Ping that ball to the boundary.
Some people say the pull shot is the most natural of cricket shots. It's what we all start doing as kids when we first pick up a bat, so why would you need to develop it?
Because some of struggle when batting against the short ball, and pulling falls back as we focus on self-preservation instead. If you want the shot in your batting quiver, you need to feel confident you will make a good contact. So here are some constraint-based games you can play to build up the shot.
Get the feel
Most cricketers who are not great at the pull shot have never been great at it. They don't know how it feels to be consistently successful.
So lets start with that feel.
This means removing the complexity of the cricket ball, but still getting feedback for the shot. There are two ways to do this:
- Without a bat, using a partner and a boxing mitt.
- With a bat, and using a soft target like a punchbag, crashmat or even an old cricket bag filled with something soft (lost property clothes for example).
In both cases, the idea is to experiment with movements that give you the satisfying thunk of feedback of hitting the middle of the target.
As we know, there are many different methods to a good pull shot, so play around with them until something clicks with you. Generally, a full arm extension and hitting with balance are good things to aim for (although as always, there are exceptions that mean we can never be sure with any one "best way").
With some feel in mind, it's time to bring the ball back.
Hit the target
A ball adds difficulty and often reduces confidence, but you can build it in a quickly or slowly as you feel ready. However, it's vital to make the feed as realistic as possible. That means a coach bowling or throwing short balls from roughly the right distance rather that underarm feeds.
We also need to have a focus on outcome rather than method, so set up a target area to pull the ball into. the distance and size suitable to your skill level (you can adjust it as you get better).
If confidence in your method needs to develop, start with softer balls. Tennis balls, cricket-tennis balls, incrediballs or soft bowing machine balls (usually orange) are all good options. Even when you miss it and wear one, it's going to hurt your pride more than it hurts you.
A word of caution here. Because playing the short ball is tied to the ego of most older players, many use false bravado to claim they are not scared of the ball. This language is not helpful. Be it fear or lack of confidence, the player who doesn't have an established method will hit fewer balls, be hit by more balls and may react to this by playing timid shots. But timid shots are rarely effective shots. Using softer balls is a simple way to make shots more confident and, as a result, more effective.
When you can strike soft balls with confidence, and when you are no longer concerned about the risk of getting hit, you can move to cricket balls, and play the same "hit the target" game.
My favourite way of feeding short balls is with a Sidearm cricket ball thrower.
The Sidearm is very similar to bowling, and quicker than most throw downs. The feeder can also vary lengths as you improve your method to stop you premeditating the shot (as you find with a bowling machine). If you can't get hold of one, you can use throwing or bowling instead. Although it's hard to find a bowler who will try and bowl short balls at you for a whole session!
Play a game
As you feel a method developing, you need to start up the realism even more, and play a game where the pull shot is a key factor. For example, if you are in nets against bowlers, you can set cones down as a target and every ball struck with a horizontal bat along the ground gives you a key benefit.
You might make it competitive with the bowlers (whoever gets the least points has to clean up the nets) or with yourself (count how many pull shots you picked and got away, track over time how it goes).
Tracking short ball shot selection and outcomes on PVC.
The point is not to be technical perfect or hit every ball in the middle, but to learn where you are and what more you need to do to get your pull shot ready to play in a game.
By the way, you can also do this outdoors with middle practice and a game like jailbreak cricket. The link is a version for soft ball, but you can easily adapt it to a cricket ball.
Yet again you will see there has been no prescription, technical points or fault finding and eliminating by a coach. We know that is a poor way to develop your cricket these days. Instead, follow a game-based process that tries to make your practice realistic, but also constrain you to hitting the short delivery cricket ball with a strong outcome: Hard, along the ground and through midwicket.
When you do that, you are crushing both your game, and the bowler's heart!