We are all well drilled in playing the forward defence, playing it to prevent the bowler from taking a wicket. In fact, it's a lot more useful than that.
Playing defensively spans everything from "none shall pass" drop to the feet, through to a defensive push that is designed to score runs. It's a shot with nuance that requires skill and practice to get right. ANd if you do it will increase your strike rate!
So, it's time to give the forward defence the time and respect it deserves and learn to play with both soft and hard hards to make more of those balls you can't smash.
When to play the forward defence
First, a quick recap on defensive play as it's crucial to your cricket success. It is the shot you are likely to play most in your batting career.
A forward defence is played to a full ball in a situation where you can't look to score a boundary. In longer cricket this tends to be a ball on a good length on the stumps. Perhaps you are a top order batsman looking to build a long innings. You might be a tail ender defending to save a match where runs are unimportant. Perhaps it's as simple as it's a good ball from a good bowler and defence is the only option.
However, playing defensively doesn't mean you are unable to score.
Intent to score
When you think about it, you realise there are very few situations where you are absolutely intent on survival with no regard to runs. You almost always have an intent to score, even when you are forced to play a defensive shot. So why are we taught to play as if saving a Test match when we defend?
It's far better to make an assessment of the situation and then look to find ways to score after you have selected a defensive shot.
Naturally, there are some occasions where intent to score is close to zero. You merely wish to survive. Perhaps the opening bowler is outclassing you with pace, swing and effective short bowling. You just have to get through it. Maybe you really do need to save a game by batting out the last 10 overs as number 11.
This is when you adjust your technique to play with softer hands; that is to say you play a defence like you were taught as a kid. You get into position lined up with the ball and let it hit the bat rather than pushing your hands towards the ball.
Some people prefer playing with bat and pad together, others have the bat out in front. Either is fine as long as you are playing softly.
Rotating the strike with defence
Most of the time however, you will also want to get some runs. The bowler is not in agreement so will try and force you to defend to get a precious dot. Even here, you can often score a run with good awareness.
Playing softly, there are options.
- Against seamers when you are well set, you can use the pace of the ball to open or close the face and guide the ball into a gap, especially behind square on the off side (risky if there are slips but acceptable in a limited overs match)
- Against spinners with no close catchers in front of you, you can drop the ball at your feet and scramble up the other end. You need a trustworthy non-striker who can go on the drop of a hat but with a good call you are in little danger as the keeper is blocked by your run and the bowler has to evade you, pick up turn and throw.
There is also a case here to move to "hard hands".
On true wickets especially, you can play a defensive push. That is to say you are still looking to defend but now you are following through slightly in a straight bat push. It's not a drive, but it's very effective when it hits the middle.
You can use this push defence in a couple of ways:
- You can hit the ball towards a boundary runner (deep cover, deep mid on, and so on) so it goes much slower than a full drive. Instead of an easy single trotted through, it becomes a two with the pressure on the fielder to throw well or concede overthrows.
- Against seamers you can hit a gap between in fielders for one or two with no danger.
The danger of this method is when you get a really good ball. The one that goes away will catch the edge and carry nicely to keeper or the slips, unlike a soft hands approach. That's why it's best employed when the ball is doing little and you are set a little.
Practice defensive methods
However, the key to this is to practice all the methods to find out what you can do.
Work on your soft and hard hands defensive play in nets and track how it goes. Do you nick off a lot when you "go at it"? Then perhaps you need to make an adjustment. Do you feel bogged down when you use soft hands and can;t rotate the strike? It's time to modify some middle practice to get your method down.
If you imagine you know all there is about playing the forward defence, there is a good chance you are missing out on some runs. So, give it a go. You know it won't be wasted practice because you play the shot so often!