Sam Lavery is Cricket Professional at Portsmouth Grammar School in England. He is a co-host of the PitchVision Cricket Show. In this column he has a drill to make nets better.
One of the regular net drills Portsmouth Grammar School is the “zonal” net.
The zonal net simplifies the idea of having a field in play during a net, where batters and bowlers have to discuss the location of nine different fielders, whilst still challenging the thought processes and the cricket skills of everyone involved.
So how does it work?
Basic zone drill
The field is divided into six segments; A to E, plus a dead zone behind the keeper.
As the bowler stand at the end of their run up, they call two zones. These zones are the areas that the batter has to try and hit a boundary.
For example, the bowler shouts out “B and C” - covering an area between mid off and third man - and tries to bowl a leg stump yorker or a hip ball. This is to prevent the batter hitting the relevant off side gaps.
In turn the batter adapts: creates some space or tries to find some way of striking the ball towards the off side.
At this basic zoning level, challenge the batter to either score singles or hit boundaries. Both are good ways of stimulating thought processes and subsequently skills.
Combined zoning drill
This progression is effective in the development of one day and T20 players in particular. Where in the basic zoning net players are either scoring singles or boundaries, we now combine both scoring options.
A batter’s primary objective is to score a boundary in the direction of the nominated zone.
However, if they can’t do that they must rotate the strike by hitting the ball into any of the other zones.
To go back to our previous example, the bowlers shouts out “B and C”, and tries to bowl a leg stump yorker. The batter looks to strike the ball through the off side.
If the bowler restricts the batter’s room to play through the off side with any real power, the batter can opt to take the single by working the ball into any of the other three zones; A, D or E.
Effectively this zonal format indicates where fielders are close in on the 1 or back on the boundary. However, this information can be communicated quickly and effectively through the calling of a couple of letters.
Advanced zoning drill
Once mastered, this becomes a drill to challenge players both physically and mentally. You’ll need two batters along with two bowlers and, ideally, a coach to help out with judging the outcomes.
Here’s the format
- 2 bowlers alternate bowling a total of five overs each, 10 overs in total
- Bowlers call the zones each ball for the first four overs, batters call them for the next four, and the bowlers take control again for the last two.
- The same two zones can’t be called twice in a row.
- Every three balls the batting pair must sprint a three.
- If the batter hits powerfully into the nominated zone they score four runs.
- If the batter manoeuvres the ball into any of the others zones they score one
- If they fail to do any of the above they score minus one!
- As soon as a batters sprint drops down into a jog you can minus runs, or, at PGS we actually play the rule of “Jogging = Jog on”: you’re out!
As you can imagine this is a great way to make both batters and bowlers think creatively about their plans and learn to work with their partners when discussing tactics.
Additionally, using physical stress of running increases the difficulty level of their mental processes, whilst also adding an element of realism to situation, and some useful and relevant fitness.
This drill gets some really specific physical preparation under the belts of the batters, as well as giving you an idea of who’s more likely to convert their indoor skills into outdoor scores.
It also shows which bowlers can be trusted to set their fields, and how some may be better suited to different situations, batters, or fields.
Use these drills to limit the void between net practice and actual match day performances. The more you can place players in an environment that challenges how a ball is going to be hit, where it’s going to be hit, and what that value of the shot is; the more likely you are to convert practice into performance.