How much of batting is mental?
We certainly know that you ignore what's happening in your head as you bat you will fail more often. Yet, so often the advice is to bat with a clear mind and "trust your technique".
It's certainly true that technical methods rarely change between formats and situations, but if you bat with the same tactics in the last 5 of a Twenty20 as you do opening in the first innings of a 4 day game you are bound for failure.
Similarly, if you spend the time between balls frantically worrying about how the bowler has spotted your weakness outside off stump and poor footwork, you end up playing worse and getting out.
The famous paralysis by analysis.
Of course, there is another batting method, a method that leads to far more success.
The master craftsman batsman is able to find a balance, define the right approach at the right time and seamlessly integrate technique, mental strength, and tactical approach into a whole batting performance.
And it's certainly not a skill that is accessible only to the greats: you can do it too.
Frustration is replaced by clarity and clarity brings runs.
To illustrate this, I'm going to give you a little example from a small success that shows just how this "crafting" approach applies at any level.
Your technique: warts and all
This weekend I had a rare chance to open the batting for my club. I'm no technical master and have only ever had moderate success with the bat. My technique has a number of flaws.
But the key point is this: those flaws are not a problem.
I tend to align poorly on the front foot, leaving me prone to lazy footwork. When I play I am always close to LBW and catches in the covers. I can work on this between games, but it's hard to get enough time to make technical corrections.
There is certainly no time to worry about it between balls.
Here's what I do, and here's what you should do no matter how excellent or poor your technique: Accept the weak areas when you walk out to bat, doing your best to hide them, and play in a way that gets you runs. As opener, I wait for the ball I know I can put away; a long hop or a half volley. I defend everything else. I sweep the spinners if they drift down the leg side. It means I bat slowly unless someone is bowling badly.
How did this work in my first league game opening for 5 years? Not bad: I scored 29 and put on over 100 runs with 2 partners, setting up the side for an above par score. In an better world that 29 might have been 79, but it gave me confidence that my technique can hold out in a longer, higher pressure match.
Where technique meets mental game
Importantly, you can see that technique and mental game have a huge overlap: Your confidence comes from your tactics which comes from your technique.
Where you need strength in your mental game is to be able to go the other way too.
What do I mean by that?
In the heat of battle, you can make technical changes during the game that give you confidence. I'm not taking about changing something fundamental like your like a trigger move, but small adaptations make a huge difference.
Let's go back to my game for an example. The opening bowler was bowling away swing and I edged a couple down early on. I realised he didn't have an in swinger (that often catches me LBW) so I adjusted my guard from 2, to middle. Suddenly I was middling my forward defence and feeling more confident.
SO, while a plan based on technique is crucial, you also need enough awareness and adaptability to adjust, even mid game. It's what war strategists paraphrase by saying "no plan survives enemy contact".
But there is a danger here too.
You can go too far and end up mired.
Think, but not too much
It's one thing to be aware and make a small change, it's quite another to try and change too much, or consider too many options when you are in the middle. The cliché is still true that the only thing that matters is the ball, and a mind full of clutter takes you out of that moment with the ball.
Luckily, the answer is as simple as timing your thinking, as all excellent batsman seem to be able to do, even when not in the perfect zone:
- Between games: technical changes
- Between overs: small technical points that can be easily tried, and shifts in gear
- Between balls: reset and get back to "ready"
The final point is important because you respond differently to the next ball depending on what happened in the last ball. If you smashed it for four you feel great, if you were dropped at slip you feel awful. In both circumstances the best thing to do is learn to wipe away the experience and look at the situation.
For example, if you hit a four over mid off and the fielder goes back, instead of playing the same shot full of adrenaline, wipe your mind, and take the single. Similarly, if you are dropped, assume your luck is in and continue with your plan. You can always review it with your partner at the end of the over if you think you are doing something ridiculously wrong; although you probably are fine.
Mental game isn't important
So, let's put all this together: Mental game is so integrated to batting you cannot extract it's importance. If you bat you have a mental game already, the question is simply how you do it.
It takes some mastery: A balance between technique, tactics and pure mind games. The good news is that anyone can master this with practice and become a craftsman with the bat.
Put in as much effort to this part of your game as you do your technique and you will see your run scoring go through the roof.