I spent the weekend heading up the Cricket Zone at SportFest15 in the grounds of the glorious Wormsley Estate. 1000's of children were coached by Sporting legends over the two day festival.
The Cricket zone had 6 areas including the PitchVision net manned by Andrew Strauss and Simon Jones.
Another section is called "bowl at Hoggy's Stump". In 2014, England legend, Matthew Hoggard batted for 2 days in a net armed only with a stump. The children loved it, so did Hoggy!
This year we upgraded the stump to a middling bat.
A middling bat is a thin bat, either made specifically or a cut down old bat (a great way of recycling what seems like a broken and useless bat). I love the concept of middling bats. They focus the batters vision, facilitate more precise movement to the contact zone and make the batter focus on his batting basics in a subconscious fashion.
There are many ways that a middling bat can be used within a training programme.
Tennis ball drills
Middling bats can be used with tennis ball drills when testing a newly learnt skill. To learn the new skills - say a sweep- start with your normal bat. Get to a point where the movements are learnt and the contacts are consistent and then move to the middling bat. This increases the need for precise contact and precise judgement of where the ball is in relation to bat face.
Often the contacts go awry and the batter then has to refocus and work hard to get a favourable result. Cross batted shots are more difficult to learn than straight batted ones yet are still worth learning in this way.
Netting against bowlers
Ian Bell had a middling bat specifically made for him to the same weight and similar balance to his match bat. He would play in the nets against the ground staff bowlers and occasional bowlers before taking his normal bat into action against the England Test stars.
Ian would claim that his movements and ability to watch the ball was enhanced as a result of using this regime on a regular basis.
The other thing that Ian swore by was having a bat that was the same weight and balance. This meant that if he wanted to hit the spinners back over their heads for 6 then he could make the distance.
Batting against spin on turning surfaces
The middling bat is great for working on defensive technique on spinning surfaces. Let's think about it. If we can bat for ages on a spinning deck without offering a chance with the middling bat the life will be easy with a normal width bat.
We do a drill where you have to defend on the Merlyn machine bowling into the rough outside off stump with the middling bat. You start with 10 points and lose points for dismissals (minus 2), play and miss (minus 1) and for being hit on the pad (minus 1). Whoever lasts the most deliveries is the winner.
Then you do it with a normal bat and see how your score rises. This is the classic overtraining methodology put into a middling bat drill context.
Hoggy in action
Now, Matthew Hoggard was not the best batter in the world yet has played a couple of match winning innings for his country. His batting over the weekend became more and more effective as he went on. His eye quickly became attuned to conditions, he started to strike the ball cleaner and in the end was being very innovative:
If International players can benefit from a middling bat, then why can't you?
The next time the inside edge goes on the match bat, take a saw to it and turn it into your batting practices 'best friend'.
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