“It’s the way I play!”
We hear that around cricket grounds all over the world. Sometimes it is a reaction to feeling under pressure for runs and performance. Occasionally, it is a batter’s self-confidence mechanism kicking in. Other times it is because the player isn’t prepared to put the work in to make a change.
The KP Exception
Kevin Pietersen fell into the second category (self-confidence maintenance). He was good at analyzing challenge and adapting accordingly, especially when it came to playing spin.
His simplistic, yet effective forward defensive technique against the great Shane Warne, is testament to this approach.
Also, the way that he developed his switch hit to counter off cutting Scott Styris and the crafty Muttiah Muralitharan are fantastic examples of KP’s ability to say “it’s the way that I play!” when his mind was already streets ahead and working internally in a growth mindset kind of way.
But in the main, a statement such as “it’s the way that I play!” is a poor reaction that needs to be challenged by both the player and the coach.
Whilst England ended up losing the 2nd Test of the 2016 series in India at Vizag, the root cause of the loss came with five wickets at the end of Day two. It was certainly no disgrace being bowled out on a wearing and very low Vizag last day surface.
In fact, it was great to see some of their players adapting their backswings in order to give themselves the best chance of success and survival on a pitch that was keeping lower and lower as the game wore on.
This evidence of adaptation bodes very well for the next three Tests as well as demonstrating that the England players are learning from their experiences in Bangladesh and now, India.
Joe Root is someone who has learnt to adapt his game brilliantly since he was “shell-shocked” by Mitchell Johnson and friends in the 2013/14 Ashes Series.
Root had played in “his way” up until that point of his career with a good amount of success, but has since used his disappointment in Australia to reflect and adapt his game better to different conditions and challenges.
Evidence of this comes when we compare and contrast Root’s backswing height from the Wanderers Test in January 2016 and his approach in India in December of the same year.
Joe’s backswing was super-high on the trampoline Wanderers surface. He cut and pulled his way to a magnificent and game defining 110 from 139 balls.
Compare this to the lower backswing adopted by Root in his innings to date in India at the end of the year. Again, his 124 off 180 balls in Rajkot was a Joe Root masterclass, with a different backswing.
He assesses each pitch and bowler and then makes adaptations based on the ball bounce and the bowler’s skills and characteristics.
Growth mindset cricket
Root is not alone in adapting and growing.
AB de Villiers talks regularly about adapting his stance and backswing to counter conditions and bowlers.
Jacques Kallis changed his stance and movement patterns when facing Jimmy Anderson if the ball swung. He used to open up his stance a little and shuffle rather than step into the ball on the front foot. The last thing that Jacques wanted to do was to commit to the starting line of the swinging delivery and then find that he was exposing either edge of the bat to the ball at contact.
If he limited his movement against the rapid, swinging deliveries then he would limit his incidence of error content in the contact zone.
Kallis was happy to “sit” on Anderson whilst the ball swung at pace and would go back to batting normally if Anderson was not swinging the ball significantly.
Are your players fixed or growth in their batting mindset?
Kp, AB, Root and Kallis have a growth mindset to challenge. As a result have they succeeded in different conditions and against different challenges across the world.
Now, given that surfaces at club and school level are rarely the same from game to game, is there not something in this for lesser mortals to learn from?
So if you hear your players say “it’s the way that I play”, give them a nudge and tell them a story about one of these batting legends.