This is a guest article from Gary Palmer, batting coach.
Without a good ability to bat against the short ball, you will never make the step up to a higher grade of cricket. It's the stumbling block that finds out many talented players. It's the difference between making it and not making it.
But, it's also counter productive just to go and practice against fast, short balls. You have to build a foundation of technique first. It's not about being brave or "having bottle", it's about eliminating technical errors to build confidence.
If your technique is not good and you go up against a bowling machine bouncing it at your head you will find it hard to play the ball. All this does is instill a lack of confidence and perhaps even fear. It looks like you are backing away and scared of the ball where really you just have not ingrained a good back foot technique.
There is also a safety issue; using different balls on imperfect surfaces with inadequate lighting is a recipe for putting players off the game when they get hit.
For me, you have to start with the basics of technique and build things up gradually. That's something I discuss in detail in my online video coaching course Build Confidence with Solid Technique and give you a range of drills, but the overview is:
- Use tennis ball one bounce and underarm feeds to teach the correct position for playing back.
- Progress to feeds on the bowling machine, starting at around 55mph (89kph). Ideally with the softer, orange balls.
- Gradually increase speeds to no more than 65mph (105kph).
- Use a tennis ball and racquet, fed at speed from about 13 yards away, bounced in at chest to head height to play or leave.
It's important to only progress when you are confident at your current level. If it's not working at any level, move back until you are confident again, then progress.
Nobody likes facing really fast bowling, or is totally confident. However, with a good technique behind you, you an control the fear and develop processes for dealing with it, rather than being worried you will be hit.
When to practice playing the short ball
On my Academy program, I start the basics of back foot practice about halfway through the off season and gradually build it up towards the start of the season. I always start with front foot play early on and the basics of alignment, balance and completion are the same for both. It's important not to throw yourself into facing bouncers early on. You will lose confidence quickly that way.
That said, you do need to have some back foot work in the winter because when you go to trials or team nets you will always get someone a bit quicker who likes to use hard indoor surfaces to test you out.
Once the season begins, there is no need to continue this work as you need to be more focused on game plans. Of course if you know you are going to come up against a particular quick bowler, then you can practice your short ball play again because you know what is coming. But keep it to safer drills like underarm feeds or tennis racquet drills to build confidence.
Picking the bouncer
Great players like Viv Richards have excellent technique but they are also very fast to pick a bouncer, then decide to play it or hook it. That's something that is much harder to learn than technique. Some players are naturally better than others but, with facing a lot of bowling, you can get better and picking up the bouncer early enough to play it with confidence.
Then it's down to instinct. Do you hook or do you leave? If you have the basics in place you can choose the option that is best for your style and the match situation.
Sometimes I coach players to hook everything in practice to lure them into being more positive. When you are thinking about attacking the ball, you think less about being hit. The mindset that goes along with ducking everything is that you might get hit, so try hooking everything in practice to build confidence.
I always go back to basics afterwards but if you practice both then you can go on instinct built with self-confidence in the middle.
I have seen many player come unstuck by the short ball. This doesn't need to happen as much as it does because often the issue is seen by coaches as a lack of heart. In fact, it's that the player has not had the technical work required to be confident.
The good news is that, with the right practice and mindset, you can overcome a fear of the short ball and learn to play it like an elite batsman. Put yourself into better positions, build your back foot practice gradually and you will find that you don't slip through the net.
Gary Palmer is a high level batting coach, Director of CCM Academy and former first-class cricketer. You can find out more about his coaching here. Gary was speaking to David Hinchliffe. You can download the original interview of this article as an mp3 here.
image credit: Ali Jackson