I ran a batting session the other day. We focused on how to use multiple shot options against spinners.
We had a net and a bucket of cricket balls. We also used cones for marking areas or fielders and a whiteboard for scoring progress. Tom was the batter. Garas was the coach!
The first emphasis was to "just play".
I threw some off spin deliveries to the players both of which were right handed.
I had an offside field that looked like this:
- Extra cover
- Mid off (saving one)
My legside field was set like this:
- Deep backward square
- Man on the drive at straight midwicket
- Deep midwicket (Deep cow)
- Mid-on (saving one)
My aim as a bowler was to hit middle and off stump with a ball that spins a little. If it didn’t spin my slip fielder would be in the game.
After four overs, Tom had scored 26 runs for 4 wickets.
In that time Tom had attempted the following options:
- square sweep
- backfoot drive
- hit me over mid-on once
- driven me to cover 3 times
- hit the ball repeatedly into my highly defended mid-wicket area for dots
- Caught twice trying to hit me over mid-off
- Defended 8 balls in total. All off the front foot
I asked the question “do most batters have too many options against spin?”.
Tom disagreed with my statement. That is allowed!
Constraints in place
After this initial period, I asked if he minded me setting up a "constraints led practice" so we could compare his experience from his previous attempt with a second set of 24 balls.
Tom agreed so I set the same field and aimed to bowl in the same way. This time there were the following conditions to the practice.
- You are not allowed to defend from the creaseline
- You have to either:
- Play a sweep option (Hard, slog with care, fine sweep)
- Play off the back foot (with the intention of getting as deep in the crease as possible)
- That I could not change the field placement at any stage
After 24 balls, Tom was:
- 31 for 0
- Had scored easy singles off the back foot through cover and behind square on the legside
- Had fine swept me for 2 fours (remember, I can’t move my field)
- Had hit me for 2 fours off the back foot to the left hand of extra cover from the top of off stump
- Swept 2 hard hit sweeps in front of square. We said that both shots we “2’s”
- 1 quick single (hit and go) to mid-on
- There were 7 dot balls. Mostly back foot drives which hit cover or the well-guarded mid-wicket area.
- He did not play a defensive shot in the entire 24 balls
Tom reported that he had "simplified" his game and yet, achieved significantly better results.
He concluded that he could score freely with very little risk by focussing on two basic options. These options covered deliveries landing back of a length to a very low full toss (attempted arm ball yorker).
The constraints within the drill had also motivated him to use his feet better. Especially when moving back.
Of course, I am not advocating that Tom should only play in this way against spin. We chatted about how certain bowlers, field settings, boundary length and pitch conditions may lend themselves a more expansive game.
Yet it is always worth considering which options are the foundation of your scoring game against spin and which are the “expansion packs” reserved for specific occasions.
Constraint focussed drills can work for batters against spin and pace, utilising whichever shot options you like. They also work for bowlers too.
Have a think about the ways that constraint led practice can facilitate accelerated learning in your cricketers.