The Sky is not the Limit: How to Train Players to be Safe Under the High Ball
There are more balls hit into the air now that at any other time in cricket history. Matches and tournaments can be won and lost on the ability of a team or individual player to cling onto a Skyer. So it is vital for us to develop the skills of our players to cope with this aerial onslaught.
The development of the shorter formats, T20 in particular, has led to batters increasing their aerial scoring options. Bats are specifically developed to pack more punch into the hitting zone. The power play regulations have led to more balls being hit up into the stratosphere and as a consequence, more opportunities to get under a high catch.
When I coached at Somerset, we made high catching our priority and it helped us to win the Twenty20 Cup. In the final alone, both Mal Loye and Freddie Flintoff were dismissed in the first 3 overs of the game through well judged and well taken skyer catches.
The ease that the players took those match winning catches came as a result of their efforts within specific fielding drills.
The Coaches High Catching Kit Bag
- 1 Fusion Skyer or Gray Nicholls Cloudcatcher
- 1 Set of Cones
- 3 - 6 soft, beaten up cricket balls (appropriate sizing for your age group)
- 3 - 6 newer cricket balls
- 3 - 6 Hard Tennis Balls
- 3 - 6 incrediballs
- 1 Tennis Racquet
Most high balls are dropped due to poor body position rather than poor hands. Effective footwork leads to good body positioning which in turn results in increased catching success.
Fielders should attempt to catch every opportunity with the hands and head close together. This increases control and ultimately facilitates effective catching.
Effective footwork enables a fielder to line up the ball early and ensure that the head and hands are in the right place to take the dropping ball.
Make a note of the catches that get caught in International and IPL Cricket on the TV over the coming weeks and see how many safe catches are made when the head and the hands are in close proximity.
As soon as we have to stretch for a ball we are more likely to drop it, therefore, footwork to get under the flight of the ball is vital.
You will hear me saying "Make your ground!" in most of my sessions; encouraging and positively cueing the players to use their feet effectively to get under the flight of the ball as early as possible.
One Handed Skyer Catching Drill
Graeme Smith bought this drill to me over from South Africa and I love it. The drill is great fun, players love it because it both challenges them and develops them under the high ball.
The coach hits the hard tennis ball into the air. The fielder is only allowed to take the catch with one hand. This naturally increases the task difficulty and as a result the fielder will instinctively do the following things:
- Use their feet effectively and get right under the flight of the ball
- Look to catch end ball at eye level and above (a good thing!)
It is a great drill as then I ask the players for feedback and they tell me these key coaching points which are both vital when catching the high ball.
I will emphasise the importance of both points at the time and then reiterate them over and over again throughout the remainder of the fielding session.
- Increase height of the ball
- Increase the distance a player has to run to get under the flight of that all
- Vary the starting position of the fielder (using cones as a starting marker) so that they are approaching the ball from different angles. This means that each fielder can practice catches Over each shoulder, from the right, from the left and running in.
- Progress from hard tennis ball and tennis racquet to softer/old cricket balls and a Fusion Skyer/Gray Nicholls Cloud Catcher
- Nominate the hand that needs to catch the ball as the ball is struck (decision making development and footwork pressured)
- Occluded Catch - player away from the hitter and turns as he/she hears the contact of ball on bat. The player then has to locate the ball in the sky and use good footwork to get under the flight of the ball.
Every now and again, ask the fielders to catch the ball 2 handed. The players make it look so easy when they go to 2 hands as they have trained themselves to use their feet to get under the flight of the ball and to make contact with the ball level or above the line of their eyes.
Finish each session with a few rounds of 2 handed high catches and monitor the results.
Give it a go, start them off slowly and then build in the progressions as the player’s skill, competence and confidence grows.