With the new season looming, club batsman and AOC editor Phil Walker headed to Oxford to net with Gary Palmer, freelance batting coach and technical consultant to Alastair Cook.
Two years ago, England’s then Test captain, Alastair Cook, was out of form. One century in 15 Tests, on top of the loss of the one-day captaincy, spoke of a cricketer at a pivotal point in his career.
Enter Gary Palmer, the former Somerset allrounder turned freelance batting coach. Palmer was convinced he could assist. He contacted Cook’s longtime mentor Graham Gooch, who encouraged them both to meet. “Cooky was in a position where he needed some help,” he says.
Thus began a fruitful partnership. For Cook, driving out, kitbag in the boot, to the Palmer Batting Lab in Oxford, these one-to-one sessions helped bring about a technical adjustment and a swift return to form. “Gary and I started working together in April 2015. In my eyes there is no coincidence that my form has improved,” he said. For Palmer, Cook’s endorsement enabled his theories, evolved over a lifetime spent in the game, to reach a wider audience.
Cooky’s technique has improved. Batting has become easier and he has more options to score down the ground when he wants to up the run rate. He has more attacking shots in his locker and he can score more freely – Palmer
I remember reading about Palmer’s methods at the time and being intrigued by his insistence that a batsman can be “too side-on”. As kids we were coached to believe that cricket is a side-on game, but Palmer’s belief that staying rigidly side-on “limits your straight bat shots down the ground” struck an immediate chord.
Palmer believes, conventionally, that the fundamentals of technique begin with presenting the full face of the bat and hitting back past the bowler. “Hitting the ‘V’ is the sound framework that you build your other shots around.”
But where Palmer differs from “the textbook”, as he describes it, is how he gets a batsman hitting through there. As one who rarely hits through the ‘V’, I wanted to know if Palmer’s techniques could be applied to me.
– To be versatile as a batsman, you need to have good alignment, good balance, and full completion on your shots when hitting down the ground.
– The A, B and C of Alignment, Balance and Completion are my non-negotiables.
– If you do these core principles, you will have multiple scoring options to various deliveries. You will be in a good position to hit the ball where you want to.
Palmer believes that a more chest-on, open stance, with the feet pointing down the pitch, “as if you’ve just come off a ski jump”, accesses that area past the bowler more effectively than from a traditional side-on position.
He began by getting me to drive pitched-up Bola Bowling Machine balls from my traditional side-on stance. As usual, I would tend to play ‘in-to-out’, often hitting extra cover rather than mid-off, and mid-off instead of straight.
After five minutes, Palmer altered my stance, getting me to do the following:
– Point my feet straight down the pitch
– Position my front foot slightly in front of my back foot, while keeping the legs close together
– Open up the chest, squaring it off to the target
– My left shoulder cleared out of the road
– Get my head more upright and my eyes level
– My weight coming forward towards the target
KEY TIP: The key to hitting straight for a right-hander is keeping the left shoulder out of the way throughout the full completion of the shot
Palmer lined up a series of hitting drills, or his “grooving system” – known as the “Four Angles”: hitting mid-on, straight, mid-off and extra cover. To begin with, I was encouraged just to hit through the line from my reconfigured stance. After that, to allow for a degree of foot movement into the shot. Further still, to accentuate the forward motion of the shot by following the ball’s path, stepping out of my crease while keeping my hands extended – the ‘Completion’ aspect of Palmer’s ABC.
Initially it felt weird. But after another bag of balls, as the body began to adapt to the new technique, I began regularly hitting straight and through mid-on, without getting ‘closed off’ and with a full face of the bat. I had never got close to hitting the ball as cleanly through the ‘V’ before. The adjustment may have been dramatic, but so were the results. Now. on the eve of the season, begins the challenge of turning theory into practice, and practice into runs.
Palmer says: “The technique works well for the pull shot. If you’re open, you can hit it more in front of square, rather than just hoicking it behind square from a sideways position. In the Eighties Peter Willey went to the West Indies, got peppered, and came back standing chest-on. Why? Because he found that was the easiest way to deal with the short ball. And while being sideways does make you a smaller target, it closes you up, it stops you having that big area to defend or attack. When you’re side-on and the ball’s straight, you tend to work around it, which is restrictive.”
THE SWINGING BALL
Palmer says: “People think that when the ball is swinging you need to be side-on. I believe you’ve got to be more open so you can go in or out, and adjust to the small deviations and changes of angle.”