Throw Away the Textbook: How Batsmen Really Develop Technique | Cricket coaching, fitness and tips

Throw Away the Textbook: How Batsmen Really Develop Technique

Psychologist columnist Karl Stevenson tells us why it's time to forget about the textbook when it comes to batting.

Here is an over-rated phrase:

"That shot is straight out of the textbook!"

The truth is that in the modern era of cricket we hear it less and less. It's no longer relevant, if it ever was.

My problem with the textbook starts with three simple questions; if we look at these questions, we uncover the fundamentals of how batsmen really develop a successful technique.

1. Who wrote it?

If a coaching governing body - with access to a wealth of technical and biomechanical data - wrote the textbook, that text book is going to be very detailed and describe a step-by-step process of each shot. These governing bodies pass that information to the coaches, from grass roots to international level.

This is what happens in the UK. Most children are taught by certified coaches who use this information. Almost all of their cricketing experiences are structured and are supervised by a coach, allowing these children to get taught the 'proper' technique.

This is totally different from what happens in India.

Children engage in a huge amount of unstructured and unsupervised cricket. These experiences act as their own coaching experiences. With no one there to tell them what is correct, they are able to identify and work out for themselves what works for them in a game of cricket.

These unsupervised activities lead to a greater understanding of how to score in a competitive setting, especially when compared to conventional net practice that is seen in the UK. However, technically, those players are less 'correct' than the players that are developed in the UK.

The debate is which method - if any - is more important?

The answer is always the same; a mixture of the two.

2. Where was it written?

Let’s say the textbook was written by a coach in England.

The coach who wrote it would have to develop a technique that suited the conditions in England; damp and moist conditions which suit swing and seam bowling. The majority of successful English batsmen have the skills to be able to deal with those conditions. These skills include playing down the line of the ball, being able to leave the ball, and being able to play off of the back foot.

If we compare the English textbook to one that was written by a coach in India where the pitches are dry, slow, and low in comparison, we see fundamental differences in the technique used.

Players in India are able to use their feet, play spin bowling effectively and are more wrist orientated, compared to the importance of a high elbow in England.

Meanwhile in Australia and South Africa, the pitches are hard, flat, and more bouncy. Those players are able to play more off of the back foot, hitting square of the wicket, with the ability to be able to hit the ball while it is still on the bounce when it is full. Ricky Ponting was arguably the best player of the pull shot and we have recently seen Hashim Amla’s ability to play flamboyant drives through the covers.

These fundamental differences in conditions act in the same way as the coaching that we receive when we are younger. We develop the skills that allow us to best cope in our environment. The players are 'textbook' under conditions that are familiar to them, allowing their skills to be more robust in comparison to those who do not have the techniques to deal with the conditions at hand.

This leads us to the last question.

3. Who reads it?

This is the most important part. Players cannot change who wrote their original textbook, or where it was written, but they can change which textbook they study.

If we look at the tours that the BCCI schedules for its Under 19 and A squads, we can see that they select different playing environments. This is their opportunity to be able to study another textbook. These experiences allow those players to be able to identify potential flaws, and understand how they need to be able to alter their technique to be versatile under different playing conditions.

The key word is versatility.

Regardless of what country in which you play, or what format of cricket you are playing, you need to be able to have a robust, but versatile technique that allows you to be competitive.

The more unique training or playing situations you can put yourself into, the better it will be for your overall game. Seek out those experiences; even if it is just changing the way you train in the nets, and your game will reap the rewards of a versatile technique.

Karl Stevenson is a final year PhD student who has spent the last 7 years investigating the psycho-visual skills of striking sports. He works alongside coaches and athletes as a mental skills coach to develop skills in an applied setting.

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Great article, I found it really interesting.

I also think its interesting to see the different techniques produced by players who grew up with traditional coaching methods playing with cricket balls on grass pitches and the current crop of youth players who health and safety dictates bat mainly against tennis balls on plastic pitches.

Yes, I think combining Indo-England tactics is the key.Players should be introduced to the correct technique and encouraged to experiment for themselves.

Yes, I think combining Indo-England tactics is the key.Players should be introduced to the correct technique and encouraged to experiment for themselves.

Thank you for your comments, AB - The only thing I can see coming out of playing against tennis balls on plastic pitches is a reduced ability to be able to play swing/seam bowling off the front foot. Otherwise I feel that you will probably produce players who are able to play off the back foot, but also possibly be able to play off the front foot with more control with the emphasis on soft hands to keep the ball down. Unrealistic of the real game I know, but you have to try and see the positives under the circumstances!

I certainly hope no "health and safety" is stopping young players playing with hard cricket balls. It's certainly not the case in my experience. Yes, under 9 is played with a softer ball but all cricket from under 10 up is hard ball.

That may be different in tapeball games, but that is a different story.

Concur with David - only U9 cricket is played with a soft ball (and even that is an incrediball with seam as opposed to tennis ball). Everything else is played with a hard ball.

Training might include the use of tennis balls but this will be mixed in with other ball types as well.

It can only be in cricket that we suggest a player turns his back on technique, or at least lessen the importance of technique to attain excellence.

Has the Olympics taught us nothing? The cyclists, swimmers, rowers, gymnasts etc spend their lives trying to squeeze an extra 1% or 0.1s out of the performance by reviewing how they do what they do.

I appreciate the premise of this article is about 'flair' but being the most efficient version of yourself HAS to be the best way to develop talent and not simply let people 'have a go' at it?

It all sounds plausible to suggest that technique perhaps only works in a certain country and in certain conditions. But even a slight pick at that idea shows it to be untrue. The basics of the game mastered make you a good player regardless where you learned them, and adapting your game (tactical awareness) makes you a world-class player.

Technique is not the most important thing in developing a young player - it's the ONLY thing. Without the technical aspect, a player's natural skill and flair will not be fulfilled.

I don't think Karl is denying that technique is important, I think he is just suggesting that the orthodox means of acquiring technique - by attempting to mimic the contents of a textbook - is not the only way that can be an effective method of acquisition. Firstly, different textbooks will contain subtly different techniques, that may work better in certain circumstances than others and better for certain players than for others, and secondly, perhaps there are other ways to acquire effective techniques than to simply mimic what someone else does?

AB.. the whole POINT of a technique is that it IS duplicatable in the first place. We simply have to copy best practice if we want to ensure best practice, and this means being consistent in the qualities required to maximise a player's natural skill levels.

You are confusing tactical awareness (how to play in different countries) with technique, as is the author.

The basics simply don't change, which is why you see sub continent batsmen not being able to play in English conditions (India last visit) when they have to move their feet, as an example. this is a basic premise of batting that is often missing from Bangladesh cricketers' too. English cricketers don't play spin well because they make TACTICAL errors such as sweeping far too much.

If we mimic what is best practice and works well, then we produce players who are similar to that. Practice doesn't make perfect, it simply makes permanent, so coaches had better be sure they teach what works.

Are you saying their is one "best practice" technique that all good players share? So all good players have identical techniques? eg Pieterson and Cook both have the same technique? Not by any definition of the word "technique" that I'm aware of.

I think the author has made some good points about different environments producing different characteristic techniques. Instinctively using the wrists and hitting the ball squarer, for example, is not a game time tactical consideration, because its not something you can just turn on and off. It takes years of practice.

Please stop telling people they're "confused" just because you don't understand their point of view, Ian. It's awfully patronising.

Hi Ian,

Thank you for your constructive feedback,

The problem that I was trying to address is the one which you label tactical. Yes the tactics are fundamentally different when you are playing under different continents. Pro's understand that they have to change their tactical approach to the game, but due to the technique that they have developed, they are not able to carry it out.

If we look at why our batsmen fail against spin, we can see that they are not equipped with the necessary skill sets that are effective. So in a broad sense we may have technically sound players, without the technical skill sets to play in certain conditions. To me this makes no sense.

My point in the article was to try and address this problem by not just coaching correct technique, but also incorporating other types of training to be able to broaden our player’s skill sets. This will allow them to better understand (sub-consciously) the best technical approach to take under certain conditions. For this to work, you can only put batsmen into a circumstance and let them figure out the best methods for themselves (guided discovery), what you can’t do is tell them how to play, and expect their technique to adapt (explicit instruction).

So in response to your last comment, I would suggest that practice does make perfect, when practice is directed towards a specific goal or target a specific part of your game. If practice makes permanent, then we can never become adaptable and fulfil our potential in all forms of the game.

Judging by your comments so far, Ian, this is what you appear to think the article said:

"Technique is not very important, because it only works in certain countries. Having flair is more important than a good technique".

However, i didn't get that at all. This is what I think the article said:

"Technique is of paramount importance. Different technical skills are required for different playing conditions. In order to be able to prosper in a number of different conditions, ensure that you are exposed to technical advice from as many different sources as possible, not just one that is optimised for only one set of conditions".

The author can hopefully tell us which one of us is correct!

The "textbook" gives us a fundamental technical understanding of what is required to succeed at the highest levels. Foot movement, grip, alignment, stance, strike zone etc. The shots are adapted according to the conditions and circumstances but the fundamentals must remain.

I fear that coaches and managers look at outcomes too much rather than checking to see how these outcomes are being achieved. Even if "it ain't broke" it could still need fixing because what might work at ages 10, 11, 12 could well be holding a player back by the age of 15 or 16.

One problem batting coaches in this country might have is relying too much on coaching on hard net surfaces and/or with bowling machines offering little variety. Simulating differing conditions is very difficult given the resources available to most coaches.

Which textbook though? Read 10 different textbooks and you will read about 10 different versions of fundamental technique. That's the point.

Then nine of them are wrong!!!!!

Perhaps we should agree a list of the absolute fundamentals and publish them as the definitive building block for all batting. I've got my theory and I bet it tallies with anyone who qualified as a coach more than, let's say, 15 years ago but not necessarily with more recently qualified/younger coaches. That's not to say I don't take on board modern coaching methods and techniques, nor treat the modern game with contempt. I just hold dear certain basic technical fundamentals.

Where should the back toe point on completion of a straight drive?

"Pro's understand that they have to change their tactical approach to the game, but due to the technique that they have developed, they are not able to carry it out" - Technique doesn't STOP you from making tactical changes at all. Tactical is a decision, technique is an automated response. Tactical is mental.

"If we look at why our batsmen fail against spin, we can see that they are not equipped with the necessary skill sets that are effective" - I disagree strongly. Our batters can clearly play spin, they just choose the wrong shots if they 'decide to sweep all the time'. This is an error of judgement NOT of technique.

" can only put batsmen into a circumstance and let them figure out the best methods for themselves (guided discovery), what you can’t do is tell them how to play, and expect their technique to adapt (explicit instruction)" - Technique doesn't adapt. That's the point. Decision making does. You cannot hit the ball for a player but you can explain game plans, otherwise never any point to having team meanings and orders.

"So in response to your last comment, I would suggest that practice does make perfect, when practice is directed towards a specific goal or target a specific part of your game. If practice makes permanent, then we can never become adaptable and fulfil our potential in all forms of the game" - Only perfect practice makes perfect. You become what you practice all day long. and this is exactly HOW you change technique.. by repetition. You can overlay automated response because that is how humans learn to do most motor activities.

Working with and developing talent requires establishing key factors (technical issues) that remain consistent. I wouldn't want to have a player constantly changing his technique of batting or bowling once successful, except to enhance it.

"Different technical skills are required for different playing conditions".... Hmmmm

Do golfers change their golf swing? Do swimmers use their arms differently each race? Do running change their running style? Do tennis playing change how they hit the ball?

I repeat, and I am sorry if you take it as condescending, you confuse technique with tactics.

You are referring to application of skill, decision making, adjusting your game to suit conditions (tactical).... This is not the same as execution of skill, technique, biomechanics, how the body works (technique).

The premise of this article was to throw away the 'textbook' and simply adapt to conditions. Those are two quite different things.

Yes, no, yes, and yes.

Why do certain players find it harder to adapt to different conditions that others? Why is Rafael Nadal better on clay? Why are some golfers better on links courses? You think its because of their "tactics"? Seriously?

I know the difference between tactics and technique thank you Ian, and so does the author of this article.

You honestly don't think a different technique is required to play at Headingley in May to in Bangalore? What was your reasoning again for why Bangladeshi batsmen that were able to prosper in the subcontinent but struggled when they came to England? Something about technique? No?


You are very much entitled to your opinion that a batsman will change his technique due to different pitch conditions. However, as technique takes 10,000 repetitions to cement in place, it is highly unlikely that is true from game to game or pitch to pitch.

A player can learn to adapt tactically (hit later, straighter) in a match, and go away and work on a shot he hasn't mastered technically, over time (Cook still struggles with the ball coming back into him after all these years). But technique is not changing game by game.. I'm sorry. A sportsman might prefer a certain ground or conditions due to his environmental upbringing but he is not about to alter the technique and switch back to something else next week.

Having worked with 1,000s of players I can assure you technique is THE hardest thing to change.

I don't want to take sides here, so please continue the debate.

My reading is that technique is extremely difficult to change, and that where you learned that technique has a huge influence on what you consider to be good technique.

That's why you get more spinners in India than in England: conditions mean that the spin technique can prosper. An 11 year old in London who can tweak a couple and bowl decent medium pace will be more likely to end up bowling the latter at 16 because of conditions. The same guy in Delhi will be more likely to go down the spin route.

That's a slighty different idea to saying that technique changes in one player to suit conditions. I'm not sure anyone is saying that, but please correct me if I am wrong.

The other interesting thread here is what counts as "fundamental". This is fascinating because it is changing. Take the fast bowling action. Research is bringing out some fundamentals to bowling pace that we only thought were true even 5 years ago. What will things be like in 5 more years? What do the outliers who have poor technique but still bowl at 90mph show?

These are interesting issues but I'm not sure anyone has a complete answer because the whole area is still developing.

Ian, you are knocking down strawmen. No-one has claimed that players techniques change game by game, that is utterly ridiculous.

All me, Karl, and now David are saying is that different batting techniques are suited to different conditions. That's why we see some batsmen struggling when they play in different conditions: eg Bangladeshi batsmen in England and English batsmen in the UAE - because the technique they have been brought up with is not designed with those conditions in mind.

You appear to be saying that these differences are purely tactical. Can you clarify this?

"The premise of this article was to throw away the 'textbook' and simply adapt to conditions."

No it unequivocably wasn't. I think you need to read articles more carefully before being patronising about other coach's opinions in the future. You're the only one here who hasn't been able to understand what the author is saying, the rest of us get it.

AB.. here's the title or the premise of the article : "Throw Away the Textbook: How Batsmen Really Develop Technique" - anyway.

I am saying that technique is the most important thing of all and is the driver for change in a player's ability. Clearly coaches in India have different views compared to Australian coaches, yet India is important HUGE amount of coaching resource from CA right now to develop their players. Why would that be? The answer is that they want to improve the way they coach technique.

The article was about adaptability of conditions as overriding the technical aspect of batting. I disagree. Your technique is your servant and often when people fail it can be linked back to flaws in their processes.

And because humans are process based learners, they learn faster and deeper when they have a process to adhere to.

Processes lead to outcomes. You cannot simply focus on what happens without knowing why it happened.

The article, whilst well-written, mixed across tactical and technical aspects as if they are interchangeable or substitutable, which they are not. Yes, you can improve your tactical awareness and your ability to adapt to situations, but that isn't technique. This is my point.

Paul Williams comments above are spot on. I suspect he works with developing players.

I strongly suspect that Karl's view of 'playing in as many conditions as possible to make you a better player' is widely held by people. That sounds logical. You 'learn a lot' by playing in India and adapting to a ball that spins more or batting in Australia where the ball might come on faster and bounce more. And yes you will adapt your approach to batting in those situations. So you learn from that.

However, you don't necessarily try to change your technique. You might choose to eliminate certain shots or play others more often. But I don't believe you alter the technique of your batting.

Just my view after 20 years of woking with Pros.

Peace out.....

He said throw the textbook out, not technique altogether. Perhaps if you had read further than the title...

"Coaches in India have different views compared to Australian coaches, yet India is important HUGE amount of coaching resource from CA right now to develop their players. Why would that be? "

I suspect its because they're doing EXACTLY what the author suggesting and what you seem to disagree with. They're exposing their players to different ideas of the "textbook technique" in order to enable them to prosper in different environments, something you have repeatedly denied is even necessary!

Since u appear to be missing my point so let me be REAL clear.

India is starting to use CA coaching methods on technique because they are trying to play like them and coach their players in the same techniques as them. Far from having diverse and different methods due to their environment, they are acknowledging that technique is pretty standardised and all countries should actually be coaching the same things. I know this to be fact as I coach in INDIA and run cricket camps there.

This IS my point - that technique is technique is technique. How you apply it might vary, but not the technical aspect itself. India is learning to standardise what it is doing, not expose itself to new ideas to work alongside what they have. It's what MRF Pace Academy has been trying to do under Dennis Lilllee for 25 years. It's what I do when I go there. The technical aspect is being re-written to be the same for all, regardless of the environment.

You appear adept (as you were in another thread) at trying to manipulate what is being said. And that's fine because that is your M.O.

But there are some of us who coach for a living, work in these regions for a living and do coach education for a living. It's not theoretical or a nice argument. It's factual, evidential and real.

Technique is being standardised not individualised. The only reason players go to other environments is to get used to the ball spinning or bouncing etc. They don't go there to change their technique or be exposed to a different way to bat technically. This means the differences are tactical and mental.

Substituting perfect technique for experience in humid conditions, or being allowed to 'work it out for yourself' (yes I did read the article) does not make world class players. Weekend cricket is littered with club players who try to do that.

As I say, it all sounds great in theory, but the results and facts do not bear out the premise. The world's coaching authorities are moving CLOSER towards standardising coach education and not making them completely different.

As a final comment on the article, a high elbow isn't just an "English" thing therefore. It's what youngsters hear in India too. They see Sachin doing it. Being 'wristy' isn't only an Indian thing. English fans see Pieterson doing it. Sachin may use more straight bat shots batting in England than batting in India and KP might turn the ball more with the spin when he bats in India than in England, but that is a tactical decision, in the same way they might play more off the back foot in Australia.

I agree with the original concept of "what is a textbook" as there are some variations written by people who don't quite understand, but if you want clarity on technique, just ask Gary Palmer and he will explain there are certain ways to play a drive - and he makes no differential based on where you live.

This is boring now

Hi Gentlemen,

I am glad that this article has provided so much debate from a range of different opinions, from no doubt different backgrounds.

I think what we must learn from this debate is not who is right, or who is wrong, but to accept that neither is the gold standard. When I sat down to write this article I had no intention of suggesting that players should not be coached the fundamentals of technique, I may as well of endorsed cricket to turn into baseball and be done with it.

What I did intend to suggest is that the textbook is not actually how players DEVELOP their technique. From a skill acquisition, biomechanics and psychology background, I understand the delicate interaction that these three domains share in technique and global skill development.

That is why I set about writing the article in three separate categories of how the textbook that you read will be different everywhere you go depending on:

A) Who writes it (Skill Acquisition) - We all have different structures, some structured more than others. The level of structure you have as a coaching organization affects the skill sets that you develop. The more structured - the less you develop game intelligence or 'tactical' skills. The less structured, the more you are able to develop 'tactical' skills subconsciously. Why do English players play the sweep shot too much? Because they don't know when to play it.

B) Where was it written (Biomechanics) - Environmental conditions in each respective continent allow one technique to be more successful than another - we see this on every home and away tour that is played. Cricket batting biomechanics is complex, there is no gold standard equation for batting efficiency that you can see in sprinting or swimming for example, so we can't compare the two. I guarantee that no cricketer has ever played 10,000 pull shots to a delivery which has the same length, line, and speed - so to be frank that out dated rule does not apply to this skill. What we can do is make sure we can draw on a specific set of 'fundamentals' that allow for versatility that Mark had suggested - what these fundamentals are is up for interpretation again.

C) Who reads it (Psychology) - This is the area that is most up for interpretation, this is where you consciously develop your 'tactical' skill sets, this is where you get the opportunity to go away, identify the weaknesses that you currently have in your technique, and adapt them to suit the conditions you are playing in.

I know a lot of the debate has been centered on the differentiation between technique, and tactical skills. In my opinion you can't separate these two domains. Why? Quite simply because a players tactical awareness and versatility (understanding of a situation and the decisions they make) are in effect before a shot of any technique has even been played. So how can you separate the two?

The problem with English players playing spin is quite simple, they do not have enough experience of viewing and playing against spinners to be able to get the first part right... So regardless of how good their biomechanics may be on the sweep shot, they have no idea when to play it effectively - taking us back to the structure of practice that they took part in to form that technique, the environmental conditions they have practiced under, and the active decisions they have made to read up or experiment in another 'textbook'.

So lets take the positives out of this debate, lets not throw the textbook out of the window - that may be a bit extreme, but lets discuss how we can add a few chapters to it that helps coaches understand how they best can coach a player to be effective under different conditions.

Kind Regards,


Thanks Karl, this is an interesting point: "there is no gold standard equation for batting efficiency".

I think even someone like Gary Palmer who is the mad scientist of batting technique would agree that technique is a multi-layered thing. Some basics always apply regardless of upbringing but some things are debatable.

My question is this; how much of technique is non-negotiable and always applies in all cases?

The more I think about it, the harder that is to answer. There are a lot of successful outliers who disprove the rules.

The greatest batsman of all time had a technique very different from modern conceptions of "perfect technique". I think that tells you all you need to know.

Lots of international batsmen also have great techniques for certain conditions. Just look at the differentials between batting averages on different continents. Such big and longlasting differences cannot be understood by poor "tactics" in different conditions. Tactics can quickly be changed, underlying technique is not so easy to change.

Of course, there are also many batsmen who have techniques that work pretty effectively in all conditions - but the assumption that this must be the same technique is a false one.

Good question David,

Like you said, the more you think about it, the harder it is to answer. If we take away the cricketing aspect of this arguement and just prosed a simple question - what is the best way to hit a moving object with a piece of wood, the answer is easier to get to.

I would say that you need to be able to have a grip on that bit of wood that allows the whole face of the wood to be used to strike the moving object. I would then suggest that you need to swing the wood along a plane that allowed the face of the wood the most chance of making contact with the moving object. Finally I would suggest that when you swing the wood you should be in a stable position that allowed you to maintain balance and allow your eyes to make continuous judgements of that moving object.

If we then translate into cricketing terms you need to be able to have a good grip on the bat that then allowed you to swing the bat face along a plane that the ball is traveling down. To make sure that you strike consistently you need to have a stable base that kept your intended movements in line and let you keep your eyes as still as possible.

To me those are the three things that are essential. How you as a batsman get to that point is up to all of the above facotrs that we have discussed. If we look at every international batsmen I am sure we could not find two identical techniques, what I am sure of is that within each of those techniques you could find those repeatable characterisitcs. Are these the absolute fundamentals?

I think those probably are the absolute fundamentals that allow you to be able to call yourself a batsman... but they're fundamentals shared by cricketers ranging from competent club players all the way up to internationals, so clearly there is a lot more to technique than that.

Hi Karl Stevenson ,
I am a beginner in Cricket. Wish to ask how can I excel at batting ? Any tips would be helpful.
Thanking You. Have a Good Day.