Here's a problem: Batting is unfair, batting practice is too fair.
What do I mean?
The biggest frustration of batting is getting out. One mistake and it's over, even if it's the first ball you have faced of the season. Yet when we go to a net practice we all do 10-20 minutes no matter what happens and walk away satisfied that we got a good hit.
The problem, then, is when you practice you feel no pressure and when you bat in a game you feel all the pressure. There is a huge disconnect and your practice time is wasted. It leads to losing focus, playing poor shots and fewer runs.
The solution is simple: make practice unfair.
Before we get onto "planned unfairness", there are some exceptions. Sometimes, you need to bat for time regardless of pressure. These exceptions are,
- Picking line and length
- Shot selection
- Shot execution
However, all these require a little more effort than just saying "I'm working on my shot selection today".
The first three can be called broadly "technique" because they make up the three elements of batting; picking up the ball, choosing the right shot to play and playing that shot. With a bowling machine you are working more on the last one, with bowlers you are working more on the first two.
It's more a time element than a pressure element. Hit balls and try to pick up the line and length early. Face the machine or throwdowns to hone the movements and timing. Measure how you know when this is working by tracking your performance.
The same applies to cricket-specific fitness, where you run in nets - with drills like this - to replicate the challenge of playing a long innings. Time and effort aare more important than pressure.
Unfair batting practice drill
However, if your goal is to make batting practice realistic you have to have built-in unfairness. Here's a drill we did recently with a middle practice to show you what I mean.
In this session we had a full field so batsmen batted in pairs and two bowlers bowled in tandem from the same end. Everyone else fielded with all forms of dismissal allowed.
Each pair had no time limit, and four wickets. Once the last wicket was done, the pair were out for good. To make it tough for batting - and to encourage good strike rotation - pairs had to take at least one run every third ball.
What happened in the session was unfair,
- Most pairs got about 15 minutes to bat but it depended on the bowling and the running!
- One pair batted for much longer than usual.
- One pair batted for a very short time.
The short batting was frustrating for one of the batsmen who watched his partner get out all four times, including being run out because he didn't run his bat in. He was clearly angry and called it unfair. I pointed out that the nature of the drill is to be unfair. He had agreed to play it. While I understand he felt he was not ready for his game on Saturday and this was his only practice, he eventually understood the whole point of the practice was to be unfair. It showed him something about his reaction to a situation very similar to getting out early to a bum LBW decision.
Naturally, doing this every week is counter-productive, but working on how you deal with pressure - and unfairness - is a crucial element in your quest to better batting. Make sure you are harsh on yourself sometimes if you want to be the best you can be.