Tips from PitchVision
EFFECTIVE NET SESSIONS
It's a brilliant idea to practice in a net, but it's poorly done 66% of the time. If you are not getting better, what's the point of dragging your carcass to practice in the first place?
The problem is that when you are practising in a standard net there is nothing on the outcome. If you get out as a batsman you can just have another go. Where is the incentive to improve? It's the same for bowlers who get a shoeing from some hacker who wouldn't last 5 minutes in a match.
Yet, how many times have you gone to nets, had your bowl, had your few minutes in the net and finished with "12 needed off the last 6"?
You see, the difference between "having a hit" and working under pressure to improve your game is the difference between avoiding getting worse and improving.
It's really that dramatic to your game.
So, let's sort it out with one simple word.
The place of nets
Even in these modern days of small sided games, middle practice, technical drills and so on, there is still a place for the humble net.
You just need to keep it there with the leash of accountability.
There are three basic reasons to have a traditional bowler vs. batter net:
- Improving shot selection (or, picking line and length)
- Cricket specific fitness
- Dealing with pressure
Your first job is to pick which horse to ride.
Simply by agreeing the reason for a net you will be ahead of 70% of your peers (at least). You just made your nets accountable.
Want to take it up another notch and hit the top 1% instead?
Tweak the sessions to match the goal.
Review, review, review
The underlying principle is to keep practice deliberate; in other words, to create a loop of practice, review, adapt, practice. This is proven to be the fastest way to learn new skills.
The big change from traditional netting is the need to review.
The good news is that you need to do very little to analyse your practice in nets. It simply takes a few minutes after each session to think about things.
For example, if you are using nets improve your shot selection, you can take a few moments when you get home that evening to journal how you did. Did watching the ball closely work better for you, or do you prefer to take in the whole picture?
Overtime you spot trends of what is working, and what you can discard. You have created your loop.
To go up another step, use PV/VIDEO to see how many balls you played correctly, and how many you misjudged. A coach is useful here, but you can easily do it yourself. Track this over time to watch your percentage shoot up.
Again, simple review is enough to make a difference to your game by transforming nets, but you can get even better by making the feedback even more instant and the practice even more accountable.
Nets for shot selection
We know from research into elite batsmen that facing bowlers improves your ability to quickly pick up line and length. So, nets are ideal.
As we already discussed, using video will allow you to set a benchmark. If you chose the right shot 22% the first net, aim to increase that number by the end of your 5th, 10th and so on.
Sometimes you will go backwards, but as long as the overall trend is up, you know you are on the right track.
There is little you need to change in the session, but things that will help are:
- Review your stance technique regularly to make sure you are still, balanced and with your eyes level.
- Ask bowlers to bowl in overs, to give your more time to pick up clues from the action without worrying about big variations in the ball (like a spinner and a fast bowler).
- Use match scenarios in your mind as this will influence the shot you play. At the death you might hit a length ball, in a long game you might defend. Stick to this for the whole session.
- Select shots based on your strengths. Save experimentation for throw downs or bowling machines and bring new methods to nets when you are confident.
- Experiment with where you look and what works for you.
After the session, review. I can't stress that enough!
Nets for fitness
You can use nets to improve your capacity to work and stay focused for longer periods, like you would in a match. This is difficult in the normal net situation as it is very different from game bowling or batting.
Once fitness is the goal you can make several changes to the structure of nets:
- Bowler's bowl in pairs in overs. Rotate out of the net and do some fielding drills between overs. Bowl for a little more than your usual spell then call it a day.
- Batsmen bat with running for longer periods than the usual 10 minutes. Aim to get at least half an hour (if not more) if you can. Then use running games, and BATEX to better simulate match specific running.
- Batsmen can also rotate in an out of the "fitness" nets in pairs, building in a consequence for losing a wicket. The waiting batsmen can do fitness drills in pads or technical drills.
- Try this setup.
Fitness requires less review time, but don't rely on magic happening by itself. Track your fitness with testing. This may be as simple as noticing you have more gas in the tank when playing games, or as complex as proper test protocols.
Nets for dealing with pressure
This is the biggie, because nets are so often a matter of going through the motions.
Pressure change all that.
It's best for batsmen who want to get work in while also understanding the pressure of losing your wicket. However, bowlers can equally benefit from understanding how to deal with a big hitting batsman or bowling the last over of the game with 5 needed to win.
You can add pressure in a number of ways:
- When you are out you are out. Or, use a points system to be a bit less severe.
- Put a wicketkeeper and perhaps a close fielder in the net (if there is room).
- Set match situations for the bowler and the batsmen. To build up the pressure, only give a few seconds to think abut the scenario before the next ball is bowled.
- Keep league tables of net performances to grow competition between bowlers and batsmen.
- Change "last 6" to "intention 12"
Yet again, all this is for very little unless you review after the session.
How did you respond? How can you better learn to clear the mental noise? How do you get back to "ready" quickly?
Like picking pine and length, and fitness, mental toughness can be improved with the right focus in nets and with the right post training review.
Imagine finally making them useful and not hoping a quick net will do voodoo magic on your game.
Facing Spin Effectively
Have you ever wondered how the best players of spin seem to score off almost every ball that they face?
Players such as AB DeVilliers, Virat Kohli and Hashim Amla rarely face two balls in a row unless they score a boundary. The board keeps ticking over with little or no risk.
The these players have mastered single options to never get tied down even against high quality spin.
Here are the things you can work on to up your rotation skills:
Single down the ground
This is a vital shot as most limited over cricket against spin is played with either one, or both straight men back on the fence. The ability to "beat the bowler" on either side is crucial.
Kohli has learnt that to beat the bowler on deliveries landing anywhere from back of a length to half volley.
Hitting straight singles drill
Many players set up drills where they strike the ball between two goals either side of the anticipated reach of the bowler. Simple use of cones will help to increase a batter's precision. As the skill develops, the goal can be made smaller and smaller to build confidence.
How much of batting is mental?
We certainly know that you ignore what's happening in your head as you bat you will fail more often. Yet, so often the advice is to bat with a clear mind and "trust your technique".
It's certainly true that technical methods rarely change between formats and situations, but if you bat with the same tactics in the last 5 of a Twenty20 as you do opening in the first innings of a 4 day game you are bound for failure.
Similarly, if you spend the time between balls frantically worrying about how the bowler has spotted your weakness outside off stump and poor footwork, you end up playing worse and getting out.
The famous paralysis by analysis.
Of course, there is another batting method, a method that leads to far more success.
The master craftsman batsman is able to find a balance, define the right approach at the right time and seamlessly integrate technique, mental strength, and tactical approach into a whole batting performance.
And it's certainly not a skill that is accessible only to the greats: you can do it too.
Frustration is replaced by clarity and clarity brings runs.
To illustrate this, I'm going to give you a little example from a small success that shows just how this "crafting" approach applies at any level.
Your technique: warts and all
This weekend I had a rare chance to open the batting for my club. I'm no technical master and have only ever had moderate success with the bat. My technique has a number of flaws.
But the key point is this: those flaws are not a problem.
I tend to align poorly on the front foot, leaving me prone to lazy footwork. When I play I am always close to LBW and catches in the covers. I can work on this between games, but it's hard to get enough time to make technical corrections.
There is certainly no time to worry about it between balls.
Here's what I do, and here's what you should do no matter how excellent or poor your technique: Accept the weak areas when you walk out to bat, doing your best to hide them, and play in a way that gets you runs. As opener, I wait for the ball I know I can put away; a long hop or a half volley. I defend everything else. I sweep the spinners if they drift down the leg side. It means I bat slowly unless someone is bowling badly.
How did this work in my first league game opening for 5 years? Not bad: I scored 29 and put on over 100 runs with 2 partners, setting up the side for an above par score. In an better world that 29 might have been 79, but it gave me confidence that my technique can hold out in a longer, higher pressure match.
Where technique meets mental game
Importantly, you can see that technique and mental game have a huge overlap: Your confidence comes from your tactics which comes from your technique.
Where you need strength in your mental game is to be able to go the other way too.
What do I mean by that?
In the heat of battle, you can make technical changes during the game that give you confidence. I'm not taking about changing something fundamental like your like a trigger move, but small adaptations make a huge difference.
Let's go back to my game for an example. The opening bowler was bowling away swing and I edged a couple down early on. I realised he didn't have an in swinger (that often catches me LBW) so I adjusted my guard from 2, to middle. Suddenly I was middling my forward defence and feeling more confident.
SO, while a plan based on technique is crucial, you also need enough awareness and adaptability to adjust, even mid game. It's what war strategists paraphrase by saying "no plan survives enemy contact".
But there is a danger here too.
You can go too far and end up mired.
Think, but not too much
It's one thing to be aware and make a small change, it's quite another to try and change too much, or consider too many options when you are in the middle. The cliché is still true that the only thing that matters is the ball, and a mind full of clutter takes you out of that moment with the ball.
Luckily, the answer is as simple as timing your thinking, as all excellent batsman seem to be able to do, even when not in the perfect zone:
- Between games: technical changes
- Between overs: small technical points that can be easily tried, and shifts in gear
- Between balls: reset and get back to "ready"
The final point is important because you respond differently to the next ball depending on what happened in the last ball. If you smashed it for four you feel great, if you were dropped at slip you feel awful. In both circumstances the best thing to do is learn to wipe away the experience and look at the situation.
For example, if you hit a four over mid off and the fielder goes back, instead of playing the same shot full of adrenaline, wipe your mind, and take the single. Similarly, if you are dropped, assume your luck is in and continue with your plan. You can always review it with your partner at the end of the over if you think you are doing something ridiculously wrong; although you probably are fine.
Mental game isn't important
So, let's put all this together: Mental game is so integrated to batting you cannot extract it's importance. If you bat you have a mental game already, the question is simply how you do it.
It takes some mastery: A balance between technique, tactics and pure mind games. The good news is that anyone can master this with practice and become a craftsman with the bat.
Put in as much effort to this part of your game as you do your technique and you will see your run scoring go through the roof.
Coach Iain Brunnschweiler is standing up for the "lower order run getters" during net sessions.
As Mark Garaway often reminds us, everyone in the team bats, and everyone in the team is allowed to score runs, not just the batters. So why shouldn't everyone practice batting?
The problem is that the tail often go last in nets after the bowler is tired and enthusiasm is waning. With little to practice, the default position is to have a swing. Yet the lower order often have a key role to play:
- support an establish batter to either save a game or eke out a few more runs.
- hit out to score quickly at the death to win a game
Both of these element require skills that need to be practised. So, why not turn a net session over to the tail and let them bat first for a change?
That's the basic theme "Brunchy" has taken for this week's coaching session, but there is plenty of great stuff for everyone in the squad including drills for improving your lateral movement (both warm up and a fielding drill that will fire up even the most apathetic) and specific work for the wicketkeeper. It's all related to the idea that everyone can practice with purpose.
Pre Season Tips
Somewhere in the world right now is a cricketer panicking.
He's panicking because his season starts in two or three weeks and he has spent the winter doing anything but cricket.
He was too busy for nets, he forgot about the gym membership he paid for in January and pressure for his time comes from all sides; family, friends and work.
Maybe that guy is even you.
If it is, you're not alone. Life gets in the way of good intentions.
While you know you can't get the time back, there is some emergency last minute prep you can do to make sure you are in some shape for the first few games and you don't end up making a fool of yourself.
You could call it the 5 minute preseason panic buster. Here is what you do:
1. Make the one net you have count
Ideally you would practice every week a couple of times. You haven't done that up until now, so chances are things are not going to change over the summer and you will have a couple of nets here and there.
Make some time to have one before the first game, then do the following:
- Catching practice. Do your catching first and catch balls in the same way as you would in a game. If you know you will fine leg to mid on, don't spend half an hour working on slip catches. DO enough so you feel a little more confident because catching is as much about confidence as it is skill.
- Skill work. There is no time to make any technical changes to your game, so spend your net focusing on getting the feel back. If you bat, hit a few easy throwdowns, if you bowl look to hit your length, then get out of there before some slogger makes you feel awful about yourself.
2. Don't do any exercise
You have missed your window for physical improvement in the preseason, and most people who try to make up the difference end up overcompensating and getting injured.
You are better off with a little bit of stretching and mobility work every day and forgetting about the gym or going for a run, at least until you can find time to build up slowly.
3. Assess your strengths
One thing you do have time to do is think about how you will play. You can't suddenly make improvements, but with a bit of thought you remind yourself what brought you success in the past so you can do it again in the future.
For example, if you bat you might have a great cover drive but a weakness off your legs. So you decide to look to score through the covers and defend balls on your legs. With just two or three shots you can do very well and avoid getting stressed or cluttering your mind by trying to improve weak areas in games.
Sit down and decide your approach for the season based on your strengths.
4. Get your thinking in order
Speaking of planning, the most important thing you can do with no preseason behind you is build up your confidence. You do that by working out:
- A routine that works for you. You may feel better with a well planned pre-match routine, or a last minute dash to the ground. Whatever works best for you, stick to it.
- A method for handling mistakes. You will make errors, the way you handle them will mark out your success for the season.
- Playing under pressure. Most people don't think about how they will play under pressure but it's an important skill to understand about yourself. Think it through and come up with ways of coping with a run chase or other pressure moment.
Do some thinking and planning like this and you can mitigate some of the damage you caused by missing preseason. There is still hope for you.
The Art of "What If?" Captaincy
When things are not going as planned, the great captains often have a proposal to resolve the situation.
Brian Ashton calls this "and now for something completely different" or "what if" planning.
Brian is one of the world's leading Rugby Union coaches, an incredible thinker and I am lucky to count him as a mentor. He has spoken to me about how great leaders find a way to create order out of chaos.
What does he mean by this?
Imagine you are playing a one day game where your plan is to bowl seamers through powerplay 1. However, the opposition score freely at 9 an over.
You think quickly and change to a spinner with a pre-planned field, key people in key positions and this plan practiced - both physically and mentally - in sessions leading into the match.
And this is not just for when you are in the field. One of the teams that I coached last year had a lower order batter who was excellent at batting against spin. We had a rule that when the spinner warmed up then he would get his pads on and go in next wicket down. He had a free rein and the existing batter knew that they would get off strike to maximize the impact of the "floating" batter.
It's important to note here: Any plan that is not pre-planned and communicated can have devastating impact. The batter who is pushed into action might not be prepared; the batter waiting to go in who is usurped in the order becomes demotivated and loses focus.
Quick thinking takes preparation
If you want to develop your own "what if" plans, then run through them in practice and in team meetings.
This enables you to test their effectiveness and communicate widely. In my experience, this gives the plan the best chance of leading to a successful outcome.
But remember, it is not just down to the captain to make these plans.
Andrew Strauss, as England skipper, found this personally tricky so he would use Stuart Broad as the author of the teams "what if" planning. Use what you have available!
How to stay on track after crushing failure
How does it feel when you get knocked out of an important competition?
Recently, a side I was coaching suffered that exact setback. We had failed to reach the primary goal we were working towards. It hurts. But the response to failure in this way will mould your future successes.
So how do you look it it?
One way is to say "one shining performance can upset even the best laid plans. After all, players are allowed to play well." You can put it behind you knowing there was nothing more you could have done. You solider on week to week through less competitive fixtures.
Maybe you go the other way. We have all had moments where we wake up at 3am with a cold sweat cursing that loose shot or dropped catch. You constantly look back at where you've gone wrong. You formulate a "what if" list that will only serve to infuriate you every time you recollect a missed opportunity.
One of these tends to be the default position.
But we can do better.
I'm sure you realise that moving forwards without focus, or incessantly dwelling on the past, will not produce any real long term benefits.
Moving past crushing failure
The problem is that we've already missed the goal.
Where do we aim now?
This may mean finding a similar objective that is achievable in this new world.
You could also shuffle to the left or the right by changing the type of goal you're working towards.
If the previous goal was based on winning, set them a challenge that's more process based, considering the elements that contribute to winning. Instead of aiming to win the next 5 games, how about targeting taking 40 wickets, scoring 1000 runs, or even creating 5 run outs.
In trying goals that are a little more process based, you'll find that you achieve them. The slightly shift of focus - or change in how you assess success - can divert your players attention away from previous failings.
Measure your new success
Multiple goal setting is a great way to help, combining processes with outcomes:
Over the next 5 games we're going to:
- score from 60% of the deliveries we face.
- win 60% of the games we play.
Invariably the two will work hand in hand. In striving to achieve the process based goal of minimising dot balls, you'll be well set up to meet you outcome goal of winning games.
It's sometimes forgotten, that while goals can give great focus, there are always two possible outcomes, and failure can be a bitter pill to swallow.
So remember, move fast to re-evaluate your objectives, and try to ensure that you get the most out of a losing experience.
Aim to understand it but not be consumed by it. So that next time you target a similar achievement, you're better equipped for the experience.
2.Monster machine gun fielding drill
The coach has a load of balls at his feet and hits a high catch to a fielder, ideally making the player travel a distance before making the catch attempt.
The player catches the ball then they quickly roll it underarm in the general direction of the coach.
The players waiting for their go then collect the balls and underarm back to you when the next catch is in the air.
The coach keeps pumping balls up in the air like a machine gun: Restricting recovery time and fatiguing the player.
With junior players or inexperienced players it is wise to end the drill at 5 successful catches.
With England, we had the players working to 10 successful catches before the drill ended. Coach at the time Duncan Fletcher and myself became good at judging travelling distance to stretch the likes of Collingwood, Pietersen and Anderson. This is a skill that develops over time.
- Start with hard tennis balls and incrediballs in order to test people under fatigue without maximising risk of hand injuries or hot spots.
- Then when the player or group of players are ready you can move onto old and softer fixing balls before moving into match simulation balls.
- Many of the players at school have a first 'Monster Machine Gun' round with their fielding gloves on to allow an increase in highly challenged volume. They then take their gloves off for their final round.