Should You Tell Batsmen to Watch the Ball? | Cricket coaching, fitness and tips

Should You Tell Batsmen to Watch the Ball?

"Watch the ball closely!"

How many times have you - and I - uttered those immortal words?

It is great information.

For some of our cricketers; but not all of them.


Research has show that it's about a 50/50 split. Many batsmen will benefit from looking hard at the ball and picking out details (the seam for example); a narrow focus. But at least half will be better with a softer focus on the ball, allowing it to come into their vision rather than forcing themselves to focus hard; a peripheral focus.

How do you determine which category each player is in?

Listen to your batters when they have played well against spin and you will either hear them say either:

"I really watched the ball closely today and could see which way it was spinning from the seam rotations."

or conversely:

"I picked his googly well today as he did something different with his wrist at the bottom of his bowling circle."

Someone who benefits from a narrow focus will say the former. Or something very similar at least.

Someone with a preference for peripheral vision will say the latter.

We all have a preference for one over the other. Using the correct focus makes your batsmen more balanced and more likely to make quicker and better decisions.

The problem comes with a lack of correct visual preference. The narrow focus player gets distracted by things other than the finer details, or broader vision person tries to focus in hard on the seam.

The quick test above is a good start to finding out which focus is best, but here are some more detailed tests you can ask players to complete:

  1. Experiment between the two kinds of focus. Have a net against bowlers where you only do one and the next net do the opposite style of focus.
  2. Rate your movement efficiency for each session
  3. Rate your decision making effectiveness for each session
  4. Speak with the bowlers and get their views on performance in these two parameters
  5. If you are being objective and you have been consistent with keeping you focus the same for each ball then there will be a clear winner.

Better still, have each player bat for 30 balls in each visual style and log the player's assessment of each shot against the movement efficiency and decision making effectiveness.

I'm sure this challenges the approach that you have used in the past. I know it has with me. I learned why my words and practices worked for one person and didn't for another.

Start applying it like I did and become a better coach.

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Slightly different point of view, I don't necessarily tell them how best to watch the ball: I assume they can figure that out for themselves. What I try and emphasise is when to look at the ball. I try and emphasise the idea of a shot being a two stage process.
1) look at the ball as soon as you pick it up and make a judgement as to where its going to land: now move into position accordingly.
2) look at the ball AGAIN and judge when and where exactly its going to reach them: now hit the ball.

This is also a reason why length balls are harder to play than full balls or short balls. That 2nd read occurs right when the ball is bouncing making it difficult to judge, whereas with short balls you pick it up on the way up, and with full balls while its still on the way down. Batsman often say they find it easier to "see" a full ball and a short ball than a length ball - I think this is the reason why.

I don't see these aspects of vision as being mutually exclusive. The player who's extracting useful information from his peripheral vision will still be focusing his central vision on something, i.e. the ball.
The striker has two chances to pick the spin of the ball. If you can pick it from the bowler's hand it's probably better, because you can prepare your shot earlier but watching the spin of the ball gives you a second chance. I suspect that sometimes the striker can see the spin of the ball because he has already subconsciously read it from the bowler's action.
At least against quick bowlers, it's not physically possible to track the ball all the way. Elite batsmen watch the ball out of the hand, then jump to the pitch point ahead of the ball. The final visual stage is the contact point as AB says. This requires the use of both central and peripheral vision to be successful, bearing in mind that the area of sharp central vision is about the same as your thumbnail when held at arm's length. It's probably more useful to get the striker to concentrate on key points rather than a general "watch the ball" instruction.
It's also worth noting that peripheral awareness is reduced when we're under stress. This is a not infrequent cause of run outs.

I've always been told to watch the ball, but I find it restrictive and end up rushing my shot.
When I'm playing well, I think my eyes flick quickly to where the ball will be, which seems to give me more time.

Interesting article, as always full of insight.