When the weather is not so good the indoor net is a saviour to cricketers. The question is: do they do more harm than good?
I would be interested to see an experiment where 2 groups of players were split into those who netted in the winter and those who did not. I suspect at club level the difference in form might be less than we imagine.
I'm thinking mainly about the average club level net. There is little or no structured coaching, instead players simply split up and take it in turns to bat and bowl. Let's look at why it's a problem.
Indoor Net Bowling
I suspect seam bowling is the worst hit skill in the traditional net setup. Your line and length as a bowler is very different from outdoors on a sub-first class club wicket. Over the weeks of the nets you see the ball swing more, especially if the club has bought new practice balls). You can also get a lot more pace and bounce from the harder floors.
This means that in nets generally your length is shorter and your line accounts more for the swing. So, for example, if you bowl outswing your back of a length ball pitching on middle/leg and hitting off in indoor fast swinging conditions becomes a slow short ball down the leg side when you get onto an early season wicket.
Spinners are no better off.
Both spin and seam bowling are based a great deal on rhythm. This is hard to achieve when you are sharing a net with 3, 4 or more other bowlers and have to wait between balls. The seamer also can't come off their full run to further disrupt rhythm.
As if that wasn't enough, you have a batter down the other end who is probably giving it the long handle. How are you supposed to focus on improving your action or hitting good areas when there is an unrealistic slog happening at the other end?
Finally a big issue for bowlers is the impact. Hard surfaces jar a bowler's joints and tendons. I'm no more than a net bowler but often spend the day after our club net sessions hobbling around with a sore Achilles heel. The last thing you want to see is star bowlers do an injury just before the season because a hard surface has worn them down.
Indoor Net Batting
Batters are slightly better off than bowlers. Indoor nets can help a player pick up the 'clues' a bowler gives in their action that give away line and length.
However, for me the benefit ends there.
The hard, fast surfaces are nothing like the slow, low club wickets most people play on early in the season. You suddenly have to wait for the ball for longer, upsetting your timing. You also have no time to think things through, just getting a quick fire succession of different types of bowling. It's all over in 5 or 10 minutes at most. No wonder most batsmen end up having a hit instead of playing as if they were in the middle.
The biggest batting issue for me is that most at net sessions simply don't consider working on technique. It's like you get to 16 or 17 years old and stop needing to eliminate technical flaws. Having a net will not improve your technique in itself. It may even harm your technique as you get into bad habits. It's something you need to work on with feeds, throwdowns or a bowling machine.
You can see how indoor netting can be nothing but trouble, especially for bowlers.
I'm not suggesting we should stop netting indoors because of these problems. I do think most clubs could benefit from thinking a little more about how things are done. I'd like to suggest:
- A bowling net. Use the PitchVision sensor system and have bowlers bowl at their lines and lengths without a batsman in the way. This will improve accuracy (which can be tracked automatically on the PV software on your phone or laptop) and if you have a coach you can get help with your action safe in the knowledge it doesn't matter if you mess up a few balls to start with.
- Technical work. We all need to tighten up our technique, so why not use a net for throwdowns or tennis ball drills? Most batters have a good idea of what makes good technique and can coach each other while they take it in turns to bat.
- Game scenarios. When you are in a net with batting and bowling make it as realistic as you can by setting a game situation: Say over number 25 in a one day match with batter trying to up the run rate in safe ways. Bowlers set their fields and bowl in 6 ball overs as they would in a match.
- Get outside. I admit this is not always realistic. Club sides in the UK in the middle of January are not going to have access to outdoor wickets. However, be prepared to get out there as soon as you can. You can always wear gloves until it gets warmer.
How do you find indoor net practice where you play?
Image credit: HaroldH