The quicker you can run the more singles you can steal (or save in the field). The faster your arm moves when fast bowling, the quicker the ball comes out. The faster your bat moves through the strike zone the better you time the ball.
Acceleration is useless without technique, but when the two are combined you become a significantly more formidable player.
Cricketers are not sprinters but both types of athletes need acceleration. The difference is in the type of speed. Sprinters react to a single sound (the starter's gun), run in a straight line and hit top speed. They don't throw or hit a ball and they only sprint once.
It's rare during a cricket match for a player to accelerate over more than 30 yards (27m). Fielding and batting involve reacting to a number of possible things (not just a gun) and quickly changing direction. Players need to perform in multiple bursts of speed. Also, upper body acceleration is more important for fast bowlers and batsmen because the faster your arms accelerate the better.
That means cricket speed can be broken into several components including reactions, agility and work capacity. It's not a skill in itself, but a combination of other factors.
However, acceleration is the key to both running speed and skill execution (bowling action, playing shots).
We are really talking about two different elements when comes to cricket acceleration. First is running speed second is upper body speed. Fortunately there is quite a lot of crossover between the two and all players can benefit from both. That means you can combine them. Here is how:
- Increase force production. Before you can even think about better speed, you need to be strong. The more weight you can lift the more force you can produce and the faster you will be able to move. Combine squat/deadlift variations (double and single leg) with upper body pushing and pulling movements. Get strong first.
- Increase mobility. The more mobile your hips, ankles, upper back and shoulders are, the more force you can produce. This is because of the way levers work. Improve that range of motion through dynamic mobility exercises: As a minimum before every workout and training session.
- Increase stability. Your lower back needs to be stable while the rest of the body is performing your skill at speed. This will prevent injury and improve technique. Make sure you include core stability training all year round.
- Improve technique. Technical errors can slow you down. Learn how to run between the wickets and chase a ball by taking a leaf from sprint training. Also ensure your bowling and batting techniques give you room to move quickly.
- Increase elasticity. The faster your muscles are able to contract and relax like an elastic band the quicker you can accelerate. Use plyometrics to improve the lower body and medicine ball work combined with plyometric press ups for upper body speed.
- Lower body fat. If muscle and strength allow you to go faster, fat slows you down because it is dead weight. Batsmen and spinners are able to get away with more fat that fast bowlers but everyone can benefit from low body fat. Focus mainly on healthy nutrition, plenty of sleep and regular training. That way excess fat will be lost without having to go on a 'diet'.
- Build up intensity. When you are first learning to accelerate it feels a little 'out of control' to move fast. So over time, increase the intensity. Once basic strength and technique is sound you can start to challenge yourself with SAQ style techniques such as being pulled on an elastic rope or using a lighter ball/bat to move your speed beyond what you consider to be 100%.
Acceleration training is not a standalone element of you cricket fitness. You can and should combine it with strength, mobility, stability and technical work. This will not only save you time, it will teach you muscle memory to combine acceleration skills with cricket specific skills.
This will give you a greater crossover to the pitch helping make you a faster and better player.