Pitchvision Academy


With the IPL reaching a climax, it’s the perfect time to examine the simple ways you can train to get to the pinnacle of your own performance. We talk to Karl Stevenson about the science of developing skill, help you decide your shots in Twenty20 and give you an insight into how to understand your own game better.

Plus, Mark Garaway continues his wicketkeeping series with some standing up drills for coaches to use, and the podcast tries to work out if line or length is more important.

Have a great weekend, 

David Hinchliffe

How to Become a Cricketer: The Science of Developing Skill

Karl Stevenson is a sports psychologist, who has been researching the ins and outs of anticipation and decision making skill in cricket batting. He has worked with top-flight county teams as well as teaming up with the ECB.

In a recent interview, we got some tips from the lab that can be used on the pitch:


PV: How important is innate talent in becoming a successful cricketer?

KS: That’s a very interesting and often misinterpreted question, when people generally talk about talent; they assume that it is something genetic which automatically allows a person to be able to be more skilful than a person who possesses less talent.

The problem with this assumption is how do you measure raw talent? How do you know what raw talent looks like? Most coaches will say that you can ‘just tell’, or you can see it in their performances. But how do you know that their performance is not a result of their practice, or previous experiences in a similar sport?

I was considered to be ‘talented’ when I was younger, but that was a result of spending 4 hours a day playing backyard cricket in Zimbabwe – which naturally faded away when I came to England because I was not putting in the hours of specific practice which groomed my skill, did I suddenly become less talented? No - If it’s genetic then that isn’t possible. Did I put in less hours of practice? Yes.  

So in relation to cricket I would say that innate talent is not important at all. You have to ask yourself two questions: What does a successful cricketer look like? Secondly what does a successful cricketer do? When you look at it like this you begin to see that there is no mould for a successful cricketer – there is no ideal height or physiological characteristics. However when you look at the second question, you can begin to pin down lots of skills that successful cricketers have – making the skill development and practice element more important than talent itself.

PV: How much has the mentality of cricket training changed in the last few years?

KS: The mentality has changed immensely. There have been a few stepping stones in the development of cricket training – starting with the idea of physical fitness and its importance, nutrition and its importance, and now the trend has turned to the specificity of practice which in my opinion has increased the professionalism of the game tenfold.

You only have to look as far as the fielding in the modern game, and how far that has come in the last 5 years to see the trend. These days if you mess up a sliding boundary stop you are considered a weak link; 10 years ago you were given a huge pat on the back for trying.

If I look to what’s responsible for this shift, I can only site the introduction of T20 as a format. It is such a high intensity format that for players to be selected, they need to have a range of skill sets in their lockers that they did not have before. A lot of people cited it as a batsman’s game during its introduction, especially with the innovation of the switch hit and othershots, but because of those shots the bowlers had to innovate equally, now we have bowlers who have 3 different slower balls, and are able to control their line and length at will. Some traditionalists may frown, but I can only see the positives.

PV: What practical tips can you give cricketers about making the most of practice time?

KS: Be objective about your practice, know exactly what you want to get out of it, and be creative when you train. Too many times in club or academy level do I see people being fed 100’s of balls out of a bowling machine with no target to that training. When you train like that you aren’t putting any strain on your already existing skill set – so how do you expect to put in a better performance over the weekend?

I would challenge club players to train like professionals. I know the intensity may not be the same, but if you go about emulating a professional, then you engage in a different type of practice. We call it deliberate practice, and it is targeted towards improving a specific skill sets.

If you were a batsman and you were timing the ball perfectly the weekend before but not finding the gaps, try something different, try a whole session of manipulating the ball through channelled cones – Make it a challenge, measure it, and try to better it the next set of balls you do. Not only does this improve your technical skills, but more importantly you are engaging in a far more demanding mental process – the type of mentality that leads to scoring hundreds, not a quick 30.

If I were a bowler, I would set my game plan. Treat every six-ball set as an over out in the middle. Set a field in your head, and set a target of how many runs you want to go for an over. This type of exercise will get you thinking more about where to bowl, and it will also improve your focus during a game – when it really counts.

PV: How much difference does technology make in the development of cricket skill?

KS: Quite simply, it is massive – and it shows no sign of slowing down. If you look at every professional unit, they will have a performance analyst. These analysts will be using technology to get as much information on their players and opponents as humanly possible. This information is fed back to the coaches, who can then specify their training to each individual... But more importantly, they can create strategy for the next match by identifying the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. We live in an information age, the more information you’ve got, the better prepared you can be.

This mentality does not stop when it comes to training, in the next couple of years I do not think it will be un-common to see a training analyst on the support team. With products like PitchVision being able to generate as much information as match analysis systems automatically, it is a perfect tool for coaches to give effective feedback to players, and if you are able to provide this feedback in a visual way, then it is worth so much more than words. This type of equipment aids specificity of practice and allows it to be objective. It allows coaches to state the how and why, instead of just speculate about it.

However, I would put a word of caution out. Not all technology is effective, some technologies take away from the skill itself. For example, there is no doubt that the Merlin bowling machine has allowed batsman to be able to play spin more effectively, however what it has not been able to teach is for batsmen to read spin effectively – and that’s where the wheels tend to fall off. 

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Standing Up Drills for Wicketkeepers


The great thing about standing up sessions is that they should never be dull: you can create lots of distraction, different spins and bounce types with the overall aim to be to overload the keeper so that the practice is tougher than the actual match.

We still need to keep the drills relative and functional to match play, yet feel free to let that imagination run wild.


Basic Shadow Session

You can't get much better than a shadow session for a keeper. Whatever level you are working at, the shadow session recreates the match challenges for keepers better than any other drill.

Encourage the batter to pad up fully as the session needs to be as real as possible to mimic the movements that a batter will make in a match. A batter without protection shall often bat outside the normal line of the ball and therefore, create an unrealistic scenario that has little relevance to normal match play for a keeper.

If you can, use a cut down bat with a rubber sheet on the front of the bat.  means that the batter can play shots with the aim to hit the ball as per normal yet the keeper will get more work due to the narrowness of the bat and also get nicks off the rubber facing. The distraction of a batter swinging wildly, the deflection off of the rubber facing and the noise of the nick is very realistic. 

Upgrade Options

  1. Ask the batter to play over the ball every now and again as these are the ones that cause keepers most problems as ball vision is impeded. The noise of the bat skimming the floor after the ball has gone past the bat is also a good distraction.
  2. Batter moving around the crease. This challenges the keeper to adjust his/her stance so that they get good vision of the ball for as long as possible. Many keepers move their stance wider of off stump to get the view and then back their footwork to reach anything down the legside. Remember, you can't catch what you can't see!
  3. Batter waving the bat in front of the keeper’s eyes. Many keepers will look to either lower their head position in the stance to get the eyes under the bat or get the eyes above the bat by setting yourself slightly higher. When high, the keeper needs to understand that the lower or fuller balls may be a challenge and make the necessary adjustments as they move to cover the line and length of the delivery.
  4. Use a worn pitch that is just about to be soaked and repaired by the groundsman. A worn pitch will have footholes and follow through marks on it that provides different ball reactions and also a different visual/mental challenge. Shift the stumps left and right to effectively move the rough areas around and create both offside and legside challenges for the keeper.
  5. Create your own rough. Place cones or even better, some doormats on the pitch to create different ball reactions and visual distractions for the keeper. If you are working indoors then this is the only option really to simulate the conditions that keepers often face when standing up on worn pitch ends. 

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Cricket Show 163: Line vs. Length

Everyone knows that line and length are the keys to bowling success, but if you had to choose one over the other, which would win?

The panel discuss the matter this week alongside the usual features including questions about bowling into the wind and the difference between cut and swing (for bowlers and batsmen). It’s a bleter this week so get downloading!


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Shot Selection in Twenty20 Cricket

Back in the good old days if you got a good length ball on off stump you dutifully played a forward defence, respected the bowler and waited patiently for a half volley to drive.

Tell that to Sehwag, McCullum or Warner; aggressive IPL superstars who are happy putting a length ball into the stands, even if it’s in the third over.

Cricket MBA: A Plan for Understanding Your Own Game

It doesn’t matter how good a coach you have, because when you cross the white line it’s all down to you. No coach can play for you. You have to learn to understand your own game because you can adapt to the changes proposed by your coaches.

But in today's cricket world, a keen self-understanding is uncommon.

Meanwhile in the academic world the opposite is true.  Schools and Universities specialise in teaching skills then measuring how well you have learned through exams and coursework.


About PitchVision Academy

Welcome to this week's guide to playing and coaching better cricket.

I'm David Hinchliffe and I'm Director of the PitchVision Academy team. With this newsletter you are benefitting directly from over 25 Academy coaches. Our skills include international runs and wickets, first-class coaching, cutting-edge research and real-life playing experience.

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Issue: 204
Date: 2012-05-25