Good batsman turn starts into hundreds. Anyone can get out early in an innings, but once your eye is in your goal is to get a big score.
Yet how many players do you see getting a good-looking 30 before falling to a loose shot? The art of the long innings is waning in the crash-bash Twenty20 world.
Let's start turning the tide right now.
Choosing the right shots for the situation
When you see attritional innings in Test matches the commentators will talk about players cutting out risky shots. For example, at one stage in his career Andrew Strauss gave up on almost everything except flicking the ball off his legs. Anything off the stumps he learned to leave alone. This retraction slowed his scoring rate but allowed him to build big scores when he was low on confidence.
At lower levels this can still be done, although the mindset is slightly different. You can still earn to leave balls outside off stump, especially if you open. However with less time than in Test cricket you will need to play more shots, so work on the ones that are the lowest risk. A batsman who is strong with the on drive can also be strong flicking off the legs and playing straight drives. Three shots that are very low risk but can allow you to score in a wide arc on the leg side.
Riskier shots like cuts and cover drives look impressive but unless you are very good at them you are better off leaving them out first.
You also need to consider the pitch. For example; ff you are playing on a minefield against medium pace and spin you will be looking to get forward much more to avoid the ball that shoots from a short length. If you are playing on a hard, bouncy wicket against pace bowlers you can 'sit back' more ready to pull or back foot drive.
This is not just tactical thinking though. You must have the technique to play these shots, and that means intense technical batting practice that teaches you the muscle memory to play your chosen shots perfectly.
All your plans are worthless if you can't play the shots.
Keeping gas in the tank
Speaking of worthless, all the technique in the world is worthless if you don't have the fitness to use it after a long period in the middle.
That's why fitness is so important for the batsman. Fatigue kills concentration fast. As I'm sure you have experienced, when concentration goes, your well laid plans are not far behind as you play a loose shot with poor technique.
Fatigue can be staved off with good training. While nothing beats actually playing long innings to get cricket fit you can take some surprising short-cuts:
- Low rep strength training. It might seem unspecific, but the more absolute strength in your muscles and tendons, the longer they take to tire even when playing a long, slow sport like cricket. That means lifting relatively heavy weights for a few reps rather than lower weights for more reps.
- Energy systems training. If you think back to your biology or sport science classes, this is the different ways the body can produce energy to power muscles. In cricket the main system is ATP-PC. So focusing on developing the efficiency of this system through interval running will increase the time it takes you to run out of gas.
Long slow runs are not ideal preparation for playing long innings, although they will improve your general heart and lung efficiency. The reason they are usually avoided is because they are boring and carry a risk of injury through repetitive impacts (jogging for miles on hard concrete is tough on the knees).
For more information on a training programme for batsmen, check out strength coach Rob Ahmun's guide.
The hardest part of a long innings is keeping an iron concentration on the task. Being fit helps with this, but like your muscles, your mind can improve with the right training.
- Have a ritual. Between balls, develop a way to switch off and think about anything except the game. Some batsmen walk away to square leg, some garden, some adjust their pads. It's idle but essential. Pick something that clears your mind and stick with it.
- Ignore the voices. It could be your internal monologue telling you how bad you are, or the opposition sledging. Whatever the source of the negative voice, ignore it and think of something positive, like how it will feel when you raise your bat for three figures.
Everyone will have a different way of doing these two things, and you may need to try a few methods out before settling on something that works. For ways to work out your own best methods of staying focused have a look at Chapter 3 of How to Use Mental Training to Boost Your Game on PitchVision Academy.
Combining the technical, physical and mental like this covers all your bases. Of course, all these tricks are worthless without lots of practice so get in the gym and get drilling to make sure you are as prepared as possible when the time comes for you to play a match-winning innings.