One of the Australians hall marks in cricket is their intensity in practice.
For them it's all about getting as close to game pace as possible. Jeremy Snape demonstrated something similar in his World Twenty20 diary with the England team:
"In order to simulate the match atmosphere as closely as possible... played a series of Twenty20 scenarios which immersed us deep into a match context. "Scanning down the coach's white board I saw that my role would be bowling at KP [Kevin Pietersen] and Freddie Flintoff and then batting against Freddie, James Anderson and Stuart Broad. This was as tough as it gets."
As tough as it gets in practice no less.
How often does your club practice with intensity in mind like this?
I know myself how different batting in the nets against bowlers who are trying at 60% (or less towards the end of a long net session) compared to an opening bowler tearing in with the new ball in a match.
This type of practice is self defeating. You are not learning new skills and you are not playing under the pressure of match situations.
Fielding drills can similarly 'go through the motions' unless everyone is switched on an highly involved. It's very different catching and throwing under pressure than it is in a half hearted drill.
Intensity through competition
Unless you are learning new skills, a sure-fire way to prevent lethargy in practice is to add a controlled competitive element. In modern coaching lingo: Small sided games (SSG).
There are lots of games and drills to choose from, or make up yourself. The key element is to make it competitive. Adding this element automatically pushes up the intensity of the participants.
Cricketers are naturally competitive people so keeping score gets everyone going. A simple way to do this is to add a points system to every drill. Keep a league table for the day, month and season.
A popular SSG is the practice match as Jeremy Snape outlined above.
Here you can set up a particular situation in a game during practice. The batters bat, the bowlers bowl and the aim is to "win" the situation by taking wickets or scoring runs.
These games can be modified by putting up a net on the leg side, reducing the number of fielders needed or setting out scoring areas with cones worth double the normal runs. It's common to use a third batsman as an umpire so when a wicket falls the out batsman is replaced (but can still come back if another batter gets out).
The variations of these types of games are only limited by your creativity. So next time you rock up for a net don't just gently turn your arm over or slog away with the willow. Use the time to crank up the pressure and intensity so you can watch your game improve too.
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