A Batting Secret / Some Erroneous Practices / Final Remarks
Dr. Rene Ferdinands - Department of Physics & Electronic Engineering, The University of Waikato
[This article was written in consultation with Owen Mottau - Batting Technical Specialist, Sri Lanka.]
A Batting Secret - How to Avoid Edges
The cricket bat cannot exceed 4.25 inches in width. To counter a ball that may travel in excess of 90 miles per hour, and move side-ways in the air or off the pitch with a varying degree of bounce, this thin piece of wood seems wholly inadequate. Therefore, it does not take much for a ball to deviate and take the edge of the bat. The biggest problem is for a batter, who has just arrived at the wicket against a swinging ball, when there are several slips and a gully in place. Indeed, nicking it to the slips seems almost inevitable. And, indeed, for the elite batter, this is the most common form of early dismissal. Therefore, if the batter uses a method to reduce the likelihood of edging the ball to the slips, then the probability of making runs is significantly increased.
So, then, what measures can be taken to safeguard against the ball that moves away? Sir Donald Bradman had this to say
"When in form I liked to feel in playing back defensively that I was hitting the ball towards the bowler or mid-on rather than towards cover. It gave me a feeling of security that I was, if anything, coming from outside the line of flight and therefore guarding against a possible slip catch from the ball which went away to the off. It is so much easier to follow the ball which goes towards the leg side." - Bradman (1998)
In other words, to optimise the likelihood of making solid contact with the ball, present a full face to the ball by defending the ball as straight as possible towards the bowler (Video 32). This way the full 4.25 inches is presented to the ball. Defensive shots towards cover probably present only half that much to the ball - about 2.12 inches! When the figures are presented the argument becomes quite convincing. Bradman also talks about playing slightly outside the line of the ball. This means that if the ball does move away the bat is already partially in place to compensate for that movement. Of course, this technique is easier to use against fast bowlers, if the initial movement is back and across prior to delivery. Otherwise, there is less time to move outside the line of the ball. Also, ball contact must be made in front of the body, so that the bat is in a position to follow the ball to the leg side if there is less movement than anticipated, or indeed, if it moves in towards the body. It also goes without saying that a pure side-on back foot position with the foot oriented in the direction of point will inhibit the ability to adopt this strategy.
To guard against the outside edge, the batter should try whenever possible to move outside the line of the ball. Then, if the ball should move away he is already covering for this movement. If there is no such away movement, or the movement is towards the leg-side, the batter can play a glance-type stroke through the leg-side for perhaps one or two runs. Of course, this strategy will only work if the batter's feet are pointing in front of the batting crease, and contact is made well in front of the body.
On the front a foot a similar approach can be adopted (Figure 1). If the front foot strokes are executed with the front foot pointed towards extra-cover then it is easy to play straight down or slightly outside the line of the ball. Again, bat contact must occur in front of the body. Any movement away to the slips is then partially compensated for. However, any movement in towards the leg can also be countered by turning the wrists as in a glance. With the bat in front, and the eyes directly behind the ball, there is little that can go wrong.
Defending outside the line of the ball on the front foot: The bat must make contact in front of the pad, so that if the ball deviates to the leg-side, the ball can be worked easily with the movement by rolling the wrists on impact. In addition, the forward position of the bat ensures that the weight is transferred fully down into the stroke. The bat is also closer to the pitch of the ball. Even if there is significant away movement of the ball upon pitching, an outside edge is likely to travel on the ground.
Figure 1. Steve Waugh, one of the world's most consistent batsmen, has an initial movement, which after a little flutter of the front foot is essentially back and across. This enables him to plays balls that are pitched on off stump straight down the wicket. Note how far he has moved outside the line of the stumps in this stroke, and the open position of his hips.
Finally, a word on how to miss the ball successfully! Even with the techniques described, it is not possible to hit every ball in cricket. There are balls that will move more than the amount that can be realistically compensated for. The art then is to play and miss, not play and nick! The great batters know how to play and miss the ball when the delivery has done too much. Generally, a sound method is to drop the wrists or play inside the line of the ball if it cannot be defended in arc running from mid-on to mid-off. Bradman was a strong advocate of this principle. With his unique 'pronated' grip, his blade was actually slightly closed at impact, so any deviations away to the slips more often than not passed harmlessly by the outside edge of the bat. It may look like the batter is continually playing and missing, and the bowler may think that he/she is very unlucky. However, the batter is scientifically missing the ball! Conversely, batters that continually 'nick' the ball to the wicketkeeper and slips are those that do not move into the correct position to defend the ball with the full blade of the bat. Instead, a majority of their defensive strokes are played towards cover or even point.
Some Erroneous Practices
There have recently been some batting drills that were devised supposedly according to the principles of biomechanics. These drills are now becoming standard items of practice throughout the cricketing world. The purpose of this section is to briefly show why these drills run counter to principles of sound batting biomechanics.
The Inver Drills
The Inver drill is performed with the objective of optimising driving power against a ball that is rolled along the ground towards the batter (Video 34). To obtain maximum bat speed in this case, the batter uses a back lift above shoulder height, with the bat face open. The right elbow is pushed out and positioned under the bat. Then, as the ball approaches, the bat is accelerated with the shoulders and pulled down with both arms. When the bat reaches about the level of the hips, the wrists start rolling as in a golf drive, and contact is made well behind the front foot with the body beside the ball. During the moment of contact, the wrists are accelerating bottom one over the top as in a golf swing, and the bat finishes across and over the leading shoulder during the follow-through. Reasonable power can be generated in this stroke. However, it is difficult to see how this stroke is related to the drive in cricket. It has more similarities with the drive in golf. This is an example where biomechanics can go very wrong: when a qualitative optimisation approach is not performed within the appropriate constraints. Obviously the Inver drill is designed to optimise bat speed - but what are the constraints? The head and eyes are not behind the ball! This is a fundamental constraint in all vertical bat strokes. When this constraint is ignored, the stroke becomes irrelevant (Figure 2). In fact, the vertical bat constraint is violated as well. At contact, the left elbow is dropped, and the right shoulder brought around, rendering it almost impossible to maintain a vertical bat. Also, what about the cost function - i.e. minimising the time to execute the stroke? A high back lift is required to generate power because ball contact is made behind the front leg, and the weight cannot therefore be wholly transferred into the ball.
Figure 2. Contact phase during the Inver drill. In frame 1 at ball contact, the body is effectively beside the body, and the head tilted and outside the line of the ball. Also, contact is made behind the front leg. In frame 2, after ball contact, the bat has almost completely rolled over. It is interesting that there are even discussions in golf about the value of reducing the amount and rate of wrist roll during the contact phase. Lee Trevino and Mindy Blake are two proponents of the theory that an optimal swing in golf should be designed by not only optimising for club head speed, but also for the degree of clubface squareness before and after contact. However, in cricket it seems that things are going in the opposite direction: reducing the period that the bat face remain square to the ball before and after ball contact.
In fact, the drill itself does not conform to constraints of normal play. It is very rare that a ball rolls on the ground towards a batter in a match. Therefore, to design a drill with the purpose of optimising bat speed against this type of delivery is very difficult to justify rationally. It is indeed very surprising to see even experienced coaches using this drill to instruct young players on the art of driving. It is almost impossible to design another drill that goes so much against the basic fundamentals of technique in cricket. One may as well use the standard baseball stroke as a batting drill, and claim its usefulness based on the development of bat speed. The authors believe that the use of this drill poses the biggest threat to the development of young players, and strongly advise that it is removed from all coaching programmes, particularly those that are designed for younger players.
Notes: Rolling the wrists can be used for front foot strokes through cover or finer; but these strokes are played differently from the vertical bat straighter drives. The finer the stroke the more oblique the swing plane of the bat: this constrains the head to be inside the line of the ball as contact is made behind the front leg. In such cases, rolling the wrists adds to the power and control of the stroke. There may be other times when an experienced player will choose to play a drive by rolling the wrists, but this stoke is best left to the experts, and not a necessary one. For example, Sir Donald Bradman with his extreme pronated batting grip, i.e. the V of his top left hand runs to the bottom inside edge of his bat, could roll the wrists during the follow through of certain drives and yet maintain a vertical bat during the ball contact phase.
Drop and Skip Drills
This drill involves two people - a batter and a 'dropper' (Video 35). The dropper is about 2-3 m away from the batter, and drops a ball vertically from above the head. The batter then skips down the wicket using the cross-over step and strikes the ball on the half-volley with maximum bat speed. Unfortunately, this well-intentioned drill to aid a batter to run down the wicket against spin bowling does not conform to the correct technical constraints. Because the ball is dropped vertically and the batter has to hit the ball on the half-volley while keeping it on the ground, it is not possible to strike the ball in front of the advancing leg. This is similar to the kind of stroke executed in the Inver-type drills: the weight is not transferred fully, a high back lift is used, the wrists roll over at impact, and the body and head are beside the line of the ball. Again, it is difficult to see how this drill is related to the art of playing spin bowling. To bat against spin bowling, the batter should mentally 'look' to make contact in front of the eyes. Quality spin bowlers continually change the trajectory of the ball's flight, so it is essential for the batter to adopt a position that allows for last minute adjustments to the stroke. This can only be achieved if the batter keeps the eyes behind the line of the ball with the intention of meeting the ball in front of the pad. To make contact with a ball under the eyes after skipping down the wicket would require the batter to travel further and quicker, as well as decide very early on in the ball's flight the landing position of the ball. There is little chance of effective stroke adjustment should the need arise. Also, it is totally impractical to roll of the wrists at impact against a spinning ball, which usually possesses a hefty component of top-spin. There would be a good chance of lifting the ball. Again, the design of this drill is an example of a pseudo-biomechanical effort to optimise bat speed without considering the appropriate technical constraints.
The purpose of batting is to score as many runs as possible within a reasonable period of time. To do this, the batter has to occupy the crease. Many of the principles we have discussed serve a dual purpose: to increase scoring options, and to decrease the probability of dismissal - not just to increase bat speed! Therefore, the methods we have proposed are designed to increase the run-scoring ability of batters.
Technically, we have formulated a new conceptual framework in which to optimise batting performance. Concepts such as bat position, lateral hip shift, lifting the rear foot, the Ranjitsinjhi principle, and the C.B. Fry Swing theory are a radical departure from the traditional description of batting technique. However, they have been conceptualised according to a qualitative optimisation method, and evidence of their effectiveness is found in the techniques of the world's most elite batters.
A look at the batting statistics of the world will show a huge gap between the world's greatest batsman ever, Sir Donald Bradman, and the rest. An average of 99.94 is staggering, but it is still surprising that no-one else has even averaged in the 70's, in any era of cricket. The great batsmen are considered to average over 50, and the good ones over 40. However, this is still such a long way from 'the Don'. It is true, perhaps, that in the modern game it is not possible to score like Bradman, because the game has changed significantly - bowlers are faster and fitter, fielding standards are much higher, and so on. But, why were there not any other batsmen in Bradman's era that averaged in the 60's let alone the 90's? Even though bowling and fielding standards have become more professional, there is still the argument that perhaps the techniques of the elite batsmen in the world, are not optimal, and therefore batting averages are lower than they should be. Alternatively, it can be argued that secret of Bradman's success lay in his wonderful eyesight and reflexes? Or, that he had a phenomenal strength of mind? Whatever the case, the purpose of this article is to show how a qualitative biomechanical analysis of batting technique can provide coaches with the means to improve batting performance when the appropriate constraints are defined. No doubt these techniques can be further refined, and the qualitative analysis method improved, but we believe that the essential techniques described here have the potential to significantly improve a batter's run-making ability. And, perhaps, it is possible for elite batters like Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara and Steve Waugh to average in the 70s rather than the 50s.
We also believe that the techniques developed in this article should be incorporated into the national training programmes of cricket playing countries. This would particularly benefit those countries that do not have either the population or resources to compete with the top playing nations of the world. It is important in this case to increase the number of quality players by teaching them the cricket skills that really do improve performance.