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.
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.
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.
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).
Group 1 = Fielders
Group 2 = Keeper’s end catchers
Group 3 = Bowler’s end catchers
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.
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).
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!
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.
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).
- 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.
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.