I once asked Michael Vaughan who was opposition batter who posed the most challenge to him as a captain? The resounding answer that came back was Brian Lara.
Vaughany said that Lara had the both the wrists and the brain to manipulate the same ball into a variety of areas and sometimes simply hit the ball to the same spot that Michael had just moved a guy from!
What a skill to have; the ability to hit a similar ball to a number of different pockets on the ground, some for singles, some for twos and others for four.
So how do we go about developing this into players who may not have the incredible rotational wrist skill of a Brian Charles Lara?
Initially, I asked the players to research to see if they could come up with a few players who made their names by manipulating the ball into space within the 50 over game in particular.
The iPads came out and soon the blue glow of YouTube was seen across the Wilson Pavilion. Here is the list that they came up with in just under 20 mins:
BC Lara (naturally)
AB de Villiers
Not a bad list of players to be fair and the Millfield cricketers then watched how each player managed to hit the same ball to different parts of the ground.
Once they had built their understanding, then the group were ready to take to the nets.
The 4 area manipulation drill
We identified 4 target areas on a white board and numbered them 1 to 4.
The Third Man area – fine of gully and beating the keeper. The group felt that Marcus Trescothick was the best exponent of getting a length ball into this pocket of the ground in a safe and consistent fashion.
Square Leg to Straight Mid-Wicket - The group felt that Lara, Michael Bevan and Shiv Chanderpaul were all brilliant at getting a length ball into this pocket of the ground in a safe and consistent fashion.
Point to Straight Extra Cover - The Group felt that AB, Michael Bevan and Shiv Chanderpaul were all brilliant at getting a length ball into this pocket of the ground in a safe and consistent fashion.
Straight past or over the bowler - The Group felt that AB, Tres and Dean Jones were all brilliant at getting a length ball into this pocket of the ground in a safe and consistent fashion.
We then then set the bowling machine to deliver the ball at a reasonable rate (65–70 mph) into length using a range of ageing bowling machine balls that subtly shifts length and line.
The feeder raises their left hand to reveal one, two, three or four digits (linked to the 4 target areas).
Then a second or two later the right hand places the ball into the machine.
The batter organises themselves to best hit the ball or deflect the ball into the designated pocket or target zone.
Whilst the identified world class batters could hit all four areas at will most of the time, they all did it with slightly different methods.
Some would have a greater emphasis on their wrists; others would use their body position and alignment to strike through the ball.
It was evident in our practice that some of our players preferred one way over the other.
We encouraged the players to have a go at both approaches to find out which one works best for them. It’s good for them to have a go at both approaches as they may need to shift tact at some stage of an innings, against a certain delivery or to access a very narrow gap.
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