Learning how to play spin can be great fun. A lot of players don't put the hard work in to becoming good players of spin as they feel that it involves thousands of dull repetitions of the same drill over a significant amount of time.
And whilst mastery of any skill, such as playing spin, does take time and repetition, we have learnt how to inject innovation and fun into that process to help young players on their journey.
So here is a fun yet "old school" idea that you may want to try out in some of your sessions, especially if it's raining outside:
Last week, Graham Thorpe and myself were leading a coach education course on batting against spin.
We started to chat through playing mystery spin.
One of the candidates on the course was ex-England ODI captain, Adam Hollioake. "Smoky" Hollioake is a top fella and possesses a brilliant cricketing mind. He led Surrey and England to many trophies between 1997 and 2003 and captained Pakistan Spinning Legend and now, England Spin Bowling mentor, Saqlain Mushtaq in that team.
Saqlain tore English County Cricket to ribbons during Surreys dominant time under Hollioake with his combination of off spin and "doosra" deliveries from both over and around the wicket angles. He was immense.
Adam stated that very few batters could pick Saqlain. So how do you get better at facing mystery spin?
Adam and I then spoke about the benefits of a very simple game called "stump cricket".
This is a game that we played when I was on the Lord's Groundstaff and Adam was making his way at Surrey. Stump cricket was often played in changing rooms during rain breaks in matches or on rainy days which kept us out of the nets.
How stump cricket is played.
The batsman bats with a stump against a tennis ball. You have to defend the ball or hit it straight down the ground back past the bowler in order to survive.
You pick up a run for every successful defensive shot and you can score boundaries for beating the bowler down the ground with a drive.
The more balls you face, the more runs you score.
Old school, but brilliant!
You can be caught by the surrounding short leg, silly point, slip and leg slip. Because you are using a tennis ball and the game is largely defensive, we can incorporate Subcontinent Test match fielding positions. The bowler can catch a batter out as well.
You can be bowled: we used to use an upturned cricket bag as our stumps back in the day but nowadays, a Kwik Cricket set or Multi-stump set can be used.
It's also an instant dismissal if you play attacking shots square of the wicket!
That was a tough one for me as I didn't hit the ball straight until I started playing this game.
Plus you can be stumped: I used to love keeping wicket in stump cricket. You were always there for a catch or stumping. I was kept busy and it definitely helped my skills behind the stumps.
The bowler's angle
The bowlers threw the tennis ball from a seated position about 8-10 yards from the batter which meant that they could generate all sorts of spinning deliveries with their fingers, elbows and wrists.
Both Shane Warne and Saqlain initially learnt different spin types by throwing the ball first to get the feel of the ball coming off of their fingers before taking the delivery into a straight arm delivery off of a full run up.
Personally, I faced my first doosra and flipper playing stump cricket and soon learnt to pick the different deliveries out of the bowlers/throwers hand. Now that's a useful skill that creates time and space for any aspiring batter.
You can also develop you ability to perceive length from this game. Any top coach will tell you the difference between good and great players of spin is a batter's ability to pick length early. This then means they can move select correct scoring and defensive options earlier rather than having to wait until the ball is nearly upon them.
Another great skill to have as a player of spin is he ability to defend the ball softly. This helps batters to avoid being caught by the close fielders. So many players become inhibited or distracted by the presence of close fielders yet those worries evaporated as a result of playing stump cricket.
I was caught out at short leg or silly point only once in my career against spinners. This came from learning the basics of batting against spin.
Naturally, having to defend with only a 1.5 inch implement instead of the cricket bats 4.25 inches encourages precision in both decision making skills and also at point of contact.
Some of my colleagues would bat for hours in this game. They became brilliant at all of the key batting elements listed above in bold.
The ability to bat time is becoming a lost art within the game yet it was great to see how this fun game started to help my MCC team mates out in the middle when we came across a top spinner (Peter Such and Philip Tufnell) or played on spin orientated surfaces (Old Trafford, Southend on Sea).
Stump cricket also helped develop close catching skills and fundamental wicket keeping movements as well as the batters ability to pick spin type and length out of the hand.
It kept us entertained on many a rainy English Summer game, but also took our cricket to the next level.
Give stump cricket a go!