The "Don Bradman" Drill for Modern Cricket | Cricket coaching, fitness and tips

The "Don Bradman" Drill for Modern Cricket

If it’s good enough for Don Bradman...

My Grandad was a fantastic club cricketer. He opened the batting for Broadway CC and kept wicket to a high standard week in and week out.

The tales of his leg side stumpings were legendary.

He played in a day and age where an individual score of 50 was deemed to be massive milestone. It was celebrated with the batsman having to buy a “jug of beer” for his team mates and opposition. (I never quite understood that custom. Surely, your team mates should be buying you the beers!)

Anyway, I can only assume that my Grandad’s hero in life, Sir Donald Bradman, didn’t buy a “jug” every time he passed 50 otherwise he would have been bankrupt at a very early age.

“The Don” averaged 99.94 in Test cricket. The way that he developed his game as a boy was drummed into me from a very early age. Those methods, passed on from Sir Don to my Grandad and latterly on to myself, are still doing the rounds here today at Millfield School.

Donald Bradman as a boy

There is a fantastic online article written by Ashley Mallett (no mean player himself!) about Don Bradman’s formative years in cricket. Mallet describes Bradman’s key practice method beautifully.

“More often than not he was forced to train alone, and his isolation became the mother of a remarkable method in gaining batting practice. Using the round tank stand in the backyard, Don would take up his stance in front of the back door, which was the "wicket". Using a cricket stump as a bat, he would throw a golf ball at the tank stand, then attempt to hit it on the rebound. If he missed, he was usually "clean-bowled", as the back door presented a large target”

Bradman would challenge his reflexes and his hand eye coordination with deliveries rebounding randomly off of the curved tank at extreme speeds over a very short distance.

Have a click on here to see him practicing back at his childhood home. Firstly, what a great bit of vintage film, the commentary is brilliant. Yet you will see that this training method is undertaken without Don starting in a conventional batting stance. It only vaguely resembles cricket, but he is training lots of skills and capabilities which are crucial in the development of a young player.

The things that I have taken out of the Bradman approach over the years have been the following:

  • You can practice anywhere, with anything, as long as you have an imagination!
  • Cricket practice doesn’t need to always look like cricket, you can be building components or skills without necessarily standing in a batting stance or holding a bat.
  • The best players are often the ones that work on their games independently, experimenting, having fun and solving problems away from coaches and conventional practice sessions. Then, when they get to a normal practice, they have moved on at an accelerated rate, they know their games and methods inside out and can use the coaching advice appropriately rather than being reliant on the coaching input to drive their game forward.
  • That “imperfect” practice conditions (rough walls, uneven surfaces, thin bats, small balls, short distances) challenge our techniques in an “over-training” fashion which then makes playing the game in normal conditions and circumstances much easier.

So how does this post-war batting practice all apply to 2018 cricketers at Millfield?

Marcus wants to work on his footwork when coming down the pitch to spinners.

He is good at hitting the ball over the top of the inner ring yet finds himself less adept at milking the ball back down the ground, beating the bowler and rotating the strike back down the ground when both mid-on and mid-off have been forced back to the fence.

As you will have read a few weeks ago, the Cricket Bubble blew down over Christmas so we are presently borrowing and stealing space in other sporting environments across our campus. Fortunately, our incredible Swimming Department have offered us the “Pool Shelf” which is a gym and land based training area on a balcony above the Olympic sized pool.

It’s a great space for fielding work in particular and the walls of the gym provide us with the opportunity to adapt the Bradman Drill to support the players technical development both against Pace and in Marcus’ case, Spin.

We are using “stage 1 low compression” tennis balls here to avoid the balls bouncing into the pool below. They are great balls to use as they create practice opportunities in confined spaces.

Marcus set up some portable goals as targets. He knows that if he hits the ball into the goals then he has effectively, beaten the bowler and has placed the ball inside of the two box-fielders” at straight mid-wicket and straight extra-cover. These are high traffic areas for any spin bowler and we often deploy our most agile fielders who also display a keen anticipatory eye in these two positions.

I let Marcus know which of his mates were fielding in the two box positions (Lewis and Tom) and also who the bowler would be as well (Ned). This information allows Marcus to place his targets in a specific and realistic way. The practice becomes very real at this point.

Marcus starts close to the wall and hits the areas from the crease to practice his drives and then pulls the stumps and the box of balls backwards in order to give him the time and space to practice using his feet on his way to ball contact.

The basic routine he follows is:

  • Alternate which side he beats the bowler.
  • Hit 6 balls to deep mid-on irrespective of the line of the ball.
  • Hit 6 balls to deep mid-off irrespective of the line of the ball
  • Make a decision which ball goes to which goal based on line of the incoming delivery

Just like “the Don”, Marcus practiced this for 40 minutes with limited feedback from myself or breaks in his practice. Just lots of repetition and volume. He practiced magnificently. Marcus made adjustments largely on his success/failure ratio and his kinesthetic feedback system.

When reviewing at the end of the session we discussed ways to challenge the practice, just like Don Bradman did in the backyard games he played back in 1915.

Our thoughts included:

  1. Developing a scoring system for scoring goals and missing targets. Link this with a consequence to build more realistic match pressure.
  2. Reduce the distance between the wall and the batter to reduce time and heighten decision making and movement patterns.
  3. Have a thrower standing behind Marcus delivering the ball into the wall. This makes the feeds less predictable and reduces decision making time.
  4. Bat with a thin bat, bat with a stump, just like Donald Bradman.
  5. Make the goals smaller.
  6. Build in some fitness to fatigue the body. This simulates pressure and naturally, fatigue has an impact on many players ability to make good decisions and execute the skill to a required standard. Another pressure testing method.

I hope that Sir Donald Bradman and his practice methods inspire you as players and coaches as it has me over the years.

Practice opportunities are everywhere; go ahead and grab them.

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