Every year for more than 20 seasons I have gone through the same ritual after Christmas with a variety of club cricket teams.
The kitbag is dragged from the shed, and I find myself in a dusty sports hall trying to reacquaint myself with the faces of my team-mates that I haven’t seen for months.
The bowler’s have a little stretch while the batsmen fight about who is going to go first (or second actually, because no one wants to go first).
The wicketkeeper bowls.
After 55 minutes we realise 3 people have not had a bat and the wicketkeeper is still bowling. The last man in has a desperate thrash against tired bowlers.
And then we all go for a pint.
Except in recent years we have tried to make nets a bit less of an excuse to gossip and complain about the committee and more of a valuable time to make improvements.
Not many clubs can emulate the professional teams, but they can in spirit at least.
Of course, the old lags put up resistance, but even the craggiest complainer can overcome his inertia with these simple changes:
1. Hold back on pulling out the nets
I know time is limited, but there is no need for everyone to dash to pull out the nets.
There are more ways to practice than that.
Every player can benefit from what I’m going to loosely call a ‘warm up’ (it’s not really a warm up but it’s a good way to trick players into doing non-net stuff). You can use the entire list below or just pick out the bits least likely to cause resistance:
- Foam rolling/stretching. 5 minutes on a foam roller can make a huge difference to performance in the long term. If the club can splash out on buying a few then it’s an easy win.
- Mobility/stability. A few mobilisation exercises before you start batting and bowling will help prevent injury (especially important in the cold of pre- and early season) and increase power. Here are some examples of simple exercises you can do with minimal equipment.
- Power development. If you have some basic equipment handy you can help improve leg and upper body power in players with some simple plyometrics style drills. The focus is not on high impacts but learning how to jump and land efficiently. Find out more here.
- Speed development. Simple technical drills for speed are quick and easy to implement in the warm up and improve players ability to run between the wickets and chase balls down in the field. Plus with a competitive element they can be a lot of fun.
- Grooving. Very few club players spend time improving technique, but just a few minutes with a tennis ball and some simple drills will crossover to better technique in the middle. Find out more about how to set up grooving drills with a team here.
If you did everything on the list the warm-up would last about 2 hours, so there is no need to do it all. Just pick stuff you can do quickly and move on from. 15 minutes is the most you want to spend here if you have only an hour’s net session a week.
2. Field first
One season my team really worked hard on our fielding during the off season. For the first 5 games we fielded like demons then bad weather stopped us practicing, we got out of the habit and started fielding like fools again.
The moral of the story is simple. Practice fielding as often as possible.
But it’s easy to get in the habit of saying “oh, let’s do fielding at the end” by which time everyone is knackered and conveniently forgets.
So, avoid that by insisting on fielding before anyone picks up a bat or bowls a ball.
Call it a warm up if you like, but always, always field first.
The extra catches and runs saved are worth the pain.
3. Split up the nets
Rather than have everyone bowl while they are waiting to have their 5 minute slog, put a bit of planning in and split nets up.
Here are some ways to be more efficient without upsetting anyone:
- Bowlers only. It’s a simple fact that bowlers who practice their accuracy become more accurate. It’s easier to do that without a blacksmith at the other end trying to hit you into next week. So take a group of bowlers and put them in a net or two without batsmen then get then bowling at a target. To make it more realistic they can bowl in 6 ball overs.
- Batsmen only. While the bowlers are doing their thing, get the batsmen to practice technique against a bowling machine, throwdowns or a sidearm. The trick here is to feed balls again and again in the same area to work on improving a specific shot. Don’t mix it up too much.
- Virtual game. You can still have traditional style nets of course, but give them more of a purpose. Tell the players the game situation and set up a scoring system (for example a straight drive gives you 4, a defensive shot gives you 1). Have the batsmen bat in pairs and see what score they can get before a wicket falls. This is helping with both tactics and mental prep rather than being aimless.
- Wicketkeepers. Find a space for keepers to practice somewhere too. If you have 2-3 keepers then they can practice together. If there is only one guy then find a batsman who doesn’t need to do bowling practice to help with thrown downs. There is usually one person keen to get out of doing his bowling stint.
A variation of the virtual game is the BATEX drill which plays an mp3 or CD of how many runs the batsmen has to score that over. You can get the files for BATEX here.
4. Keep a record
We all love to know our averages from matches (admit, you do) but we rarely track performance in practice. To me that’s silly because it’s easy to do and shows you what type of practice works best.
So if you bowl, track how accurate you are. If you bat, keep a record of how many runs you get in the virtual game. Track it from week to week and see what practice makes the biggest difference.
5. Don’t forget to have that pint
Relaxing after practice is important too. We have all seen the person who is too focused and intense. This just tenses you up and the best players are smooth, relaxed and flowing, not tight and clenched.
So have that post-practice drink, relax, have fun and forget about cricket once practice is over.
It’s true that club players have a different approach to the professionals, but if you are clever and assertive you can work with what you have to help make practice that little bit better
And make the team that little bit better come matchday.
image credit: nick_r