You go hard at the perfect away swinging delivery and edge it to second slip.
You get forward to the spinner and push his length ball into the off side, calling quickly you take off for a single, making it easily.
Both of these moments are examples of playing with “hard hands”: Playing a defensive shot but pushing into the ball.
One will see you criticised for terrible wafting outside off, the other will see you praised for strike rotation awesomeness.
So how bad is playing with hard hands, really?
Are the coaches right when they say you should play defensively with soft hands?
The answer to these questions is - as always - based on the situation.
When to play with soft hands
Soft hands is often seen as the only way to play defensively. It’s easy to defend the ball because you are simply putting the bat in the way. Your only aim is to stop the ball in it’s tracks, not get a run.
If you edge it, or play too early, you are less likely to get caught because the ball will not carry.
It’s a superb way to play when you are in more classic cricket situations. Things like opening the batting against a swing bowler with many slips, or spinners on bouncy wickets with a lot of men round the bat.
If you decide you are not going to score from the ball and you wish to defend, use soft hands, let the ball hit the bat and wait for the bad one to put away. It’s the safer option.
When to play with hard hands
The trouble with soft hands is it’s much harder to rotate the strike. This is where playing with hard hands becomes an option.
Technically, hard hands means pushing at the ball a bit more than a dead bat defence, but not playing a full power shot. You are trying to hit a single rather than a boundary. It’s usually played to a good length ball.
If you are in a situation where you need to manufacture runs more quickly, such as in a one day chase, you can take a bigger risk and start trying to push good balls into gaps.
It’s lower risk to try hard hands when the field is spread, the ball is moving less or the pitches are faster.
That said, it’s useful any time, you just have to be aware of the increased risk of a mis-hit carrying to a fielder. Like al batting, you are assessing the risk vs. the reward.
One way of reducing the risk is to play with hard hands with balls tight into your body. Pushing into the leg side is less risky. Pushing at balls outside off stump with the bat away from your body is harder to get right.
Practice both ways
As you can see, there are times when you will play softly, and times you where you play more firmly. So, practice both ways.
In nets, decide on the scenario you are batting in then play that way for the whole session. Even if you decide you never need one way or the other, it’s good to know you can do both, just in case.
Then, when you walk out to bat you can quickly decide your best option and play that way, knowing you have practised hard and are able to get it right.
Let’s stop making “hard hands” a bad thing. Sometimes it is, but often it’s the right way to play and gives you freedom to score. Play to the situation and not to the copybook technique.