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With England's Captain Cook passing 10,000 runs in Test, we look at what makes up the minds of mentally tough cricketers. Mark Garaway has the lowdown from research by Dr. Steve Bull.

Speak of research, we also look into research on the best length to bowl to take wickets, and ways to improve your bowling accuracy. Plus, there is a clever trick to use your honours board to help with strike rotation. Read on to find out.

Have a great weekend,

David Hinchliffe

10,000 Toughness: What Alistair Cook and Steve Waugh Teach Us About Mental Strength

Back in 2006, England coach at the time Duncan Fletcher asked me if we should select the 21 year old, Alistair Cook to open the batting in the first Test Match. I had worked with Cooky with England U15s and despite not being able to hit the ball particularly hard in those days, myself and another coach at the time pushed for his selection amongst physically stronger players who could beat the field with power.

The 15 year old Cook had something that was different. As coaches, we wanted to give that talent the opportunity as it may grow into something special. So, My response to Fletcher in 2006 went a little bit like this,


"Fletch, I don't know if he is technically good enough for Test Cricket yet? But he has the right kind of mind and the right kind of heart for a challenge".

Fletcher then said

"In that case, he's playing".

The rest, as they say is history. Cook became the youngest player to reach 10,000 runs in Test Cricket history. He is on track to score more runs that even the great Sachin Tendulkar! That's incredible.

I always had Cook down as being a mentally tough player, a vital skill to have as an International cricketer.

But what actually is mental toughness?

In the early 2000's the term mental toughness was mentioned a lot about the England Cricket team. England were deemed weak. Australia were the epitome of mental toughness. Sports Psychologist, Dr Steve Bull pulled together the views of the top 100 coaches in England. He asked us to give him our to 10 mentally toughest England cricketers of all time.

The final list was compiled and Dr Bull interviewed each of the players to see if their were any common trends in how they viewed mental toughness. Steve also established some common themes with the aim that we could then identify and develop mentally robust future England cricketers.

There were 4 clearly defined areas that came out of Dr Bulls work. These were:

  • FIGHT: The choice to never give up, even when it seems like all is lost. Fighting until the bitter end.
  • INNER DRIVE: Choosing to do the things that others wouldn't, practising independently as well as with your coach, really challenging yourself to do the tough practice and the repetitive stuff as you know that it will make you a better player in the long run. In last week's article I stated that “The main differential between those that don’t succeed and those that do is the work the individual do themselves.” - this ultimately is inner drive.
  • RESILIENCE: The ability to bounce back after setbacks or adversity. This could be how someone deals with a series of poor scores or some unlucky umpire decisions. Or coping positively with being dropped and coming back from a long term injury. Resilience is crucial in our sport as its a game where we often fail, especially as batters. The best in the world score well in one innings out of three or four. No batter is or will ever be consistently successful.
  • CRITICAL MOMENT CONTROL: Can you control yourself in order to execute your skills under the most extreme pressure or high tension match situation? The best recent example of someone with immense CMC was Carlos Brathwaite's incredible striking in the the last over of the ICC World T20 Cup final.

Interestingly despite my thinking that Cooky was mentally tough at the age of 15, when interviewed recently, the now England Test skipper said that it used to annoy him that he was called mentally tough as he didn't actually feel that way until the time when he had scored 4000 Test Runs. Until that point he felt that he had the same mental vulnerabilities as anyone else.

When we analysed and assessed numerous Test players in the early to mid 2000's against these 4 areas, we found that:

  1. Many top players scored high in two areas and average in two areas of mental toughness
  2. Some players scored high in three areas and average in one area of mental toughness. These were the greats of the game at the time.
  3. Only one player came out at the time with four high scoring areas of mental toughness. Australian Captain, Steve Waugh.

My summation of the present day Test players is that Alistair Cook is now England's "Steve Waugh" from a mental toughness perspective. As an Englishman, and someone who was lucky enough to share some time with both the boy and man, that makes me incredibly proud of Cooky.

Can you identify some of the mental traits in your squad players from this research?

Are there some areas that they presently fall down and could be an area of development for the future.

Armed with these mental toughness definitions, you could now have some really great coaching conversations with the players in your squads?

I bet you can.

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Research-Backed Proof of the Right Length to Take Wickets

What's the best length to bowl to take wickets?

If you have bowled, you have a good idea of a good length. Yet, how much better would things be if you could know exactly what that length is?


It's this question that struck me when I was working with a couple of senior bowlers recently. I asked them to put down a marker on a good length. One guy placed his marker on a half volley and the other put it back of a length. The first bowler thought the second was way too short in his estimation while his length was perfect.

Was he right? Would that length get him wickets?

I thought back to our winter nets, where we had tracked every ball and seen exactly what wickets fell for both men. We didn't have to guess, or debate. We had the answer.

The perfect length for wickets

So, I fired up PitchVision and called up the main club seamer's bowling data to see what lengths they bowled and, more importantly, what length took wickets. Here's what I found.

This image above is a pitch map of every ball bowled in training that took a wicket. There is a wide variation in line and length as you would expect because wickets are not always good balls. However, the biggest clump of wickets is between the 4.6-5.1m length from the batsman's stumps.

There is also another more spread out set of wickets between 5.6-6.8m. It tails off quickly after that.

So, based on these data, the best length for club medium bowlers is between 4.6m and 6.8m from the stumps, with the optimal length just over 5m. This difference accounts for different styles of batsman and bowlers because 10 seamers, and 20 batsman of varying styles were in the data.

To make it easier, I would suggest rounding to 5-7m as you can eyeball this during a game easily.

The dead zone

What about the "dead zone" where barely any wickets fell?

The length between 5.2m and 5.5m was sparse in wickets. In fact, zero wickets fell when the line was on the stumps. It's unlikely to be a statistical anomaly because it is based on 4586 balls in total bowled, with 281 landing in that zone.

However, whether there is a 3" dead zone in a good area or not is not relevant to coaches or bowlers. I suggest you ignore it because you can't exactly try to miss that area on purpose. It's too small, even for world-class bowlers. The data shows most balls from that length are dots anyway, so you can put that area down as a dot ball zone and get on with bowling a wicket ball next time.

Rubbish gets wickets

It's also clear that you don't need to bowl a magic ball to get a wicket. Seven over-pitched and eleven shorter balls ended up in a dismissal. 16 balls that would have been one day wides also saw a wicket fall. Bad bowling can get wickets!

Of course, you get wickets far less often this way (only 26% of wickets fell to bad balls), yet enough fell to give you solace that you can get away with imperfect bowling and still take wickets. In fact, the chances are, if you take a five wicket haul, at least one of them will be from a bad ball!

Tactically, that means you can strive for the "magic delivery", end up bowling a bad one, and still have a chance of a wicket. However, if you prefer to play the odds and hit your lengths more often, you will also take more wickets. Your chance of taking a wicket goes up dramatically if you hit the right length more often.

The take home message

It's clear that, for seamers, 5-7m from the stumps is the optimal area for taking wickets. However, we can also see a lot of variety from this area, both in the "dead zone" and in bad ball wickets.

Your aim as a seamer is to hit this length as much as possible. You can also take safety in the knowledge the odd bad ball is acceptable as it can take wickets. Just try not to bowl too many as they are also easier to hit.

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Cricket Show S7 Episode 20: What is Success?

Sam Lavery, Mark Garaway and David Hinchliffe get together to chat about cricket coaching. In this show, the team delve into the idea of success. Winning is the clear indicator, but what if you win and still feel you failed because you didn't win by enough? It happens all the time, so learn how to deal with it.

Plus, there are questions about how to make a bowling action repeatable and what to do if your stance and trigger move is letting you down.


How to Send in Your Questions

If you want to win a cricket coaching prize, you need to send in your burning questions to the show. If your question is the best one we give you a free online cricket coaching course!

Send in your questions via: - email - twitter - Facebook - Google+

Or you can call and leave your question on the Academy voice mail:

  • +44 (0)203 239 7543
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How to Listen to the Show

Just click the "play" button at the top of the show notes.

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You can also download this show onto your computer by clicking the play button at the top of the article, or clicking on the mp3 to download.


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Use Your Honours Board to Score More Runs in Less Time

Rotating the strike is the most unglamorous and under-appreciated skill in batting. You know you need to improve it but you never work on it. How do you solve the problem?

How to Bowl Perfect Line and Length

Let me ask you something; how much better a bowler would you be if you could hit a perfect line and length?

It's a challenge that takes a lifetime to master, and a road that is littered with distractions.


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: 414
Date: 2016-06-03