Does this sound familiar?
You have been practicing your catching like always before play. You stroll onto the field focused and confident that today you will catch everything that comes your way.
That is, until it does.
You snatch at the ball and watch in seemingly slow motion as the ball makes its inevitable path to the turf. The horror of that moment is unmatched on the cricket field. You have let the bowler down, the team down and yourself down all in the fraction of a second.
The myth of soft hands
"Catch with soft hands and give with the ball"
We have all heard the coaching advice. It sounds good in principle. Cushion the ball into your waiting hands and enjoy the congratulations of your team mates. But watching top players catch the ball shows a different picture.
Excellent fielders like Mark Waugh make catches look like they are having a ball lobbed to them from 5 yards, not flying off the edge at great speed, or just travelled 60 metres plus to the boundary edge.
They are not catching with soft hands, but they are catching. What's more they make it look easy.
The secret of catching under pressure
England fielding coach Richard Halsall has examined great catching in detail. He has discovered the greats catch with strong hands, not soft hands. All that giving with the ball is not only a waste of time; it reduces your chance of catching the ball.
Look at someone like Marcus Trescothick. The ball used to nestle into his hands as if they were both covered in Velcro. There was no dramatic give of the hands, just strong hands and a relaxed body.
The secret of good catching isn't being soft, it's being strong.
How to catch with strong hands
There is an important distinction between strong hands and hard hands. When you are tensed up your hands are hard and don't allow the ball in.
Strong hands close around the ball effortlessly while your arms remain relaxed and your eyes focused on the ball. You will often hear players talking about 'seeing the ball all the way in' when they pull of a great catch. It's rare to see it all the way and drop it.
So strong hands start with focused eyes and mind. Other coaching cues that can help you practice catching with string hands are:
- Get your hands to the line of the ball, not the ball itself.
- Get into position to catch the ball with the minimum amount of movement.
- Allow the ball to come to you.
- Keep the phrase "strong but relaxed" in your mind.
It's almost like you are catching in slow motion, which the best catchers tend to report as happening.
You don't need special equipment like modern international fielding coaches use: Just some mates and a ball or two.
This method takes a bit of getting used to if you have always been told to catch with soft hands, but it's worth it. If you practice this way the next time a catch flies towards you, you will be ready.
Image credit: mrowe