When it comes to batting the simpler you can make things, the more consistent you’re going to be. Here are some basic things I look at when coaching batsmen.
First and foremost I believe the most important things to get right are the grip and the bat swing. It is crucial to get this right from a young age as the older the player gets, or the longer a player uses an incorrect technique, the harder it is to change. Muscle memory is developed through repetition so it is important that at the junior levels players are taught how to hold the bat and how to swing the bat. Naturally every one is going to be slightly different but if you get these two things right, the batsman should be able to play the ball all around the ground.
So what is the right technique? Some players hold the bat differently to what is taught in textbooks and aren’t they successful? Yes that’s true! Not everyone holds the bat or swings the same way. Look at Adam Gilchrist for example – he holds the bat really high up on the handle. This gives him leverage and more power. However, with that comes less control and iin fact he said himself that when he was playing in England and the ball was swinging around he moved his hands slightly lower down the handle to give him more control. It is important to also note that Gilchrist did not develop that technique becasue he knew it would help him generate more power. It is just what felt NATURAL to him as a kid.
A perfect shot of Adam Gilchrist holding the bat right up the top
On the other end of the scale if we look at Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag, and they hold the bat pretty low down on the handle. Sachin uses a very heavy bat (around 3 pounds) which obviously helps him to hit the ball harder. Again Sachin only uses a heavy bat because it feels natural to him. If you look at Sehwag, his ability to hit the ball hard comes from a high back-lift and smooth bat swing.
Sachin Tendulkar holding the bat further down the handle
The Bat Swing
Much like kicking a football, or a golf swing you want to get a nice high back-lift that moves in a fluid motion from start to finish. Again, different players are going to have different back-lifts. For example, Brian Lara has an extremely extravagant back-lift with very high hands. The same goes for Ricky Ponting. This gives these two players the ability to play the ball a bit better off the back foot. On the other hand, have a look at Paul Collingwood. He has a much lower back-lift, yet he has still been a very successful player. Personally, I find Brian Lara and Ricky Ponting much better to watch, as they look much more fluid and both have a greater range of shot.
Brian Lara with his high back-lift
Virender Sehwag with a huge back-lift
I like to teach kids to cock their wrists and pick up their bat into a high position with the blade of the bat open facing gully. This allows the bat to come down straight. It is important that from start to finish, the swing stays smooth. At the top the bat will momentarily stop before the down-swing starts. The key is not to stop at the top for too long. Timing is everything!
Batting Stance (Set Up)
The next thing I would look at is the batsman’s stance. When you are teaching youngsters, it is important to make sure that they do not stand too far apart or too close together. Shoulder-width stance gives you the ability as a player to move back or forward quickly and easily without losing a forward lean into the ball. I find that with too wide a stance, batsmen tend to get stuck on the crease and can sometimes end up with their weight a bit behind where it needs to be when they drive the ball off the front foot.
Another common mistake is being too closed off in the stance. The first thing I do is draw a line through both feet which should be pointing left of the bowler or where the ball is coming from. Your feet should be slightly more open for a left arm over the wicket bowler, particularly if they are swinging the ball back in. This will give you or the batsmen you coach better access to the straighter ball, which they need to play on the on-side. Again, different players will stand more open than others. Be careful though not to stand too open as it will make it difficult for you to get side on and limit your ability to play the ball through the off side. For example, Sachin Tendulkar stands pretty closed off, but he can still on-drive and is notably good off his pads. The other player I would like to point out is Shivnarine Chanderpaul who stands completely open, almost facing the bowler. However, he does have a trigger movement which gets him back to a semi-open start position.
Posture and head position are the next two things I look at once the feet are set up correctly. A batter with good posture, slight knee bend and head close to their lead shoulder is going to be better balanced from the start. The trick is to hold this form throughout the shot. Again everyone is built slightly different, so you will see many successful batters that look different in their set up. Its important that you feel comfortable and relaxed at the crease.
The next thing is footwork. Moving your feet well gets you into better positions to hit the ball in the area you want to. Again the basics are important. A big stride forward over a bent front knee, is the first thing to have in check. Then look at the batter to see if he is collapsing his back leg when he drives or plays off the front foot. Good signs if he or she is not.
When playing off the back foot, it is important to use as much of the crease as you possibly can. This becomes more difficult when bowlers are bowling fast, but when facing slower bowlers and spinners, it is key. Being able to get down the wicket to the pitch of the ball, and effectively play back by using most of the crease, you decrease the bowler’s margin for error. To start with, when coaching back foot play, I use a very simple drill. This involves getting the batsman to shadow bat (without a ball) to get the movement of back and cross while staying side-on. Then introduce a ball where they have to move into position and catch the ball in line with their body. Once the batter has grasped the technique, it’s time to introduce hitting the ball. If they lose shape or technique with the bat, then regress to the catching drill. Keep practicing and the correct movement patters will soon become automatic.
Watching The Ball
Obviously the most important part of batting and fielding is that we WATCH the ball. If you have played the game, you have probably heard this many times before, but it’s so true. Graeme Pollock once described batting as a “see the ball, hit the ball” game. We can’t hit what we can’t see, so all the things like footwork, mechanics of the swing, and how we hold the bat, make no difference at all if we don’t watch the ball well. If you see someone who does not move his feet or have a great technique, yet are still able to score runs, you know it’s because they have a good eye and watch the ball very closely.
A great tip I got from Jarrod Turner, University of Queensland cricket coach, is to watch the seam of the ball. The same goes for fielding – both ground fielding and catching.