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This week we take a closer look at how your mental approach is linked to the rest of your cricket preparation. In our lead articles we discuss how putting the game into the right context is important and how to balance out technical perfection with mental freedom.

Our case studies are also learning how their mental approach can make a difference to their fitness, nutrition and training as well as how they play.

Finally the Cricket Show is back after a series break. Now you can have our advice right on your mp3 player. Click here to get the latest edition.

Have a great weekend,


David Hinchliffe

The performance paradox: Why being a better cricketer is about more than cricket

More cricket and more training is not the fastest route to cricket success.

It's easy to think so at first glance. We already know that it takes around 10,000 hours to achieve mastery of any cricket skill. The simple maths is that the more hours you log the faster you improve. That logic is sound but it's far from the whole story.

If you are a young player or coach of young players who want to be pros you may be reading this wondering if I am advocating training less to achieve more?

Balance in life: Balance in cricket

For me it's about finding a balance. Life is an exciting, complicated and varied thing. Nobody knows what will come your way tomorrow. It's because of the unknown that it's important we all gain a wide and varied experience beyond cricket.

For the young cricketer with a passionate desire to play at the highest level this could be keeping up with school studies, playing other sports, travelling and meeting new people. For an older club player it might be spending time with the family.

This has a series of benefits to your cricket:

  • Dealing with pressure. It's hard to be phased by the pressures of the cricket field if you have felt other life pressures. To give an extreme example, the great fast bowler Harold Larwood literally worked down a mine as a boy risking his life every day.
  • More rounded. The ability to think laterally (or make links between unlinked ideas) and creatively is a skill that cricketers, especially captains need. The only way to develop this skill is to learn some of the ideas outside of cricket and then apply them back to the game.
  • Confidence. If you have other strings to your bow cricket success becomes less about defining who you are as a person. You can put it into perspective which allows you to bounce back from a bad game more quickly with confidence.

I know from personal experience that if you let cricket define who you are you tense up because it becomes so important in your mind. So to focus totally on cricket beyond anything else is self defeating.

What happens when you retire?

The other critical factor in finding balance is this: Nobody can play cricket forever. Most players are finished professionally by the age of 35. You might perhaps go on to your 40s or 50s in the club game. What happens after that?

Here in the UK, the Professional Cricketer's Association has a "Performance Lifestyle" program. Within this all players on professional county contracts have access to advice on playing while learning new skills outside the game. This is because the PCA knows you have to retire some time. So why not have a successful career when you do?

Many club players play at a high standard on the field and also enjoy well paid and interesting jobs too.

Find your balance

You may not be a professional and cricket is still something you do in your spare time. However, I know it's still possible to focus on cricket too much. I could still lead an unbalanced life playing 4-5 times a week and training most days. I know that this would do more harm than good: Making me too focused, less creative and more tensed up.

I remember someone I used to play club cricket with a few years ago. He was a very serious and intense man who opened the batting aiming to block his way to a decent but dull score. This particular year he got married and took a couple of weeks off in the summer to go on honeymoon. On his return he was, for a week at least, a transformed man. He blazed a quick-fire hundred with a couple of unheard of sixes. That's the power of getting the balance right.

If you can find your balance you will not only enjoy the game and improve your chances on the pitch, you will make your life away from cricket happier.

What are your experiences with your balance between cricket and other parts of your life? Do you see it as just a game and no more or is it the central focus of who you are? Leave a comment and let us know.

Image credit: Kleinz1

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Technique or mental strength: What's more important?

Modern cricket has almost torn up the coaching book.

The ECB, the governing body of English cricket, have drastically reduced the amount potential coaches need to learn about technique replacing time on the 'learning to coach' courses with fitness, psychology and conceptual elements. Twenty20 cricket has some improved and some unorthodox methods in all disciplines. Many coaches, like Greg Chappell, argue strongly that players learn by working things out for themselves, not by being told by a coach.

So how does a coach or player trying to improve know what to work on any more?

Should you just go out and play with freedom, not worrying about the minor point of technique? Perhaps you should work to become as technically 'perfect' as you can be to give yourself the confidence in the middle?

A lot of it boils down to opinion. We can't measure mental strength or confidence. Good coaches can tell you what elements of your technique are poor, but bad coaches are like builders with only a hammer in their toolbox: everything becomes a nail. There is no objective measurement here either.

The truth is that both technique and the mental game are very closely interlinked. If you want to succeed you can't have one or the other: You need both. The question is, how much of each is enough?

Paralysis by analysis

A lot of people are worried about falling into the trap of overcomplicating things. Cricket skills are performed at pace on a subconscious level. Thinking about where your wrist is, or elbow goes is counter-productive.

It may ring true with you about the coach at the top of the net barking at you to keep your elbow up or pitch the ball up when you drop one short. That is the kind of coaching that causes players to freeze and think too much about what they are doing wrong. It doesn't work.

But a good coach (or player) who has identified a real technical issue then works hard to get it out is not overanalysing, it's teaching the right muscle memory to play the shot or bowl the ball correctly.

When you can do that time and time again in practice, you can head out to the middle trusting your technique and feeling more confident.

Free play

The problem with just playing and working it out for yourself is that technical errors can creep in to your game making you less effective. Club cricketers all over the world are making glaring technical mistakes that are simple to solve and can improve their game no end.

But free play is also fun. It teaches you to bat and bowl without worrying about the consequences and you teach yourself how things feel when you get them right rather than relying on a coach who may or may not be doing a good job.

For younger players especially, playing outside of formal coaching may be the only time they experience situations similar to a real match. When I was younger we used to play cricket in our small garden. The pitch was bad (it was a lawn) but halfway down was an old paving slab we used to bowl bouncers. The ball would fly off the slab at our heads at a much greater pace. It taught me to pick up the ball early and move late as we played with a real cricket ball.

The balance

For me, it's important to find a balance between technical work and playing for enjoyment. As long as both are done right they have a role for any player. Younger players will enjoy the free play more as they have less concentration for drill work. Older players can drill for longer but still need to learn to go out and play without fear: Free play teaches that.

Both can also go wrong if done badly, especially the technical coaching side. Many coaching sessions for club teams consist of a net and nothing more. This is neither free play (a net is not realistic enough) or technical work (how can you work on your cover drive if all you get is leg stump long hops?).

So as long as you don't fall into some weak compromise you can easily do both. Even if you don't have a coach you can still do technical work. You just need to know what to look for in someone's technique then apply the right drill progressions (something you can learn in the PitchVision Academy courses section).

Where do you stand? How important is technique compared to playing with freedom?


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How to set a target batting first

Positive move as it is, batting first leads to some tricky problems for batsmen and captains alike.

Whether you play declaration cricket or limited overs (or even a hybrid of the two like the league I play in) there are two main problems:

  1. What is a good target to set?
  2. How are you going to go about setting that target?

The key to both those questions is that everyone shares the same strategy and you work together as a batting team to get there.

Deciding the target

The first step is to decide what strategy to employ. Unlike your opposition you will not have the benefit of a fixed target. You also know less about how conditions will play. Fortunately cricket is a long game and even if you have a 20 over match you still have time to assess.

The captain is best placed to decide the target but there is no need to rush in. I find that you can be a lot more accurate if you take your time. This is broken into stages:

  1. Initial guess. Before play starts you can look at your batting line up and, if you know it, their bowling attack. Add in the state of the pitch and the weather conditions and come up with a rough number. This may be as simple as setting a target for the openers in the first few overs if you are unsure.
  2. First few overs. In the first few overs you are watching the game for clues. How good are the opening bowlers? How is the pitch playing? How is the opposition captain setting his field? Do your opponents look like cricketers or last minute fill-ins? This will influence not only the score you think your team can get, but also your guess as to what the opposition can make.
  3. Second string bowling. As the game progresses keep watching. The bowling will be changed and you can see more clearly how good their attack is. You may be losing wickets or keeping them in hand which also makes a difference.

All the way through this process you are formulating your plan: How are you going to get to the target in your head?

Before we examine the 'how' of setting a target, I want to mention declarations.


If you are playing a declaration game beware of over estimating your target. If you set something unrealistic the opposition will shut up shop and you get a boring draw on your hands. In my view it's far better to set a slightly low target and give the opposition hope. This means they will play their shots and be more likely to get out.

Consider this as example: In my league we play declaration cricket, one innings each. Each innings has a maximum of 50 overs but you can declare before that giving the opposition the remaining overs. In order to win batting first you must bowl the opposition out so the draw is possible.

This means the art of batting first is setting a target that the opposition think they can get, but you know will be close. If we bat first and score 250 in 50 overs the natural inclination of the team batting second is to have a go but if early wickets are lost, to close out the game. Our bowling attack would have to be far superior on a wicket that provides enough help to have a chance. Possible but unlikely on the slow, low club pitches we play on.

On the other hand, if we declared on 200 after 45 overs we give them 55 overs to score the runs. Now the psychology has shifted. Your bowlers think you are crazy and will steel themselves to bowl brilliantly. The opposition will also think you have lost it. With plenty of time to score the runs they set off much more slowly.

After 20 overs they are on, say, 58-2. Early wickets have still been lost, but the batting team still feel they are comfortably in it. They only need 143 in 35 overs. Easy. They up the pace to stay in the race and lose some middle over wickets. After 35 overs the score is 121-6.

So they now need 80 runs off 20 overs with 4 wickets in hand. They have been scoring at the right rate so are still not considering the draw. However, the tail is either in or close to being in. Most club numbers 9-11 are unlikely to be able to score at 4 an over for any period of time. What they are likely to do is try the long handle against spin. You have a couple of tempting spinners on. The game is won easily.

Admittedly, you need to have good bowling (but not as good as you would need to break through a team set on the draw), excellent fielding and precision field settings so you can manipulate the game. However as a captain I would prefer that mental challenge to the dull job of prising out defensive batters.

Setting the target

Once you have a target in mind, there are some common elements to how a target is set whether it is in the declaration or limited over format.

  • Agree the goal. Make sure everyone in the team is aware of your target, if the target changes because you are scoring faster or slower than expected, keep all the players up to date.
  • Bat with urgency. All batters from openers to number 11 should strive to get on top of the bowling as quickly as possible. Run every single looking for two and hit the bad balls to the boundary.
  • Bat with care. The last 4 batters will always struggle to score at more than 4 an over. Keep wickets in hand for the last push without getting bogged down.
  • Set small targets. Tell your openers to set their own targets for the first few overs depending on how it plays, but make sure they know your ultimate aim too. If you are playing a 50 over format, aim to be halfway to your target after 30 overs. If you are falling behind the pace look at one big over to get you back on track.
  • Everyone is a finisher.All batsmen should be prepared to bat through to the end of the innings. This is an important mindset that is different from going out to 'have a hit'. All batters should look to score as quickly as is required with the minimum risk.

Setting a target when batting first is a team effort. Conducted by a strong captain you can get very good at knowing what you need and systematically getting there.

What are your experiences with setting a target?

Image credit: pj_in_oz


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



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Case study update: Mental training

This article is part of the miCricketCoach 2009 Case Study. To stay up to date with their progress get the free newsletter.

This week, as the season approaches, we are moving our focus onto more mental aspects of preparation and playing.

Before we do that let's recap on Geraint and Naz so far.

Umpires Corner: Hitting the ball twice and stumped off a dead ball?

This edition of Umpires Corner in association with the International Institute of Cricket Umpiring and Scoring covers some more tricky questions of the Laws.


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: 34
Date: 2009-02-20