Good timing is a matter of the bat coming down at exactly the right time so that the ball both strikes the middle of the bat, and then leaves it in exactly the direction the batsman was intending.
Simple when you put it like that; but it’s easy to go wrong too.
There are two different ways in which timing goes wrong - and a cross bat shot and a straight bat shot will typically suffer from poor timing in different ways.
1. High on the bat vs. low on the bat
This is mainly an issue with cross bat shots, particularly the pull.
It's perfectly possible to play the exact right shot to a short delivery, but if you're a fraction early or late, instead of flying to the boundary, the ball will squirt off weakly towards midwicket.
Bring the bat around too late, the ball will have travelled that little bit further and will make contact with the splice instead of the middle; bring the bat around too soon, and the ball will hit the toe of the bat.
How do you get around the issue?
It’s important to get a feeling for the pace of a pitch and the bowler before attempting expansive cross bat shots.
You may get a juicy long hop early on, but if you have misjudged the pace of the pitch, you may find that instead of landing in the trees the other side of the square leg boundary, your poorly timed shot floats straight into the hands of a grateful midwicket fielder.
Just watch the pace and bounce for an over or two first, and you will be in position to make a better judgement on those aggressive shots.
2. Into the ground vs. up in the air
The second timing problem affects the drive.
We all know the dangers of driving too early on a slow pitch, but the opposite problem brings its own issues: if the bat comes down too early, you will make contact with the ball beyond the vertical and the shot will be "uppish".
It may possibly even go straight up if the pace of the pitch or the bowler is particularly badly judged.
This is immediately fatal, so cautious batsmen overcompensate and hit their drives into the ground.
Although this isn't going to result in a wicket directly, the ball also isn't going to go very far and the batsman will soon get frustrated about his inability to get the ball away through the infield.
Aiming to hit the ball along the ground is not the same as hitting it into the ground.
Practicing your timing
The way to practice improving timing is to be aware of what is happening.
Whether you're practising in the nets or trying to find some touch out in the middle, and the ball just doesn't seem to be coming off the bat right, ask yourself:
"How is my timing - am I playing too late or too early, and what adjustments can I make?"
Knowing what the problem is will be a step in the right direction. You can then start to make adjustments based on the feel of what is happening.
This is easier in practice sessions than in the middle, but awareness is the first step.