It's a brilliant idea to practice in a net, but it's poorly done 66% of the time. If you are not getting better, what's the point of dragging your carcass to practice in the first place?
The problem is that when you are practising in a standard net there is nothing on the outcome. If you get out as a batsman you can just have another go. Where is the incentive to improve? It's the same for bowlers who get a shoeing from some hacker who wouldn't last 5 minutes in a match.
Yet, how many times have you gone to nets, had your bowl, had your few minutes in the net and finished with "12 needed off the last 6"?
You see, the difference between "having a hit" and working under pressure to improve your game is the difference between avoiding getting worse and improving.
It's really that dramatic to your game.
So, let's sort it out with one simple word.
The place of nets
Even in these modern days of small sided games, middle practice, technical drills and so on, there is still a place for the humble net.
You just need to keep it there with the leash of accountability.
There are three basic reasons to have a traditional bowler vs. batter net:
- Improving shot selection (or, picking line and length)
- Cricket specific fitness
- Dealing with pressure
Your first job is to pick which horse to ride.
Simply by agreeing the reason for a net you will be ahead of 70% of your peers (at least). You just made your nets accountable.
Want to take it up another notch and hit the top 1% instead?
Tweak the sessions to match the goal.
Review, review, review
The underlying principle is to keep practice deliberate; in other words, to create a loop of practice, review, adapt, practice. This is proven to be the fastest way to learn new skills.
The big change from traditional netting is the need to review.
The good news is that you need to do very little to analyse your practice in nets. It simply takes a few minutes after each session to think about things.
For example, if you are using nets improve your shot selection, you can take a few moments when you get home that evening to journal how you did. Did watching the ball closely work better for you, or do you prefer to take in the whole picture?
Overtime you spot trends of what is working, and what you can discard. You have created your loop.
To go up another step, use PV/VIDEO to see how many balls you played correctly, and how many you misjudged. A coach is useful here, but you can easily do it yourself. Track this over time to watch your percentage shoot up.
Again, simple review is enough to make a difference to your game by transforming nets, but you can get even better by making the feedback even more instant and the practice even more accountable.
Nets for shot selection
We know from research into elite batsmen that facing bowlers improves your ability to quickly pick up line and length. So, nets are ideal.
As we already discussed, using video will allow you to set a benchmark. If you chose the right shot 22% the first net, aim to increase that number by the end of your 5th, 10th and so on.
Sometimes you will go backwards, but as long as the overall trend is up, you know you are on the right track.
There is little you need to change in the session, but things that will help are:
- Review your stance technique regularly to make sure you are still, balanced and with your eyes level.
- Ask bowlers to bowl in overs, to give your more time to pick up clues from the action without worrying about big variations in the ball (like a spinner and a fast bowler).
- Use match scenarios in your mind as this will influence the shot you play. At the death you might hit a length ball, in a long game you might defend. Stick to this for the whole session.
- Select shots based on your strengths. Save experimentation for throw downs or bowling machines and bring new methods to nets when you are confident.
- Experiment with where you look and what works for you.
After the session, review. I can't stress that enough!
Nets for fitness
You can use nets to improve your capacity to work and stay focused for longer periods, like you would in a match. This is difficult in the normal net situation as it is very different from game bowling or batting.
Once fitness is the goal you can make several changes to the structure of nets:
- Bowler's bowl in pairs in overs. Rotate out of the net and do some fielding drills between overs. Bowl for a little more than your usual spell then call it a day.
- Batsmen bat with running for longer periods than the usual 10 minutes. Aim to get at least half an hour (if not more) if you can. Then use running games, and BATEX to better simulate match specific running.
- Batsmen can also rotate in an out of the "fitness" nets in pairs, building in a consequence for losing a wicket. The waiting batsmen can do fitness drills in pads or technical drills.
- Try this setup.
Fitness requires less review time, but don't rely on magic happening by itself. Track your fitness with testing. This may be as simple as noticing you have more gas in the tank when playing games, or as complex as proper test protocols.
Nets for dealing with pressure
This is the biggie, because nets are so often a matter of going through the motions.
Pressure change all that.
It's best for batsmen who want to get work in while also understanding the pressure of losing your wicket. However, bowlers can equally benefit from understanding how to deal with a big hitting batsman or bowling the last over of the game with 5 needed to win.
You can add pressure in a number of ways:
- When you are out you are out. Or, use a points system to be a bit less severe.
- Put a wicketkeeper and perhaps a close fielder in the net (if there is room).
- Set match situations for the bowler and the batsmen. Use PitchVision to track results. To build up the pressure, only give a few seconds to think abut the scenario before the next ball is bowled.
- Keep league tables of net performances to grow competition between bowlers and batsmen.
- Change "last 6" to "intention 12"
Yet again, all this is for very little unless you review after the session.
How did you respond? How can you better learn to clear the mental noise? How do you get back to "ready" quickly?
Like picking pine and length, and fitness, mental toughness can be improved with the right focus in nets and with the right post training review.
Imagine finally making them useful and not hoping a quick net will do voodoo magic on your game.