Here’s the Real Key to Playing Spin Well | Cricket coaching, fitness and tips

Here’s the Real Key to Playing Spin Well

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Today’s article is a guest post by club cricketer and coach, AB.

Batsmen spend years practicing coping with increasingly quicker bowling.

Naturally your main improvement comes by training your feet to move early and instinctively as soon as you pick up the line and length out of the bowler's hand.

This makes perfect sense because you’re automatically in the right position to play the appropriate shot without ever having to think about your feet.

 Unfortunately this instinctive early footwork - whilst being the main thing that makes it possible to play comfortably against genuinely quick bowling - is the very thing that makes you a bad player of spin bowling.

This is because early footwork leads to committing to a shot before you have picked up length.

Many batsmen move into position as soon as the ball is released, before realising too late that they have been deceived by the flight and are now in completely the wrong position to play the ball.

Don’t move your feet

So, whenever facing a spinner, repress your instinctive urge to move your feet as soon as the ball is released.

Instead simply stand still and watch the ball as closely as possible until it starts to descend.

Standing still allows better judgement of dip and turn. With a more accurate idea of where and when you want to intercept the ball, you can then footwork to play a confident shot.

There are really only four pieces of footwork you ever need to play against spin: they're all based on taking your time and making sure you have correctly judged the length before committing:

  1. The over-pitched ball: Quickly get right to the pitch and drive through the line: hit either straight down the ground or with the spin, but never directly against the spin. Aggression depends on the field settings and the game situation. Only play this shot when absolutely confident you can get right to the pitch of the ball (otherwise it will lead to disaster).
  2. The good length ball: The ball is full enough that you can't go back to play it off the pitch, but not quite full enough to hit confidently on the half volley. Instead defend and wait for a better ball to attack later in the over. Get well forward and use bat and pad together to cover any spin. Get a good stride in to take LBW out of the equation as much as possible.
  3. The under-pitched ball: Get as far back in your crease as you can and work the ball away along the ground through a gap in the field. Don't commit to a big aggressive shot to early as you will need to be able to adjust your shot should the ball do something unexpected. Simply try and get it away safely though the infield with a controlled back foot drive, a clip off the legs, or a square cut.
  4. The genuinely bad ball: Either a thigh-high full toss or a genuine long hop. Don't mess around with these freebies, you have to put these balls away or your teammates in the pavilion will start grumbling: quickly get in line, square yourself up, and (unless it's really wide outside off stump) hammer it over midwicket for six.

Get more technical advice and drills on playing spin here

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Good advice. Simple and effective. Smack the bad balls, defend the good ones, don't be too fancy with the others. One of the biggest footwork problems I see is the front foot planting itself down the pitch before the batter has any real notion of the true length or line of the ball. It probably stems from the typical slow, low pitches we see at club level, where that is the default start position players get into from which adjustments are made by moving the hands as the ball arrives. One of the most important things for young cricketers to learn is judgement of length.

Very true Paul, how do you coach that?

It depends who I'm coaching and there's no one method or answer. If you can get young people to understand "why" it's important then they will want to learn "how".

Ask questions such as "what part of the bat do we want to hit the ball with?", "how do we do that?", "what happens if..?" and the importance of the correct foot movement becomes quickly apparent. When they are young, continually ask the question of the young cricketer as to whether or not they made the right decision. Some pick it up quicker than others, some never get it and just enjoy playing cricket with just one or two shots in their armoury.

There are also drills that can be done, for example where players take their stance without a bat and move forward or back according to length and have to catch the ball. Step forward to a short ball and you're in trouble. (It also helps with balance and timing of the movement as well.)

For me it's important that young cricketers find out things for themselves and make their own decisions. I try to give them the tools/knowledge to help make those decisions.

I think with picking line and length the only way to learn is to bat so you HAVE to learn it yourself. As you say, a coach can help with that and can give pointers but at the end of it all, you have to practice hard to "get" that predictive skill.

Of course, picking line and length is a lot easier if you're standing still and watching the ball with your head still and eyes level, rather than recklessly charging down the pitch - which is the one piece of advice that seems to recur over and over on various forums.

True, but neither do you want to be heavy-footed and stuck moving too late. It's a fine balance. However, watching the ball and keeping your head still are consistents in my view too.

I would say moving when the ball starts to descend should give you more than enough time to execute whatever footwork you need.

An interesting debate. As a player I think I would rather be a little stuck than moving too much, if I were forced to choose between the two. At least if you are heavy-footed your hand-eye coordination might get you out of trouble; you have no chance if your head is moving.
Obviously neither is ideal though!

This tactic is all fine and well, but there must be some way of scoring runs off the good length deliveries? Some spinners are so accurate that they never give a bad ball, so what do you do in that situation???