The question that naturally arises from my last post, Batting 102, is: why all this focus on where the ball will land? To answer that, we turn to the mechanics of batting.
There is more to hitting a cricket ball than simply swinging the bat with your arms. Your body’s largest muscles are in your legs and torso, so hitting a cricket ball involves your whole body. The same applies in tennis – when an elite tennis player hits a forehand, 50% of the force comes from his leg muscles. In golf, it’s what David Leadbetter (coach of Nick Faldo) calls the “athletic swing” – the power comes from an active, rotating body, not just the biceps.
In cricket, the transfer of the batsman’s weight is essential to every cricket shot, either onto the front foot to send full-pitched balls back in the direction they came from, or onto the back foot to allow a free rotation of the body for horizontal bat shots.
For every ball that a batsman faces, he must make this crucial decision: forwards or backwards. You will often hear commentators noting that a batsman’s downfall was brought about by “being caught on the crease” i.e. moving neither forward nor back. And the decision is based solely on the length of the ball i.e. how far down the pitch it bounces. Weight transfer is also the movement that takes the most time to execute. Hence, it should be the batsman’s priority. We have answered the question posed at the start: the batsman’s first task is to predict where the ball will land in order to accurately inform the forwards vs. backwards decision.
Every youngster who takes up cricket is given this advice: “watch the ball right onto the bat”. It’s not that the advice is wrong – it just has the wrong emphasis. It is the first stages of the balls flight that contain the most important information for the batsman. The final 0.2 seconds are irrelevant. The important thing is to watch the ball right out of the bowler’s fingers. This is the point where the “quiet eye” should be focussed.
This isn’t a particularly revolutionary conclusion, as the following quotes demonstrate:
“The most important thing about batting is to see the ball released from the bowler’s hand … pick up the ball as early as possible, then you can work out the length of the ball.”
Bob Simpson (former Australian coach, on working with Steve Waugh in the early 1990’s):
“When Steve started watching the ball out of the bowler’s hand, he suddenly had an extra metre to pick up the line and length of the ball, giving him extra time to get himself in the right position to play the appropriate stroke. “
What is the relevance of all this to sports psychology? A key mental ability in cricket is the ability to concentrate, especially in high-pressure situations and over long periods of time. But what exactly is concentration? Sports psychologists define concentration simply as “what you attend to.” As Griffiths notes, “it is not a question of whether you are concentrating or not … The question becomes ‘What are you concentrating on?’”
We can isolate what a batsman should be concentrating on, the task he should be attending to. The batsman’s task is to watch the ball right out of the bowler’s fingers, to pick up the length as soon as possible in order to make a decisive forward vs. backward movement.
But as Griffiths notes, “most people who tell you to concentrate cannot tell you how to concentrate.” How do you direct and control your concentration? We’ll start to answer this question in my next post.
Introduction to Batting in Cricket: Mechanics, Visual Strategy and Psychology
Other posts in this series:
- Batting 101: Don’t Watch The Ball
- Batting 102: Visual Speedometer
- Batting 103: Swing More Than The Bat
- Batting 104: A Concentration Model
- Batting 105: Don’t Think About It
- Batting 106: How To Build A Routine