Sam Lavery talks about the power, and problems with "automatic response" batting.
As the players I coach progress through the age groups on the road towards the professional game, I often find myself trying to help them train their "automated responses".
You know the kind of thing I mean already: An off stump half volley goes straight through the covers for four. The first sign of a ball being dragged down by a spinner automatically sparks your feet into motion, setting you deep into the crease to clear the ropes.
So often this stands them in good stead for the increasingly challenging tempo of the game. As school cricketers moves into 2nd XI cricket, and beyond that, the first class game pitches become faster and flatter. Training the body to automatically respond to subconsciously identified cues can be the fastest way for a player to move into position and execute any number of shots.
But what happens when the pitch doesn’t behave in the way you may expect?
Can you switch autopilots off?
The state of the pitch at the SWALEC Stadium in the abandoned match with Hampshire saw Michael Carberry and Jimmy Adams battling their natural instincts, not just to survive but also to protect themselves.
Similarly, every week at club grounds you’ll find players involved in the professional game battling with "club decks"; wickets that seem normal to many but astonish contracted professionals who spend all week grooving their automatic responses, only to find they’re not always equipped for the easy pace of Saturday pitches.
Overriding a trained response is an extremely difficult skill to master, but those who can may be most successful in alien conditions.
So how to we make it part of a training program?
Including a session every couple of months that takes players out of their comfort zone can develop an awareness of conscious decision making and batting, over subconscious, automated responses that some build their game around.
One relatively easy option is to alter the playing surface.
If there's a wicket going spare that the groundsman says isn't to be used for the remainder of the season, then flooding it and playing on a stodgy wet wicket is a great way to make players rethink their method in both attack and defence.
Another great way is to set up a net session on an used wicket, however putting the stumps in a different location. Perhaps with the worn crease area on a full length outside off stump, or maybe even batting half way down the pitch so that the wicket ends are now a bouncers distance away. Obviously be sensible and safety conscious when setting up these types of sessions but be creative and try to think outside the box.
While automatic responses may play a major part in each player’s progression, never forget the need for conscious decision, manual override, and good old adaptability.