One of the biggest problems in cricket practice is moving from indoor surfaces in winter to spring and summer outdoor pitches.
It's such a huge difference in conditions that I know of many players who hate to have any kind of indoor net. They would rather do nothing. Why is this?
I think it's mainly about adaptation. If you spend - as many UK clubs and schools do - seven months with indoor nets alone you get used to it. Your style of play changes. Then you start the season on a totally different surface and your game is off kilter. It may take you a whole month to adapt back again.
Here are the differences:
- Run ups are shorter, meaning less pace from the seamers Indoor length is shorter than outdoor. This is because of extra pace and bounce and batsmen who hit out forcing your length back.
- The ball swings more indoors, meaning bowlers adjust line.
- The ball turns less, meaning spinners adjust pace and line.
- You tend not to bowl in spells, but in turns, making finding rhythm harder.
- Batsman attack more, making finding a realistic line and length more difficult.
- Impact is greater on knees and ankles, meaning you can bowl less and need more time to recover. The risk of injury is higher.
So, for example, if you bowl outswing, your indoor back of a length ball pitching on middle and leg and hitting off stump becomes an outdoor slow short ball down the leg side.
It's similar for batsmen,
- Timing is upset by the ball coming on faster And bowlers bowling from a yard over the crease line. If you ever had an early season leading edge after spending the winter knocking the ball through square leg, you know what I mean.
- Bowlers don't bowl the same lines and lengths as they would outdoors.
- You don't bat for very long, and when you do it's against variable ability bowlers bowling in turns.
Fixing indoor net practice
That's a lot of problems. Can we fix them?
Yes, we can!
Firstly, it's about attitude. The problems of indoor nets must be seen as a challenge to overcome, rather than an impossible barrier. If we give up and don't go to nets, we better be gun players to justify no practice! And when we do turn up, we need to embrace the challenge with new ways of training.
Putting aside the issues with the basic structure of net practice (one batter, many bowlers, take turns) here are some simple tweaks to our cricket practice we can easily make to manage the transitions from inside to outside.
Play like outdoors
The easiest change to make to bowl and bat like you are playing an actual cricket game.
This might be as simple as setting your target length in PitchVision and bowling it no matter how the batsman plays. Or using cones in a low tech version.
When batting, you play like you would in a game. Imagine a score and a field and think how you are going to make runs in this situation. There are a load of games you can play to help with this like the 10 point net and the 421 runs net.
For even more realistic a feel, bat in pairs and bowl in overs.
A more dramatic way to make nets feel more outdoorsy is to separate the bowling and batting: Bowlers bowl at a target, batsmen work with throwdowns, Sidearm or bowling machine.
While this isn't always practical or desired, it does serve as a way to freshen up the practice. It allows people to work on things without worrying about anyone else. You can do technical work, or work on tactics without the wrong kind of feedback from the other end.
So, if you are a bowler who wants to bowl faster, you can do technical walk-throughs to lock in a better action without having to concern yourself over giving a batsman a hit. As a batsman, you can work on strike rotation of length bowling by having someone give throw downs in the area you want. Try asking a group of six bowlers to hit length on off stump every ball and see how it goes!
One of the biggest challenges is to make the ball behave as it would in the middle: Pace, bounce, swing and spin are all different. How do we slow it all down?
Before I tell you how to sort it out I want you to consider one thing; how different is it really? Pitches and weather conditions vary a lot even outdoors. There are days when playing outside is not that different to inside.
Even when the difference is larger than usual, isn't adaptation one of the keys to good cricket?
For many, the answer to indoor net problems is simple; get on with it. Learn to be adaptable, build a technique that allows you to be in control whatever the conditions and then hone it to excellence.
That said, there are things you can do to help further,
- Bowl a fuller outdoor length.
- Bat with two mats instead of one laid down to dull the pace and bounce.
- Turn a mat upside down to make it spin.
- Use the bowling machine at a reduced pace to make you wait for the ball longer when batting.
- Ask bowlers to bowl within themselves (it's easy with short run ups) for less pace and more waiting on the ball.
Finally, I would argue that once you get outdoors, the ideal is not not go back inside again. I know that is not always practical and sometimes - in rainy conditions - to get anything done at all you need to use an indoor net. My view is that as long as you try to get and stay outside you will be fine, even if weather drive you back in again.
Moving from indoors to outdoors is a challenge, if you let it be one.
There are many ways to manage it, but they key is to be adaptable. Use the resources you have to make the most of things. It won't hurt your game if you practice with match intensity and slow your roll.
The biggest mistake is thinking indoor practice is harmful To your form. If you manage it right it will always help you.
How do you manage it?