I read a fantastic question this week that challenged a conventional coaching view I heard the whole of my career but never had the "kahunas" to question my coaches!
"I would like to know why coaches emphasise taking a large stride to the pitch of the ball when you can play it just as well from the crease with little footwork"
I interpreted the last bit of the sentence as "when I can play it just as well from the crease with little footwork".
The questioner was right, there have been players who have been highly successful with a relatively short stride:
- David Gower
- Shiv Chanderpaul
- Andrew Strauss
- Ian Bell
- Steve Smith
So what did those guys do that enabled them to get away with a short front foot stride when playing against seam?
They let the ball come all the way to them.
The reason why my version of short stride batsmanship rightly came under regular coaching scrutiny was my tendency to push my hands in front of me and "get at the ball".
The two elements of technique (short stride and pushy hands) simply didn't marry together with any success. I would regularly push at the ball and edge balls to 1st or 2nd Slip.
It was the bane of my life.
Even so, I also fall into the category of coaches who try and increase the stride length first. I initially try to increase stability and therefore control by encouraging a long stride, so in effect, I am doing the same as the coaches that the questioner is challenging.
However, I have learnt, through lots of mistakes, to have a more adaptable coaching response.
Now, when it becomes apparent that encouraging a longer stride is not working, I shift my emphasis to coaching the concept of hitting the ball later.
I will then encourage the player to let the ball finish its journey before they commit the bat into the contact zone.
So here are three of my shorter stride batting drills. They may help you to become the next Shiv Chanderpaul or David Gower.
Drill One: Play the ball in the box
AB de Villiers talks about hitting then all within an imaginary box right next to the body.
A great way to observe a batter who is doing this well is to watch or video them batting from the angle of cover point.
When a batter is seemingly striking the ball in line with their body or even as the ball passes the body then this can be described as "playing the ball in the box".
The contact is controlled, the ball tends to be struck in a downward fashion and any edges die before they reach the waiting slip cordon. The complete opposite to me!
Drill Two: Concrete feet
Get someone to throw some balls at you when you give yourself the intention of not moving your feet at all. Pretend that they are fixed in concrete or "stuck in the mud".
The only way you can control the contact and hit the ball along the ground is to let it come to you, shift your weight slightly and make contact as late as possible.
It is a drill that I first saw being coached by the great Bob Woolmer in the early 1990's and is still a fantastic drill nearly 30 years on.
Drill Three: Landing flat game
Many players with relatively short strides hit from unbalanced positions because they plant their forefoot and toes only onto the floor with their leading foot.
This creates instability as the ball comes into the contact zone. Thus causing a lack of control at point of impact.
Rather than focus dogmatically on lengthening the stride of a batter, try asking them to land their foot flat on the ground rather than only on their forefoot.
It may take them a few balls to get the kinaesthetic awareness of hitting the ground with forefoot and mid sole but after a few successful shots they will get the idea.
Those who are better at feeling the ground and reporting it back to the coach may enjoy the "inner game" approach heralded by Tim Galwey.
If I gave a forefoot only contact a score of 3, Midsole and Forefoot contact as a 2 and a Heel and midsole contact as a 1 then before long you get a sense of how players stride and land from their numeric feedback.
Ian Bell was a "3" who benefitted from becoming a more consistent "2" lander as it gave his shorter stride a more stable base to work from.
The very different Kevin Pietersen was predominantly a "3" lander as his stride length was long and heel into midsole lander.
The important thing is not to try and coach the same thing to everyone but adapt your practice to work with the player to get a more consistent outcome.
Even a great player such as Alistair Cook sometime finds himself vulnerable outside off stump when his foot contact with the floor gets a little "toe-like". When he lands in a more midsole position he tends to dominate the off to 5th stump line making himself much harder to bowl to in Test cricket.
If it's good enough for a bloke with nearly 12,000 Test runs to look at then it could be a good fit for you too.
The coaching challenge around length of stride is potentially a good one.
It can work, as long as you understand how to play the ball late and how to land on your front foot with more stability.
If your anything like me and struggle to get forward significantly then you will benefit from these drills.
Master them and score as many runs as Steve Smith. That won't be bad!