Throw Away the Textbook: How Batsmen Really Develop Technique
Psychologist columnist Karl Stevenson tells us why it's time to forget about the textbook when it comes to batting.
Here is an over-rated phrase:
"That shot is straight out of the textbook!"
The truth is that in the modern era of cricket we hear it less and less. It's no longer relevant, if it ever was.
My problem with the textbook starts with three simple questions; if we look at these questions, we uncover the fundamentals of how batsmen really develop a successful technique.
1. Who wrote it?
If a coaching governing body - with access to a wealth of technical and biomechanical data - wrote the textbook, that text book is going to be very detailed and describe a step-by-step process of each shot. These governing bodies pass that information to the coaches, from grass roots to international level.
This is what happens in the UK. Most children are taught by certified coaches who use this information. Almost all of their cricketing experiences are structured and are supervised by a coach, allowing these children to get taught the 'proper' technique.
This is totally different from what happens in India.
Children engage in a huge amount of unstructured and unsupervised cricket. These experiences act as their own coaching experiences. With no one there to tell them what is correct, they are able to identify and work out for themselves what works for them in a game of cricket.
These unsupervised activities lead to a greater understanding of how to score in a competitive setting, especially when compared to conventional net practice that is seen in the UK. However, technically, those players are less 'correct' than the players that are developed in the UK.
The debate is which method - if any - is more important?
The answer is always the same; a mixture of the two.
2. Where was it written?
Let’s say the textbook was written by a coach in England.
The coach who wrote it would have to develop a technique that suited the conditions in England; damp and moist conditions which suit swing and seam bowling. The majority of successful English batsmen have the skills to be able to deal with those conditions. These skills include playing down the line of the ball, being able to leave the ball, and being able to play off of the back foot.
If we compare the English textbook to one that was written by a coach in India where the pitches are dry, slow, and low in comparison, we see fundamental differences in the technique used.
Players in India are able to use their feet, play spin bowling effectively and are more wrist orientated, compared to the importance of a high elbow in England.
Meanwhile in Australia and South Africa, the pitches are hard, flat, and more bouncy. Those players are able to play more off of the back foot, hitting square of the wicket, with the ability to be able to hit the ball while it is still on the bounce when it is full. Ricky Ponting was arguably the best player of the pull shot and we have recently seen Hashim Amla’s ability to play flamboyant drives through the covers.
These fundamental differences in conditions act in the same way as the coaching that we receive when we are younger. We develop the skills that allow us to best cope in our environment. The players are 'textbook' under conditions that are familiar to them, allowing their skills to be more robust in comparison to those who do not have the techniques to deal with the conditions at hand.
This leads us to the last question.
3. Who reads it?
This is the most important part. Players cannot change who wrote their original textbook, or where it was written, but they can change which textbook they study.
If we look at the tours that the BCCI schedules for its Under 19 and A squads, we can see that they select different playing environments. This is their opportunity to be able to study another textbook. These experiences allow those players to be able to identify potential flaws, and understand how they need to be able to alter their technique to be versatile under different playing conditions.
The key word is versatility.
Regardless of what country in which you play, or what format of cricket you are playing, you need to be able to have a robust, but versatile technique that allows you to be competitive.
The more unique training or playing situations you can put yourself into, the better it will be for your overall game. Seek out those experiences; even if it is just changing the way you train in the nets, and your game will reap the rewards of a versatile technique.
Karl Stevenson is a final year PhD student who has spent the last 7 years investigating the psycho-visual skills of striking sports. He works alongside coaches and athletes as a mental skills coach to develop skills in an applied setting.