Some coaches suggest that batsman should take the bat directly back over middle stump. I think their rationale is to try to get the batter to somehow play straighter. However, the best players in the world tend not to have done it that way and in fact if we look at the mechanics of the bat swing it is quite hard to cock your wrists and get your bat to go straight back behind you. It is more natural to pick up the bat towards first or even second slip. However, we have to be very careful as coaches that we do not over coach this skill. I believe if you start with your hands close to your body in your set up you will naturally pick up the bat anywhere from over off stump to around about second slip. My feeling is that if you have a good grip and set up then you will most likely pick the bat up well too. I think it is really important as coaches that we create a good base to work from and then let each player do what comes most naturally to them, within reason of course. We don’t want the pick up going towards point because that is just going to create an inside out swing which is not going to be very effective. Having the bat still and going back towards middle stump is also not ideal as it’s going to limit the batters freedom and consequently range of shot.
I think one thing that is really important though is having the bat face open in the pick up. Again, I believe if we get the set up right and we have a good grip then this will just happen naturally when the wrists are cocked as the bat is picked up. If we look at the two images below of arguably the greatest batsmen of all time they both show this perfectly. I have only seen a handful of clips of Bradman but I have watched Sachin since he started in international cricket and in my opinion their techniques are as good as anyone that has ever played the game. This is why Sachin is making so many runs at an age that most have had to give up the game. Naturally as you get older your reactions slow down yet Sachin keeps scoring runs and big runs too. His skills, coordination and experience do play a role but I believe his tight technique has been a significant factor to his success in recent times.
There are two other batsman worth looking at that have higher back lifts and the bat face open at the top – Brian Lara and Ricky Ponting. In their prime they were often compared to Sachin and rightly so as they are two greats of the game. Many believe Brian Lara was the best of all time which I find quite hard to argue with especially after watching him bat. He was extraordinary!
Lets look closely at these guys back lifts – they both get the bat up very high particularly Brian Lara which makes it easier to play the ball off the back foot. I think this really gave them a little more range of shot and made them arguably the most destructive players of the modern era. Ricky would pull balls back off a length and then drive balls that were pitched a little fuller on the up through point. Brian Lara was similar. He could hit good length balls off the front and back foot on both sides of the wicket.
Their techniques are not perfect though! Their hands get a little bit further away from their their body than Tendulkar or Bradman. I am not saying this is wrong but the consequences are that if you get it wrong you are more likely to get squared up because the swing tends to come from out to in. Just look at how Glenn Mcgrath got Lara out a number of times. He either went across him or came around the wicket to create that angle in while trying to take the ball away from him.
If we look at Ricky Ponting in recent times, he is getting squared up a little more too. His reactions are not as fast as they once were which now makes it difficult for him especially if the bowler is able to take the ball away from him. I am not saying Ricky is not good enough to play test cricket or that he wont score any more test hundreds. In fact I think he will. I just don’t think he will ever dominate attacks like he once did. Another thing I have noticed recently is that Ricky is is not hurting bowlers as much with the pull shot. As a result the bowlers are not under as much pressure as they once were. Their margin for error has grown bigger in a way!
In saying this I don’t think as a coach we should ever try to change someone that bats with a similar technique to say a Brian Lara or Ricky Ponting. If someone told Brian he shouldn’t pick up the bat that way and he listened to them, then he never would have been the batsman he was. I think correcting technical flaws is one thing but we have to be very careful that we don’t take away something that feels natural to someone especially if it is working for them. Let’s get the basics right, set a good foundation for our young players and encourage them to be free at the crease. This way we will get to see more Brian Lara’s and Ricky Ponting’s play test cricket. It’s characters like these with skill and flare that we need more of in the game.