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From WG Grace to Paul Harris the South African spinner, this week's newsletter covers the span of history. Along the way we learn what to do when you win the toss, how to prepare the night before a game and what you can do to help your coach help you.

Let the hand of history improve your performance this week.

Have a great weekend,


David Hinchliffe

Reading the signs: How to decide whether to bat or bowl when you win the toss

WG Grace, it's famously said, used to call "the lady" when tossing up. Seeing as coins of Victorian times had Her Majesty Queen Victoria on one side and Lady Britannia on the other, he was a certain winner.

True or not, the good Doctor always knew what to do once he had won the toss and that was to bat. The exception being when he though conditions favoured the bowling. The he would think about it and still bat.

These days debate rages even at pub or park level as to what the skipper should do on calling correctly. Is it all just a waste of time or is it an important decision?

Bat first. Unless...

Many follow the 'bat first' line come hell or high water. It is an attractive strategy in most circumstances. In declaration games it gives you control of the declaration and in limited over formats you are setting the target. Batting first trusts the batsmen to do their job and the bowlers to do theirs. It's a positive statement of intent.

That's why WG's default position was to bat first even when in a bit of doubt. What about exceptions?

  • Overnight rain. For some reason if it rains the night before a match the ball swings like mad the next day, especially on warm but overcast morning sessions. If you have half decent swing bowling at your disposal then the best time for them to get wickets is first up. Use it.
  • You have a strong bowling attack. If you bowling attack are demons but your batters are rabbits you can consider bowling first. The theory is to knock them over for a low score then knock it off.
  • You have a weak side. Your best chance of victory, whatever the conditions, is to restrict the opposition to an under par score. It may be under par for them, but it may be just enough for you to get over the line. You have a higher chance of that than making a decent total then restricting the opposition. You can also save the game in declaration matches.
  • Conditions will favour batting second. Most club pitches don't change much over the course of the game. Those that do are hard to predict anyway. However, a green wicket on a cloudy day is hard to resist for your bowlers. If a pitch is like a newly laid road and the day is bright and sunny then chances are nobody is bowling anyone out. So Why not stick the opposition in and knock off the runs?

None of these exceptions are hard and fast rules. Sometimes you will put the opposition in only for them to rack up a giant score. However, choosing to bat first simply to avoid the shame is foolhardy. The bottom line is this: when will conditions most favour bowling?

Most of the time, that means batting first but always be aware of the chance to put the opposition in as an attacking move.


Want to be a better captain? Learn from the best with the interactive online course Cricket Captaincy by Mike Brearley.



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Play to your spin bowling limits

Today's article is a guest post from Dr Paul Botha from Spininfo: All you need to know about the art and science of spin bowling.

The spin bowler walks a lonely road. 

He never is part of the seam attack who clamour over the pros and cons of the new ball. They sit at the end of a long day’s play with their feet up in the dressing room claiming all the accolades for bowling the opposition out cheaply. 

The spin bowler has to take advice from everyone in the team – isn’t it strange how everyone has an opinion on how the spinner in the team should operate optimally.   The most ridiculous of this type of advice is surely, “Just chuck it up and we’ll catch him on the fence.” What? 

Does anyone besides the spin bowler understand the role that he plays in a cricket side? With the exception of Mike Brearley of course.

This extends to the most accomplished of Test cricketers who find themselves in the commentary booths around the world. Isn’t it amazing how poorly these people are prepared at times? I remember watching a Test between South Africa and New Zealand at a time when the orthodox left arm spinner from South Africa, Nicky Boje, had just entered the Test arena. Comparisons were being made between Boje and the New Zealand left arm spinner Daniel Vettori. Kepler Wessels without hesitation said that Vettori had the edge over Boje because his strike rate in Test cricket was better. “Hang on a minute!” I thought. “That doesn’t sound right?” I looked up the comparative strike rates and, yes, as I thought Boje had a much better strike rate than Vettori at that time.

So, fast forward to South Africa against England 2008, and for some or other reason SuperSport South Africa feel they should subject us to Geoffrey Boycott. A legend in his own mind. Boycott spent the whole series telling the world how rubbish the South Africa left arm spinner Paul Harris was. Fast forward yet again to 30 December 2008 and South Africa have just gone two to zero up in the three test series against Australia. The Australian press have lauded Paul Harris for the role he has played in this epic South African victory. As has Mark Nicholas (probably the best cricket commentator in the world today with Tony Greig) and Shane Warne. They are all in agreement that Harris is a bowler who knows his limitations and who operates successfully within those parameters. He bowls accurately, thereby not giving away many runs in his spells (Test career runs per over at present 2.7 – the same as Shane Warne) and achieves extra bounce because of his height and takes valuable top order wickets.  

What can club spinners learn from Harris? There are certainly plenty of spinners who can empathise with his position as someone with limited skills but a desire to be effective.

You will know early in your career whether you are a big spinner of the ball or not.

If you are a finger spinner and you do not spin the ball a lot (also remember you only need to turn the ball 6 inches to beat the bat) then you are usually on your own, unless you are fortunate enough to be part of a school or club set up where you have an insightful coach. Concentrate on and master the following:

  • Ensure that through regular practice you become extremely accurate thereby giving away few runs during your spell and ensuring that a captain / coach will have confidence in you bowling a tight spell.
  • You will not take bags of wickets, but through accurate bowling will build pressure leading to taking important ones at critical points in the game.
  • Know your field placing - Learn by watching a lot of first class and Test cricket.
  • Read about cricket.  Start with former England captain (and psychologist) Mike Brearley's The Art of Captaincy.
  • Finally, if spin bowling your specialty, work hard on the other disciplines thereby possible giving you the edge in selection meetings.

Photo credit: ActionPix (Maruko)


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'The Map' part 3: What should I do the night before a game?

Parts 1 and 2 of this series dealt with Practice Routines and Non-Practice Training Routines that a player should develop as part of a ‘Map for Cricket Success’.

This article will deal with your ‘Game Eve Routines’.

You need a game eve routine so you that you can wake up on game day mentally calm and physically fresh. This way you can focus solely on performing to the best of your abilities.

The routines should include an element of mental rehearsal plus all the ‘nuts and bolts’ of preparing for a game. Physically, the player should engage in whatever level of physical activity they find works best for them.

Example 1: The Junior Club or School Cricketer

Mental Rehearsal
  • A few imaginary shots, perhaps in front of a mirror. Trying to concentrate on making all the right shapes (i.e. bent front knee, high front elbow and head over the ball…).
  • Playing the first over or two perfectly and in as much detail as possible.

He should only do this long enough to answer himself honestly when he asked the question ‘Am I ready to play tomorrow?’ with a calm and confident ‘Yes!’

Nuts and Bolts
  • Confirm venue address and start time. I know this sounds almost too simple, but I know very few senior cricketers who have not at one time or another turned up at the wrong ground or at the wrong time (or date!). check the time and place of your game,
  • Make sure your transportation is organized. This may involve informing and organizing parents, looking up the venue in a street directory and setting dad’s alarm clock.
  • Make sure all kit is clean and packed. Pack everything in the same order and in the same part of your bag every time. This leaves little room for overlooking a crucial piece of equipment.
    • Check shoelaces,
    • straps on pads and helmets,
    • Make sure all your spikes are tight and soles clean. 

This also gives you some time to passively think about the game, making you calmer and more focused.

For the younger player, rest is most important.
  • No more running around than usual. If you usually have a few throw downs after school, keep doing that.
  • In bed at a reasonable hour, even if you don’t get straight to sleep – read a book or listen to some music. Don’t lay awake thinking about the coming match!
  • Normal stretching routine
Example 2:  The Senior Club or First Grade Cricketer

The routine for a senior player will necessarily be a bit more complex.

  • Detailed visualization. Smell the grass, hear the sounds, visualize the ball coming out of the bowler’s hand and see the seam.
  • Imagine the best possible result for each visualized shot.
  • If he knows his opposition well, he should remind himself of their individual strengths and weaknesses and go over his batting and bowling plans.

Once again, he should only do this long enough to answer himself honestly when he asked the question ‘Am I ready to play tomorrow?’ with a calm and confident ‘Yes!’

Nuts and Bolts

Parents will probably not be involved so the senior player must make sure he not only knows where the game is being played, but how to get there on time.

  • Check the train timetables or organize a reliable lift if he doesn’t drive
  •  If he does drive check the street directory so he knows exactly how to get to the ground. – check you have enough petrol for the trip!
  • Clean and pack kit.
  • If it is an all day game, pack some food for snacking.
  • Respect your team mates and club enough to make sure all your clothing is clean. 

Remember, the point is to leave your mind uncluttered on game day, so do as much as you can the day before!


Everyone is different, some players like a short, sharp session in the nets to focus their attention for the coming game; some players like a low impact hit out to clear their heads; some players like to get their feet up and freshen themselves for the game. It is a matter of experimenting and developing a routine that works for you.

  • Whatever you do focus on doing it properly. Don’t introduce bad habits, reinforce good ones! As much as possible stick to the same physical activity – changing may produce new strains and soreness the following day.
  • Make sure any physical activity is preceded and followed by a comprehensive stretch – particularly of any muscles or muscle groups that have been pulling up sore.
  • Do what feels natural for you. If you are a very physically active person, doing nothing may in fact increase your stress levels and make it difficult for you to sleep.
  • Plan to get at least your average nightly length of sleep.

Remember the key is to develop game eve routines that help you organize yourself way before you need to focus on the game. These routines should unclutter your mind and freshen your body so that game day can be a happy and successful one.

This is just another example of how putting in the hard work in an organized and determined fashion gives you the best chance of cricketing success.



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'Transfer' is the key to good cricket fitness training

When I started this site in 2006 I thought the words 'cricket fitness' meant roughly the same thing to everyone. How wrong I was.

How to be a good coaching student

There is a lot of advice to coaches about how to be better at coaching. One thing that is rarely talked about is how you can be a better student to your coach and how this can help your game.

Good coaches are hard to find.

If you are a young player with a coach at your club you are lucky if you find one who can develop you. It's not that these coaches are unwilling or unable. It's just most are part time volunteers with good intentions but incomplete knowledge.


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: 30
Date: 2009-01-23