away in order to get a full swing of the bat as well.

COMMON MISTAKE 3: Playing “in-to-out” – Players who hear “play on the off-side” all the time, tend to over-do it. Instead of presenting the full face of the bat, they begin curving their swing….to poke the ball into the off-side.
Their whole body is now working towards the wrong goal – forcing an off-side shot as opposed to playing the appropriate shot. When a leg-side shot does come, the player simply won’t see their chance (let alone be in a position to play one).

In all these examples, a player has tried to do the right thing….but gone the wrong way about it.


The real solution: take the shot on!

The key to these shots is moving to the ball….and when you are in line with the ball, staying there!

  • STAND IN LINE: No shuffling across the stumps, and no backing away. I recommend taking guard on middle stump for these players. This helps the angles to work in their favour.
  • CORRECT STANCE: Slightly open with feet and shoulders. Make sure that the bat can make a straight path in front of your front leg.

Some useful phrases:

  1. “Less is more” – We are taught to step and lean to the ball and be quick on our feet. But sometimes, minimal movement is required.
    The less you put into the leg-glance, the more it will ping off the bat face.
    Remind your players that if you “have the pace” of the ball already, use it.
  2. “No obstacles” –Make sure players don’t have to steer the bat around their legs and pads.
    This comes down to the stance. Remind players that their set-up either makes this shot easy or difficult (and which one of these would be preferable!).
  3. “Watch the ball” – Phrases such as “hit on the off-side” limit players more than educate them. It encourages pre-meditation and dwelling on the previous ball.
    We always need them looking forwards not backwards. When you say “watch the ball instead” it implies that they need to use judgement.
  4. “That’s one!” – Sometimes batters don’t realise that this innocuous looking shot is going to score runs! it does! Lots of them!!
    Every time I see a firm clip into the leg-side, I’ll shout, “that’s one”!. I need my players to know the value of this tactic.
    **EXTRA TIP – When giving “runs” in net games, it’s way better to judge on the actual merit of the shot, rather than how hard they hit it!**

Some useful activities

Full toss feeds: Feed under-arm from wide of the crease. Try and hit the batter’s front knee/shin/thigh.
Get them used to the feeling of “clipping” the ball away into the leg-side. Help them realize it is a simple but effective stroke!

One-leg shots: Use the same full-todd feeds, but ask the batter to lift their back left off the ground. To play the shot with any consistency, they must lean towards the ball, and swing directly.
Any curved swing or off-balance movement will make the shot impossible.

Top-hand shots: We should probably call it the “top arm”, as the movement is more than a wrist flick. The drill helps strengthen the batter’s wrist and tricep. can they fully “extend” through the shot? When wil the bat begin to buckle and turn inwards?


Net practice: “I want to SEE EVIDENCE of…..”

The ultimate test of learning and improvement is – can the player pull this new shot off in competition?

This is the really tricky part. We would love the player to use their newly acquired skill. But how do we empower them to trust it under pressure?

Here is my (very simple!) personal approach

STEP 1: I begin with a very simple goal

“In the next 10 minutes, I’d really like to see at least 5 leg-glances into that square of the net”.

AIM – Encourage the player to look for more opportunites to use their new shot. While at the same time, reassuring them that they don’t need to be amazing at it right away!
At this early stage, all I want is for the batter to realize that this shot is “on” more often than they realize.
“Watch for the ball that drifts into your pads”.

REASON – They need to use this skill at the appropriate moment. Pre-empting shots is nearly always doomed to fail.
The last thing I want is for my batters to be fetching every single ball into the leg-side.

STEP 2: I make this goal more demanding

“Well done. Now try again! But this time it only counts if you are in full control of the shot. 

Also, from now on, if you back away or dodge the shot, it counts as minus 1….”

AIM – To set gradually higher standards. I want them to start committing more to the leg-glance. I also want a gentle – but not damning – reminder that we aren’t going back to the old ways (backing away and thrashing to the off-side).

REASON – If you have reached this stage, yes, they have improved….but don’t congratulate yourself yet. This is still a very delicate period. Your next step will decide whether this learning has a chance to become permanent.
Old habits die hard! One session does not undo several months (years, or possibly a lifetime) of poor practice.
Your player will still need reassurance that mistakes will be made. And they will still need encouragement to fully trust this new shot.

STEP 3: I put the players under more realistic pressure

I have used several blogs in the past to encourage tactics sessions, in nets and practice. I really feel it could be done more in training at all levels. Doing so….

  • Encourages independent thought – players are often waiting for the answers.
  • Encourage collaboration – thinking as a bowling “unit” and not individuals.
  • Encourages problem solving – players are more exposed to situations they have to battle through!

To the batter: “We are going to come up with a plan to get you out! I still want to see you looking for that easy leg-side option, when it comes. Good luck”!

To the bowlers: “I want you to work together and decide how to put ____ under pressure. I’ll give you a small hint though….”

In a match, there are two main ways I would try and expose a player’s leg-side weakness.

  1. Bowl there more often – probe away with balls that angle gently into the batter. Deliver from wider of the crease. Aim to find the gap between bat and pad.
  2. Bowl there as a surprise ball – set the batter up, by drawing them into their more comfortable side….before sending in a shock ball at the pads.

AIM – To encourage use of the new shot when under more pressure. 

REASON – I need to know if they will trust this shot when it matters! Again, I have not assumed my work is done when batters play a few leg-side shots. We have to see if the new approach will stay.

Playing Straight: how to make sure young players can do it….then do do it!

wagon 2We know it’s important. They know it’s important….but that’s not enough! We need to make sure that it happens, and keeps happening.

Playing “straight” is a core batting skill. The concept is simple, but the practice is a lot more difficult.  This is down to several reasons:

  • TECHNIQUE – there are several moving parts, that need to work in tandem
  • VARIATION – a straight bat shot might need to be played to several kinds of delivery (this means that you can’t robotically make the same swing)
  • JUDGEMENT – batters often switch to a “cross-bat” too soon (i.e. ball not wide enough)
  • PRESSURE – the need to score runs can convince players to play across the line. This can be especially true with young players, who don’t see the benefit of straight play (not strong enough to smash it)

Coaches need a keen eye to get beyond “playing straight” as a catchphrase. Find out the root cause and intervene in the right way, to get young players playing straight consistently.

The Set-up: Sometimes they are trying….it just keeps going wrong!

You might be thinking, “that’s just an excuse. I mean, it’s just a case of aiming, right”?

Not exactly. 

This is a much more common problem than it may appear. It is very possible that a batter’s stance or grip make it impossible for them to “complete” their shot in the first place.

What’s more, children can find it quite distressing – trying really hard to do the right thing, yet it continues to flick across to the leg-side. And they have no idea why.

You have to be observant

Keeping a close eye to figure out who is “slogging” and who is set-up poorly.

Check their backlift. Does this allow the bat to come down in a straight line? If not, all the effort in the world will not result in a “straight bat” shot.
Test: Can the bowler see the bat?

Look at their grip, ESPECIALLY their bottom hand. They have to be holding the bat in a way that allows a full swing.

GOOD GRIP

BAD GRIP

You also need to check how close a player’s hands are. This video demonstrates the peril of having a large gap between your hands on the handle.

Check these things CONSTANTLY. Check them every week. Check them until you are dead bored of checking them. And then then them some more!

You have to be persistent! Whatever you do, don’t mention grip and backlift once, consider the matter solved and move on!


Switch responsibility to the player

IMG_1316
There is more to coaching than classic “command – response”

The biggest challenge is not to SPOT a bad grip, or to DEMONSTRATE a good grip. It’s not even to MAKE THE CHANGE. The final hurdle is making this new grip the NEW NORMAL.

This requires the player to take some ownership. And believe me, that is no walk in the park!

I know from harsh experience that what has been learnt one week can be thrown out of the window the next! A common mistake coaches (including me, still!) make, is to not factor in any “recap” sessions into our programs.

My favorite trick: “drop the bat”

While your player is getting used to a new grip, make them conciously re-apply it, over and over!

Every 4-6 balls in a drill, I might ask the batter to drop the bat and walk away, then pick it up again.

Some things are only solved through repetition….even though it is a bit tedious! I try and make it a light-hearted practice, by joking about it: “you know what I’m about to say, don’t you…”.

Game for understanding: the “ready” game”

crazy cricket 1Don’t think that the concept of “player independence” only applies once players reach a certain age. The earlier, the better!

The “Ready Game” is a version of “Crazy Cricket” – a team-based game, where players aim to hit as straight and as far as possible. Players get regular chances to walk to the crease and set up.

If they are not ready (good stance and grip) they are out before even facing their first ball.

This also works with the “5-Strikes” game. 

CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO ON THE “READY” GAME, AND OTHER IDEAS FOR “NAILING THE BASICS”


Forcing correct technique (in a subtle way….)

Something as simple as feeding the ball from different places can make a real difference.

Wide of the crease

Get down on one knee and skid the ball at an angle towards the batter. Aim to find the gap between bat and pad.

Feeding from this angle leaves no margin for error – the batter has to get their technique correct and hit through the ball. The slightest turning of the bat face, or swing across the line, will mean they miss the ball.

Round the wicket

  1. Does your batter line up to the release point in their stance?
  2. Is their bat able to travel down freely (or is its path blocked by their body).

Lots of batters struggle with “round the wicket bowling”, because they are leaning the wrong way, or their bat needs to loop around their body. When momentum is heading one direction, it’s very hard to change it mid-shot.


Deterence or Incentive?

How about rewarding the right thing, instead of criticising the wrong thing? Even at the youngest age-groups, you can encourage the use of other shots.

I like to create bonuses in practice matches.

  • Double runs for an off-side shot
  • Bonus zones – 5 runs extra

There are lots of things you can do. Use your imagination. But coaching small details can quickly come across as nagging to some players (others can handle it), unless you have these tricks to boost morale.

Finally, remember….

The off-side isn’t everything! We have moved on from the 19th century and leg-side play isn’t regarded as an abomination!

I talked last week about how “playing straight” doesn’t always mean “hitting straight”.It is important to bear this in mind when you watch young cricketers….do they really understand this?

When I coach groups, it is easy to tell who has been told to “play on the off-side” more than anything else. They shuffle away from the ball, to “open up” this side for shots. This doesn’t assist them, nor helps them to play straight.

The “One Leg” Leg-glance Drill

Ok, the name needs some work! But I have found this activity helps players to use a straight bat more on the leg-side. Instead of flicking across the ball, simply clipping it round the corner works wonders!

Balancing on their front leg, the batter has to work the ball to leg, using as little power as possible. To get it right they have to:

  1. Lean their head towards the ball (bending front leg for extra lean)
  2. Free their bat from their body (so it can meet the ball in a nice straight line)

Playing straight is often as much of a judgement issue as a technique issue. When the batter hits these shot perfectly – and in this drill there is no “lazy” option – they begin to realise how effective it is.

I use the phrase “less is more” to try and convey this principle – using the pace of the ball.

Try to encourage off-side play where appropriate….and not just as a default setting.

The Impact Point Diagram: my tool to find a player’s strengths and weaknesses!

where is it gameWhen we coach in the nets or a practice match, it is easy for some details to pass us by.

As a result, instead of being consistent, feedback can often turn into a series of isolated comments.

However, there are ways to help your next session to be more targeted to each player’s needs! I like to use data to find patterns (good and bad) in a player’s game. 

here is a simple tool I invented – the “Impact Point Diagram” – to get some useful information from sessions. 

How it works

The Impact Point Diagram shows me:

  1. CONTACT POINT – where exactly a batter is meeting the ball
  2. QUALITY AND TYPE OF CONTACT I split shots into a) attack, b) deflect, c) defend/leave/d) miss/chance/out

worksheet example filledI enter this manually, using a worksheet I created. Using this sheet, I can also record:

  • Pitch maps – where each ball pitched (circled balls = wickets or chances)
  • Wagon wheels – where each ball was hit and by which batter (over by over)

I mark the different shot types with symbols. Attacking shots with a solid dot, defensive shots with a circle, deflections with a plus sign, and misses/edges with an exclamation mark.

Here’s one I did earlier!!

filled sheet.PNG

Making it presentable

Once I have the raw material, I have to display it in a more attractive way! 

Using my modest art skills, I created a graphic that represents a batter standing at the wickets. I then begin to convert my data onto the image, using a colour-coding system!

BALLS MARKED IN GREEN = Attacking shots

BALLS MARKED IN ORANGE = Deflected shots

BALLS MARKED IN YELLOW = Defended

BALLS MARKED IN RED = Missed, edged or out

Here is an example!

connow batting
Excuse the poor drawing!

Reading the data: What we can learn?

organized game
We’d all love an “organized game” like this….but the reality is different!

When we have finished entering the data, we have a full picture of every ball a batter has faced! The next job….look for patterns! 

  • Are there any “clusters” of red dots (weaknesses)?
  • Does this batter have a clear strength?
  • Are there clearly defined groups of colours? Or is it more random?

Trends in the data can be a good thing. For example, if you can see clear “groupings”, where the batter attacks, defends or uses the pace of the ball, it’s a positive sign. They have “organized” their game, meaning they make consistent decisions based on line and length.

A pattern can also be a sign of intent. A batter may well feel more comfortable with certain deliveries than others. Which balls they choose to block and attack may vary, depending on their style of play.


CASE STUDY 1: Positive and Negative Intent

The diagrams below are of 2 opening batters from the same match. They had a very different approach!

Who do you think scored the most runs?

Batter 1

impact point example 1

Batter 2

impact point example 2

Where Batter 1 plays a very conservative game, Batter 2 is looking for more scoring options. This comes at a cost (10 chances compared to 6), but there is a clear content to “do more” with more kinds of delivery.

This positive approach paid off on the day – Batter 2 scored 50 runs retired, compared to Batter 1’s 29 (and out).


CASE STUDY 2: “Blind Spots”

Kieran Meah

 

This batter shows signs of reading the ball well. There is clear distinction between which balls are defended and attacked. However, the picture does highlight a clear “weak zone” – full balls outside the off-stump!

 

 

Why is this?

Of course, you need to watch your players for a full picture. But looking at this picture alone, here would be my top 2 guesses:

  1. Bottom hand taking over in the swing – causing him/her to play “over” the ball
  2. Not leaning enough after stepping – meaning a “blind spot” is created

Balls that bounce at around knee height are punished, but balls slightly higher or lower aren’t always. Also notice how this batter has no trouble meeting and playing the ball on leg-stump or outside. But perhaps, some balls are being defended unecessarily….and could be worked into the leg-side for runs.

To me, these patterns would suggest that this batter sometimes gets stuck on the crease.

Solution?

This is a very common junior batting flaw, and one to look out for. Young players are often unsure why they miss the ball, despite having “moved their feet”.

By practicing COMPLETING the movement, the batter may be able to expand their “strong zone”, and reduce their “blind spots”.

  • Bending front knee
  • Leaning fully towards ball

CASE STUDY 3: Randomness

george batting

There is a term called, “playing by numbers”. This roughly translates to, “I’m deciding which shot to play beforehand”.

In this diagram, the batter doesn’t seem to have a clear thought process. Greens, yellows, oranges and reds are completely mixed together!

Why is this?

Young batters are often not sure whether to play, defend or leave. The key to this lies with the very basics – of WATCHING THE BALL.

Solution

Practice judgement! Plenty of batters aren’t sure exactly where the stumps are at all. This fault can creep in at a surprisingly high level of the game.

I use this useful game, to instill the basics of reading the ball: the “Where Is It” Game.


CASE STUDY 4: “six or bust” approach.

KABIR BAT

 

This batter clearly tries to attackor defend….with nothing in between! The result is a lot of hits, but a lot of misses as well! Is there a way for a player like this to keep these gtreen dots, but remove some of the troublesome reds?

Yes! Add some more deflections to their game!

They could convert a lot more balls into run-scoring shots, by using the pace. This is a crucial step between looking good in the nets, and scoring big runs in matches.

raees bat**COACH TIP – wagon wheels are often a great way to spot this kind of player. Look to see if a batter is relying too heavily on hitting the ball through the covers/extra-cover (see image)**

In this image (apart from in one area), there is a complete absence of deflected balls.

Solution: encourage “using the pace”

In nets, it is worth pointing this out to your batters….balls that fly hard into the net may not be effective on the field, and flaws may be masked until its too late to change! Encourage them to play into different spots on the off-side. 

I use the net game “Clock Cricket” to encourage this versatility. 


CASE STUDY 5: Playing “Down the line of the stumps”

My final example is this image. This time, the pattern is clear for all to see!

BALL ON STUMPS = HIT

BALL OFF STUMPS = MISS!

Why is this?

Some players step forwards or back, but never quite get into line with the ball. The result is that they connect with straight balls but not the wider ones.

This often comes from pre-meditating as well. If a player is too eager to “use their feet”, they may well be on the move before the bowler actually releases!

Solution: watch the ball!

It’s as simple as that! Make sure your players a) watch, b) lean, c) move, d) swing.

 

 

BATTING: how can we hit more balls outside off-stump?

katie battingLots of players miss more balls outside the off-stump than they would like!

The reason is down to many factors – it could be technique, indecision or poor judgement. Whatever the issue is, how can we get our players more comfortable, playing these difficult balls with more control? 

What goes wrong….and how to fix it?

They call the area just outside off-stump the “corridor of uncertainty”. There’s a good reason for this! 

Experience has taught me that this is a problem shared by players of many abilities and age groups. This was made clearer to me, the more i started collecting data on impact points. 

When a ball drifts wide of the batter’s eyes, it’s a little harder to judge exactly where it will bounce. As a result, batter can get into poor positions before they play their shot.

pitch perspective change in lineCommon mistakes

Lunging – instead of moving across, batters try to reach for the ball in front of them. Making a huge step forwards, which makes them lose height.
Slashing – Little foot of head movement. Just throwing the hands at the ball.
Hanging bat “out to dry” – initial movement forwards, but having to adjust quickly to the side. Ending up pushing hands tamely out at the ball.

The Key: Getting In Line!

The closer you can get your eyes behind the ball, the slower it appears to travel. 

Drill for understanding:”Anti-Dodgeball”

I use this activity to encourage batters to get their body PROPERLY behind the ball. It’s nothing special or original. But often the simplest drills are the best – this is an example! 

Coach

  • Feed the ball from 10 yards
  • Under-arm full-tosses (no bounce)
  • Aim for outside off-stump, between hip and chest height

Player

  • Move back and across (leading movement with the back foot)
  • Steady feet when directly behind the ball (if you miss, your body is the second line of defence)
  • Hands high and soft (dropping the ball gently into the off-side)

If you are on your own, here is another game you can play. All you need is a bat, a ball and a wall (or crazy catch).


What you may find….

The more I coach, the more I realise that the front foot drive is the only shot some players really know! Or at least, the only shot they have true confidence playing. 

Do we over-practice he drive? In my experience, this “anti-dodgeball” drill has helped certain batters. Not because it is an amazing solution, but simply because it introduces the idea of a different movement.

Especially around the age of 11 or 12 – when the bowling speed shoots up, as do many of the players! Players who are used to rocking onto the front foot out of habit, will find the same balls they used to smash are now bouncing with more height and venom.

In an instant, shot selection becomes far more complex than it used to be! Your job is to guide players through this transition. Help them to “read” the ball better, and expand their range of shots.

Net Theme: Shot Selection

Coaching doesn’t have to be all about technique. Don’t be afraid to put technique to one side, and focus on judgement for a session. 

Using throw-downs (or instructing the bowlers to keep an off-side line), I ask my batters to see how often they can make the right call, and move accordingly.

There are 3 main options to a ball delivered just outside off-stump:

  1. Front foot drive
    Type of ball – pitched up, 4th or 5th stump
  2. Front foot push/square drive/deflection
    Type of ball – good length or a little wider
  3. Back foot – straight bat
    Type of ball – short, any width

Obviously there are more shots that you can use in a match….but to help them learn, I like to narrow down decision making down to 2 or 3 possibilities.

Potential scoring system

  • 1 point for correct decision
  • 1 point for good execution (eg/ firm contact)
  • 3 points for good decidion AND execution

Why give points for “bad” shots?

You want to encourage your players to do the right thing – in this case, judge the right shot. You also want to give them confidence to pick and move into position for these new shots.

This is why it’s important to remind them when they make the right decision – even if the shot itself was a bit ropey! It is really important that they do not slide back into the “easy option” (ie/ the same shot every time).

Straight BATS V Straight SHOTS

Another misconception young batters have, is that a straight bat shot always has to go straight. It doesn’t.

And you need to let them know that….believe me, you’ll be surprised how many don’t!! A lot of young batter think that unless they are whacking the ball, they aren’t hitting it correctly. Sometimes they even refer to deflections as “edges”!

organized game
This is what a perfectly “organized” game would look like. ATTACKING = Green; DEFLECTIONS = Orange; DEFENSIVE = Yellow

 

This is how I try to get players visualising their off-side shots.

  • THE STRIKE ZONE/SLOT- Imagine the bowler delivered you the perfect ball to smash! If the ball comes into this zone, you’d expect to smash it 9 times out of 10.
    Ball should go: straight or in front of square
  • THE “PUSH” ZONE – Not….quite there to smash. Sometimes your brain can kid yourself into thinking you can attack, but a bit more caution is needed.
    You can still hit this ball firmly with exact timing and precise footwork.
    Ball should go: anywhere from a push to mid-off, to a guide behind square
  • THE “AWKWARD” ZONE – The ball that lifts off a length, or swings outside your hitting arc. These balls force a combination of later and/or softer swings.
    Ball should go: mainly square or behind square. Don’t try to doo to much with these balls, just help them away.

*DISCLAIMER – I haven’t invented any of these concepts! But this is the language I use to describe what many other coaches will**

OTHER USEFUL GAMES

THE “WHERE IS IT” GAME

Good off-side shots need perfect judgement of line and length. This game is all about the line!

It’s not just “hands to the ball”: fielding coaching, done well!

Get your hands to the ball

What about the rest of you? Always remember, the hands are the last part of the catching process! Just like batting, you need to be near it first!

One of the most common mistakes coaches make when fielding, is one of the most fundamental….they watch the ball not the player! By the time they are watching the right things, it’s too late!

Have a close look at your players, to see if they are consistently right under or behind the ball!

GROUND FIELDING: Approach at the right angle! – Set off in the right direction. Either forwards, diagonally or side-to-side.

fielding side-to-side

  • SWIVEL – turning your feet quickly, so that instead of shuffling, the fielder can sprint to the ball
  • UPPER BODY FACING THE BALL – as the legs move quickly sideways, it is important that your upper body is facing forwards. Use your arms for balance
  • GETTING DOWN AT THE RIGHT TIME – get as close to the ball as you can, before you start to reach for the ball. Reaching out with your arms, or stooping too early, slows you down (meaning crucial distance lost)!

BOUNDARY FIELDING: Use the “Banana Run” – the “Banana Run” is a phrase I have coined, to explain the movement involved when you patrol the boundary.

When the ball comes off the bat, a fielder picks up the line first – “is the ball to my left or right”? This is the direction you set off in. Why? Because if the ball is struck hard, every millisecond counts. By “hugging” the boundary rope, you buy extra time to cover more ground….if you need it!

Later on you will pick up the length. This is where the “Banana Run” comes into play. If the ball is losing pace, and you can attack it, start to bend your run in-field.

It may only take 2 or 3 steps for you to realize you can attack the ball. But using this technique, you can be sure you are taking the exact path to the ball you need, saving crucial split seconds!

fielding banana run

  • AVOID – “Reverse Banana”, where the fielder runs in too early, realises they won’t cut off the ball at this angle and suddenly has to curve backwards.

CHASING TO BOUNDARY – the “Scoop & Roll” – If you chase the ball back towards the boundary, your body position is crucial.

Think about how you approach the ball. Remember that it’s not just getting to the ball that matters here, it’s keeping it off the boundary. Not an easy task when all your body’s momentum is hurtling forwards!

Make sure you approach the ball slightly to the side. This allows you to hook the ball off the boundary, with a rotating body. Benefits of this include

  • MORE “SURFACE AREA” – you can use your entire forearm to keep the ball off the ropes. More margin for error
  • LESS CHANCE OF “DOUBLE CONTACT” – you don’t want to scoop the ball into your own body….as this will take the ball back over the line
  • RECOVERING FOR THROW – this action allows you to tumble over, and spring back onto your feet straight away

HIGH CATCHING: “X Marks the Spot!” – some players idly walk forwards, and allow the ball to drift over their head. Others hesitate, and are too late to realize the ball is dropping out of reach.

A third group pick up the ball quickly, run 99% of the way, but miss the crucial FINAL step underneath the ball.

Catchers want to be in a position they can a) get their hands to the ball, and b) cushion it with their arms, shoulders and knees (not just their hands).

FLAT CATCHING – Swaying Body – Move your hands to the ball, but make sure your body moves into line as well!

  • Bend “leading leg” (one closest to ball) – like batting, this will let your body move in line, and not get stuck
  • Steady “trailing leg” – don’t let it slide around, as this will turn your body

Not so good technique:

Net Matches: ways to make your net sessions more realistic

Here are a few ways I use to instill a little realism in nets. 

Nets can meander unless you have a clear purpose. I am always keen to set some more specific goals. 

The “3-Strikes” Game

  • Normal nets
  • When the batter plays a wild slog, or commits a silly error, they LOSE 1 STRIKE
  • When the batter is dismissed, they LOSE 1 STRIKE
  • When the batter loses 3 strikes, they are OUT (and the next batter can start padding up).

Logic: players will make mistakes, but repeated errors – or “throwing in the towel” – are a problem.

I use this game to give batters a chance to recover from their mistakes, in a way that “out-and-you’re-out” nets do not. It is training after all, and players are working on one thing or another.

**It is important that strikes are only deducted for SILLINESS, and not for small mistakes (eg/ if the bowler produces a brilliant ball, the batter shouldn’t be penalized)**

Net match

There are any number of variations you can use for this. Sometimes, I even score a net match like a real game – set fields and award runs based on them!

EXAMPLES

  • 2 V 2 MATCH
    – 3 wickets per pair
    – Set amount of time for innings
    – If pair 1 is bowled out early, pair 2 gets their remaining time to bat

EXTRAS

  • connor matchPitch Map
    – Measure where each bowler is landing their balls, to which batters
    – You can see whether patterns emerge. Is your team bowling too short? Where are most the balls going? Does this change at different stages of an innings?
  • Impact Points
    – This is my invented method to find out which balls a player is attacking, deflecting, defending or missing/edging/getting out to
    – It helps a coach to see patterns in a player’s approach, and figure out the reason behind weaknesses
    For more information, CLICK HERE
  • farazWagon wheels
    – Monitor where each batter is hitting the ball
    – Are there areas that each batter is playing shots to, or avoiding hitting shots to?

USEFUL APPS

We use NX Cricket, for it’s useful breakdown of stats – including wagon wheels, “Manhattans”, run rate charts and personal data.

CLICK HERE FOR AN EXAMPLE MATCH ANALYSIS

 

OTHER GAMES

Bowling Grouping Challenge

The Bowling “Grouping” Challenge is a bowling game I use to encourage bowling consistency. I can also use it to bring up concepts such as the “best area” to bowl.

How it works

  • Teams work together: best in group of 2-4
  • 1 wicket keeper per group (rotates every minute)
  • Each group has 6-8 cones

PART 1: PUT YOUR CONES DOWN

  • FIRST 6-8 BALLS – players put a cone down where each ball pitches/lands
  • Players are either a bowler, wicket keeper or “cone putter-downer”
  • Bowlers bowl 5-6 balls before swapping roles

bowling grouping challenge 1

Coaching:

This activity helps the players to see where their “off” balls usually go. Is there a pattern? If so, then that’s good! It means that one bit of technique is responsible for the ball going that way. 

80% of “bad” balls young bowlers bowl are due to one specific reason. If you can get them aware of that “thing”, they have a good chance of fixing it during a game! Give them a simple formula to remember (eg/ “If the ball goes down, then my body must be going _____. This means I need to try and stay ____”).

Try to get them guessing how to fix their bowling action….a wrong answer is better than “I don’t know”. And DO NOT LET THEM SAY “I RELEASED THE BALL TOO LATE/TOO EARLY. 

  • Ball “released too early” = body falling away to the side (“get into your aim position”; “line your body up”; “try not to twist around as you bowl”)
  • Ball “released too late” = body and head falling downwards (“use legs more”; “keep your knees up and chin up and back straight”)

PART 2: IMPROVE YOUR “GROUPING”

  • When all the cones have been put down, the team has a chance to “improve” their cluster
  • IF BOWLER BOWLS A GOOD BALL – the team can pick up their worst cone, and replace it
  • IF BOWLER BOWLS A BAD BALL – the team can leave the cones alone

bowling grouping challenge 2

Coaching

I will be watching how the players decide their strategy. Do they figure out where is the best place to land their cones? Do they know which cones to move first? This helps me get a concept of whether they know the best line and length.

Questions I might ask:

  • “Where would we like this cluster to be? A bit shorter/fuller/wider?
  • What would make this happen? How can we change our bowling a bit?
  • What do we need to use a bit more (legs)? How do we need to be at the crease (more balanced)

WINNING TEAM

  • WHO BOWLED THE BEST “LENGTH”? (1 POINT)
  • WHO BOWLED THE BEST “LINE”? (1 POINT)
  • WHO HAD THE BEST “CLUSTER”? (1 POINT)

PART 3: HIT YOUR CONES

  • “You have 3 minutes. You get 1 extra point every time you hit your cluster”
  • This is a good way of demonstrating that “grouping” and consistency is important. The more tightly packed the cluster, the easier it is to aim. 

Bowling “4-Ways”: helping bowlers focus on one thing at a time

There is a lot going on with a bowling action! So how do we coach it without bombarding our players with information?!

With such a bewildering list of potential flaws, it is easy to “lurch” from statement to statement – “get your arm higher” one ball, “keep your chin up” the next.  But in order to improve consistently, player’s need consistent feedback.

This “4-Ways” Bowling Session is one way of keeping a consistent message. It also prompts your players to think on their feet – moving from “what” went wrong” to “why”.

HOW IT WORKS

Divide your group up into 4 teams. Each team rotates around the 4 activities below (about 10-15mins on each).

BOWLING LENGTHBOWLING LINEBOWLING TARGETBOWLING FOLLOW THROUGH

1. BOWLING LENGTH

  • Target Area: from “good length” (about 5-6m from the wickets), to the batting crease (“yorker” length)
  • Coaching Theme: height and balance. Making sure your bowlers a) get up tall, and b) stay tall through their action
  • Get Them Thinking: what MAKES the ball come out “too early” or “too late”. These statements mean nothing on their own….releasing the ball isn’t a conscious thing!

2. BOWLING LINE

  • Target Area: between middle stump and “5th/6th stump (2 or 3 imaginary stumps outside)
  • Coaching Theme: run-up and the correct angles. Making sure bowlers are concentrating their effort to the target
  • Get Them Thinking: what makes the ball go straight, left or right? To many young bowlers have no idea how to diagnose these flaws

3. BOWLING TARGET

  • Target Area: Bull’s Eye, Small & Large Targets (more points the closer to the Bull’s Eye)
  • Coaching Theme: Focus on where to “pitch” (bounce) the ball. Do they have a firm eye on the EXACT target from start to finish?
  • Get them Thinking: a) Am I looking at the right target (spot on the pitch)? b) Am I always looking at that spot?

4. “BOWL-AND-FOLLOW” GAME

  • Target Area: get players bowling to keeper’s hands
  • Coaching Theme: momentum! Moving forwards in a smooth and constant way, from start to finish!
  • Get Them Thinking: is my bowling action smooth? Or am I jerky (stop-start)? Any change in effort, pace or intensity should be gradual.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

SOME MORE ANALYSIS

1. BOWLING LENGTH

  • BOWLING LENGTHTOO EARLY: the ball must have slid out of the hand as it is coming over. This could be because of
    – Leaning to the side – which means the fingers are no longer behind the ball
    – Wrist position – everything could be right, but a “floppy” wrist could undo it all!
    – Poor gather – look to see if your bowler is preparing their arms correctly. If the arms are out to the side, their action will be more of a “sling”
  • TOO LATE: nearly always because a bowler is falling down
    – Legs collapsing – look for bent knee. This will make it impossible for a bowler to stay tall
     – Back bending – look at the run-up, for signs of “stooping”
    – Arms lifting to sky – what goes up, must come down! Make sure that a player’s arms are up AND IN FRONT OF THEM. Not vertically upwards, and dragging their body to the floor
    – Legs stopping – keep the legs driving “throught the crease”. Look to see if a bowler’s knees are high, so they have support for their body each step.

 

2. BOWLING LINE

  • BOWLING LINELEG-SIDE (ASSUMING RH BATTER & BOWLER): usually this is caused by a bowler’s arm dropping down
    – Use shoulders more – you need your shoulder working to get your bowling arm higher. Are your bowlers’ shoulders “engaged”?
    – Poor aiming – if your aiming arm is lazy, your body can “open up”. This will mean you can’t drive your arm properly to the target
    – Not “completing” the action – if the bowling arm is slowing arm, is begins to droop. Result = balls fall to the leg-side. Make sure your bowling arm carries on until it is pointing behind you.
    – Delivery stride – if the last step is across your body, is blocks you from bowling the ball to the target
  • OFF-SIDE: caused by a twisting body, that pulls the ball to this direction
    – Delivery stride – get your front foot and leg pointing to the target. The body needs this leg for support. Without it, you will fall away to the side
    – Twisting shoulders – your shoulders need to move in a “vertical plane” (eg/ right arm up and over, left arm down and under). When they move in a “horizontal plane” (eg/ twisting round”), the bowling action becomes more of a discus throw.

 

3. BOWLING TARGET

  • RUN-UP – is my run-up balanced, allowing my head (the heaviest part of the body) to be stable
    – Stooping – sometimes a bowling action is ruined from the first step of the run-up!
    – Poor running style – look out for knees and heels. Are they staying in line?
  • JUMP – am I stable “in-flight”? or am “falling” into my bowling action?
    – Arms and legs “inside the vehicle”! –
  • FOLLOW-THROUGH – am I able to see where the ball hits the pitch? Could i pinpoint exactly where it landed? If I can’t, then why (have I fallen or leant to the side)?

4. “BOWL-AND-FOLLOW” GAME

  • DECELERATING – a bowler is more likely to bowl a ball that drops short or “sits up” to be hit
  • SUDDEN BURST OF EFFORT – straining to hard for speed.
  • LEGS – each step needs to be a similar length and at a similar “rate”.  Check to see if your bowlers are moving smoothly from one step to another, not “putting the brakes on” (pause between steps, often caused by lunging forwards), or “shuffling” (series of short steps, that lose the momentum you built up).

How to create successful fielders: it’s more than technique

 Fielding isn’t just a skill. It’s a state of mind.

Despite being no more than a middling standard club cricketer, there is one part of the game in which I have always been able to stand out….fielding!

Through countless of hours of solo practice, and actually enjoying the art, I managed to develop high competence levels in any position – from the covers to short-leg.

Deep consideration of the discipline….how it is taught, how it can be generalised, and where teams go wrong with their approach to fielding….has also given me some insight into coaching fielding.

Is a reason why many teams who pocket every catch in training, can’t replicate it on the field? Despite hours of practicing “soft hands”, why does everybody’s grip seems to tighten under pressure? Players who are very competent at catching, frequently panic, when a crucial wicket depends on it.

Finally, is there anything we can do about it? Below are a few insights, from a lifetime is devotion to fielding, and being driven mad at club training sessions by the same fatal errors.

Why practice does not always make perfect?!

The common reasons for this is as follows:

a) Mis-diagnosing the causes of drops – typically, when a catch is grassed, everybody looks to the player’s hand position. Did they cushion the ball?; were they in the right place; were they together?

However if you look elsewhere, or trace the movements back to the beginning, you will often find the CAUSE of the drop, not just the SYMPTOM.

Start looking at the following instead:

  • Positioning – you can’t cushion the ball if you are too far away from it! Not only getting in the right position, but getting there as early as possible (so you can make small adjustments if the ball swerves).
  • Stability – you are best off looking at the feet first. Did the player steady themselves and have both feet planted? Rate your player’s “composure levels” as they catch.
  • Readiness – again, you’ll have no chance of taking a reflex catch if your hands arent in front of you, and palms facing the batsman. Sounds obvious, but this is commonly forgotten.

b) Judging success in training by the RESULT, forgetting the TECHNIQUE – in short, when a catch comes your way in training, you are more relaxed. The opposite is true when you are under a high ball in a match. 

With the higher stakes, and added pressure, your catching technique is under more scrutiny. Here is where you rely on the instincts and muscle memories from your body.

So where you may not be able to perfectly replicate this pressure….you definitely can take a perfectionist approach to training. Have your players perfectly centred themselves underneath the ball? Are their hands ready WELL IN ADVANCE of the catch? Did they keep the rest of their body perfectly still, or over-react as the ball hit them?

You must focus on the process, not the result! Getting the catches just right, is 100 times more important than doing your drills harder and faster.

In training,you may often find me being more harshly critical of some catches than dropped catches. While this sounds stupid, catching in a casual way in training is worse than no practice at all.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE – players often appear to be “scared of the ball”, when in fact they simply need confidence in their technique. For these players, you need to gently crank up the intensity and difficulty level, allowing them time to be more assured movements. Macho high catches will simply ruin their prospect of ever reaching this point. It’s more than about just “being brave”.

c) Panic – Nothing prepares you for that jolt of surprise and adrenaline, when the ball comes your way all of a sudden! 

In training, our focus is largely on “massed practice”. There is a certain formula to the drills….even if the feeding is random, you “know” the ball will find its way to you soon.

This is a difficult aspect of cricket to coach. The fact is that it takes time; building a mindset here is more important than flawless technique.

  • Good habits – always down and always pointing hands to ball
  • Team ethic – through positive atmosphere, everybody is automatically slightly more confident, alert and ready.
  • Togetherness – the feeling that we all field “as one”, sharing in each other’s good moments, is vital.
  • Sense of control – a player’s “body language” has a significant effect or the performance of every individual….this is hugely under-valued in its importance.

Don’t be that person who ends up diving or sprawling when they don’t need to. Don’t let that ball burst through your hands, because they are snatching at the last moment. Be calm at the right times.

Activities for “match pressure” catching

A favorite drill of mine is the “bowl a team out” slip catching game

Ideal group: 5-8

How it works:

Arrange the field around a batsman. Ideally a keeper, slip(s), gully, point, cover and short-leg. One person in the group is a “feeder”, throwing balls at the batsman who “edges” the ball.

The aim of the game is to take 10 wickets, all by catches….for the least number of runs possible.

This switches the focus from simply catching the ball, to retrieving it as well (I like to call it “finishing the job”). There is now an incentive to stop everything as well as catch. If the ball runs between fielders, or is fumbled, their job is to recover the ball to the feeder as quickly as possible.

Once the group has “bowled out” the imaginary team. They have another go. Their new aim is to get all 10 wickets for less runs.

If you have time for a third attempt, add extra hurdles to make the feat more challenging.

  • Up the pace of the feeds
  • Less “genuine” catching chances – make them wait for the crucial moment
  • More balls into gaps

MAKE THE GROUP WORK FOR THEIR WICKETS.

MAKE SURE THEY ARE ENCOURAGING EACH OTHER, AND LOOKING FORWARDS NOT BACK.

CELEBRATE EACH WICKET! CEMENT THE GOOD MOMENTS IN EVERYONE’S MIND, AND USE IT AS MOTIVATION TO CREATE MORE.