After being dismissed for another dismal score, the captain sits the team down to deliver an all too familiar rant.
“Look boys, it’s just not good enough! We had three guys get starts, and then just throw their wickets away with careless shots”.
Well, Skipper… what do you expect? Has anyone stopped to consider that this is exactly what batsmen in cricket train to do?
The way batsmen train is like preparing to run a marathon by taking the dog for a 10-minute walk – little intensity, different conditions, and a lack of insults about your rig from nearby strangers.
Part One of Everything Wrong With Cricket Training raised the problems with conventional cricket training. Simply, there is no other game in the world where the practice is so different from how the match is played.
Here in Part Two, the focus is on batting and how everyday net training fails to develop the four key attributes needed to succeed in a match: Technical, Mental, Physical & Tactical.
Firstly, cricket places a ridiculous obsession and emphasis on the TECHNICAL element. For all the high elbows around, there are a lot of players that just hit the ball to fielders. How many players do you know that ‘look good’in the nets without ever making a run in a game?
This is just one of the many problems with batting in the nets, there are no fielders or gaps. A well-timed drive will be received with a chorus of ‘SHOT!’ from those too lazy to train, but come Saturday what is better – a firmly hit drive straight to mid-off or a mistimed ball that skews into a gap for 2 runs?
A player’s technique should be formed through the ages of 12-16, spending hours on bowling machines and facing balls from throw downs, developing the muscle memory to play shots subconsciously in a way that works for the individual. Private coaching during these ages is also beneficial.
After the age of 20, more harm than good comes from trying to alter a player’s grip, backlift or stance. Personally, I recall the detrimental impact from an Australian Test player suggesting that I adopt their highly unconventional grip after throwing me a few balls. When it came time to face up to the bowling that weekend, I didn’t know what end to hold the bat – and needless to say didn’t make a run for a month.
While such a heavy emphasis is placed on technique in cricket, batting in the nets does little to improve this area anyway. If you’re getting out playing across the line, what are the chances you’re going to get the number of balls in the right area to work on this deficiency?
Batting in the nets does provide the chance to test aspects of your MENTAL skills. The ability to pick up cues from the bowlers to make correct judgements and decisions – playing the right shot to the right ball. However, there is one glaring omission- there is no consequence for getting this wrong.
In the nets, if you slog a ball that flies straight up in the air… you just mirror the forward defence that you should have played, and face up for the next delivery. On the weekend, do this and you’re OUT! Your day is done – resigning you to an afternoon of asking yourself a series of questions without answers: Why did I play that shot? Why do I play this game? How am I going to pay for that hole in the wall?
If we take this problem back to Year 10 Psychology and B.F Skinner, the solution is simple: reward behaviour and it will continue, punish behaviour and it will reduce.
This is why I believe the simplest and most effective change to improve conventional cricket training is to introduce consequences for batsmen going out. There are varying degrees to which you can implement punishments:
- Run four or around the oval
- Take off your pads and put them back on
- Moving down a net to face lesser bowling
However, I believe the impact required is only fully realised by implementing what happens in a game -if the batsmen goes out then their net is over. This is the only way players will meaningfully reflect on how they have been dismissed and how they can stop it from occurring again.
In my training with the Brunswick Cricket Club, our training structure that adopts this view. On Tuesday’s players work on individual needs, taking ownership and responsibility to develop and expand their game. The following session on Thursday’s focus on preparing players for the intensity of a match through designing the most realistic training possible.
In the clip below, David Warner talks of having a similar routine in his preparation for Test cricket.
This ‘realistic’ cricket training is achieved by having batters bat in pairs according to their designated order. Training starts with the opening batsmen facing the opening bowlers, who set the imaginary field. If a batter is dismissed – they are out. And the next batsmen comes in.
This method has detractors, primarily from people who subscribe to a belief that getting a few out of the middle to ‘feel good’ is the best way to prepare for a long innings on Saturday. But I challenge this notion. The ‘out and your out’ training undoubtedly raises the intensity of the session and is the most match like training I have experienced.
A primary benefit is that if the batsmen value their wicket and make no mistakes, their batting time is not limited to 8 minutes, allowing them to train the PHYSICAL aspect of the game. Players begin to improve their conditioning and ability to bat under fatigue through running hard between the wickets for every shot they score off.
Players struggle to convert starts into scores because they never train to make correct decisions while they are tired. It is useless to run some 3’s after a hit in the nets because you don’t play all your shots from one end and then jog the runs after the day’s play in a game.
An obvious limitation to this approach is time and the notion that everyone needs to bat at training because they bat on the weekend. But, perhaps if your top order trains to bat for extended periods, then the lower order and tail won’t be required with such regular reliance.
Finally, this method also addresses batting’s TACTICAL side. Watch any typical net session and the longer the player bats, the quicker they try and score. Block or leave the first couple, bat normally for the next few minutes, and then swing from the hip for the ‘last 6’. Talk to batsmen that consistently makes high scores, and they will tell you this is not what happens through a long innings. Your scoring rate will ebb and flow through different periods – you cash in when you can and other times you have to respect good bowling and grind to take the runs you can get. Too many young players believe their strike rate should accelerate the longer they bat.
The overarching principle is that cricket training should be redesigned to reduce the number of errors made by players. As said previously… the best cricketers aren’t more talented, they just make fewer mistakes.
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