When you bat with a plan, you never have to worry about technique again.
You might think that's a bold claim, but bear with me. I can prove it. You see, I have been having off season planning meetings with the players at my club recently, and one thing I have found myself saying a lot is "If you know your game, you will be successful".
"Knowing your game" is my shorthand way of saying a few things at once; that we all need a plan when we bat, that we need confidence we can put our plan into action when we need it, and we need the adaptability to adjust when the plan isn't working.
Yet often we focus on the techniques of batting ahead of the plans. There is an underlying assumption that you are merely a perfect on drive away from being a top class batsman. So we work hard in the nets trying to get heads, hands and feet in the right place. We groove that muscle memory over and over until we can do it without thinking.
And, yes, I'll admit that striving for a perfect technique is a wonderful way to get better at batting.
But it's also one of the least important things you can do if you want to improve your skills and become a decent cricketer.
I would rather have a team filled with guys with average techniques and a total understanding of their run scoring, than a squad of technically perfect players who keep driving the ball straight to mid off. And think about the great batsmen through the years who defy technical perfection anyway: Bradman, Graeme Smith, Chanderpaul, the list goes on...
As the old saying goes, "it's not how, it's how many".
So what are some plans you can practice and try on in games? Here are five batting roles that make up most situations.
1. Just bat
This is common advice to young players: Wait for the bad ball then put it away.
This works well when you get a lot of bad balls. It's a fact that, on average, even the best bowlers are accurate five balls in six. You need the skill and temperament to wait for it and put it away when it comes. With most bowlers you can easily rattle along at four or more an over, even when you have just come in.
The plan remains classical,
- Defend your off stump
- Drive the full ones
- Cut and pull the short ones
- Work straight bowling off your legs
- Sweep spinners when it's safe
- Take care with cross bat shots until you are confident about the conditions and the bowling
Simple, time tested and effective.
The difficulty with this method is either when the bowler is on top or you are feeling out of form and missing your chance to score. This second point can escalate quickly into feeling pressure to score, especially when you keep hitting the ball to fielders.
So, look at the situation and ask yourself - based on your experience - are you scoring at the rate required for the game situation? If you are, you can carry on "just batting" and wondering how you ever thought the game was complicated.
If you are struggling, you need a plan B. Take a look below.
2. Survive and thrive
In this situation, waiting for the bad ball means you are going to score more slowly than the rate. It could also mean you are batting to save the game. All you care about is staying in rather than scoring runs.
Often you are surviving a good spell of bowling. For example, you are batting on an early season English green seaming pitch, the ball is swinging and an accurate medium pace bowler is on. The ball is beating the bat often and you are unable to score with confidence unless you get a really short long hop or full toss (and even then, you don't have your eye in and can easily miss out). However, it could be any other situation where the bowler has the advantage.
Assuming you need to score some runs, what can you do?
You could decide to hang in there. If you feel the bowler will give you something, or if one end is easier than the other you might not need to try anything fancy at all.
If this is not a good option, and you need to be more active, another plan is to nullify the bowler's advantage. You can do this by,
- Changing position on the crease
- Using your feet
- Adjusting to play the ball later
- Taking quick singles
- Hitting over the top
The idea is to step away from "just batting" and have a method you are confident about playing when you need it. You know your strengths and weaknesses, so you can decide what method gives you the best chance of success. Whatever your plan, make sure you have practiced it a lot (either in nets, middle practice or other games).
3. Control the game
Now let's say the bowlers don't have a particular advantage, but you want to accelerate your scoring to four, five or six an over: The kind of rate you see in the middle overs of 50 over matches. You certainly need more than pure technique at this point.
Unlike to top level of the game, where pitches are truer and very batsman friendly, you need some ways to score beyond the basics. You put the ball into gaps rather than playing the right shots to the right balls (as per the manual).
There are a ton of ways to do this the moment you break out of your technical shackles.
And, like the previous section, a good way to work the ball around is to be able to move. You can sweep, use your feet to get down the pitch, take a different guard or start deeper or further out of your crease to change the type of ball you face.
Again, this takes some practice, and the type of work often means middle practice where you have to spend a lot of time fielding while two batsmen work on judging runs. Do it for the good of the team!
As a side note, these three methods are what I would expect most junior players could achieve. There will be outliers as exceptions in both ways, but by the time the average junior player is 16, she can achieve an understanding of these methods and have had some success.
4. Go through the gears
Let's say the situation now demands even quicker scoring than you can manage with knocking it around. It's not quite the death, but perhaps it's more like eight an over in the last 20. Naturally, this is most suited to a one day chase, but it also applies to setting a target in any format.
It's in this context that you need the greatest combination of skill and strategic awareness.
You can't wait for the bowler to give you something, so you need a way to keep the score ticking over whilst knowing exactly when to take a boundary option.
So, assuming your default is safe strike rotation (like above), you next need to understand your breakout shot that is likely to get you a boundary.
So, first assess the moment and decide when you need that boundary. You may decide the time to do this is the first ball of an over and rotate the other balls to get eight to 10 runs. Perhaps you look to have a big over of 20 or more against a weaker bowler. The point is, you are using controlled aggression to meet a calculated goal.
There are a lot of options here, from playing straight through to backloading, drop kicks, line drives, dilscoops, switch hits and sweeping.
You don't need to know them all, but whatever way you go, you need to understand both when to use it and have the confidence that you can pull it off.
Different methods are easier for different batsman, but you also need to have a fast assessment of the risks of each shot. It might be easier to slog sweep the off spinner and throw your arms to hit over extra cover at the away swing bowler. Use your experience in practice to decide and where you lack experience, take a moment to think it through.
There is an element of premeditation here, but it's more about looking for a certain area to score above all others. If you think of it like that, you can also fall back. Say, for example you are looking to go over mid wicket as your option but the bowler gives you a wide yorker. You can still try and play it down to third man for a single.
In summary, you are balancing options with needs moment to moment. Do this by,
- Deciding when to take you boundary option
- Deciding which area to score in
- Clear you mind and play your shot
- Deciding what to do next based on whether your plan failed or succeeded
This is the hardest situation to master because of the high load on your mental skills. It's also tough to hit the ball where you want when you want even when you do have a cast iron plan.
5. Swing from the laces
In many ways, going for broke is easy. All you have to do is swing at every ball because you need as many runs as you can. More than 12 an over against reasonable bowling and you are in this territory. This is confined to the last 10 overs and is often even later than that.
Your options are limited and the idea of "just batting" is as far from your mind as possible. Now it's all about desperate measures. You might be trying to chase a score, set a total or bat for a declaration. Whatever the reason, boundaries are your main currency with sixes the ideal.
So, similar to the previous method, pick an area to score. Most club players look to go over mid wicket. That's fine, but remember there are many other parts of the pitch. For example, against a medium pace bowler or spinner on a slow wicket, you can get as much value with a lofted straight drive as you can swinging to leg.
Again, and I won't apologise for repeating myself on this, the key is to have a shot you have practiced and are confident playing. It won't work every time because the nature of death batting is risky. That said you can mitigate against failure;
- Know when is a good time to "go bonkers". A good rule of thumb is looking at wickets in hand. Chances are on your side if you go all out in the last 10 with six or more wickets in hand.
- Have your shot, and have another in case the captain cuts it off.
- Look to hit one bounce fours rather than sixes. They'll probably go for six if you middle them and you won't be trying to hit the ball quite so hard.
- Have fun!
Summary: Know your game
We have covered a wide variety of situations here, and proven that the idea of just batting, or "see ball, hit ball" is reductive.
To be a successful batsman, especially if consistency is high on your mind, you need to think less about technique and more about playing the game.
Of course, this is not about over-complicating things and cluttering your mind. It's about clarity. Once you know your game, batting does become simple. You are playing to the situation and simply picking from options you are confident playing.
So, work on the skills you need for the situations you find yourself in most often. This will build confidence, make your technique vanish into the background and get you far more runs than just grooving that cover drive to death.