In the second of our series that sees professional coaches share their wisdom on the optimal approaches to practice, Nottinghamshire batting coach Paul Johnson talks us through the methods he uses to get his charges primed for match action.
One of the most important things in club cricket is to adopt a professional approach to preparation. If you’ve been playing club cricket for a few seasons in the same team you will start to know your opposition fairly well. That sort of insight is invaluable to your work in the week leading up to a game.
If you know the team on the weekend has a right-arm bowler who swings it away or a good left-arm spinner, then replicate that in your preparation with your own bowlers, throw-downs or with the bowling machine.
WARM UP – LADDER WORK
A lot of the decision making process in batting is based around fast footwork – whether that’s because you’re getting your feet to the ball and in position quickly, or distributing your weight effectively front and back. The key to this drill is that you don’t necessarily need a ladder to do this – if you don’t have one, this drill works perfectly well if you just close your eyes and perform it. Closing your eyes forces you to take care in where you place your feet and visualise moving your feet at the crease. Visualisation is key to good fast feet drills.
DRILL: Set out a training ladder and pad up. Stand side-on, looking over your shoulder as if you are about to take guard. Shuffle back and forth, making sure your feet are landing correctly between the spokes. First, imagine yourself facing two short balls, then two full balls. Keep that up for two minutes, focusing on two steps forward, one step back.
Underarm throws are less effort and more accurate
The reason I’m suggesting underarm throws is because it’s much more accurate and doesn’t require too much from your partner, who will only be five or six yards away from you. You’ll hit a high percentage of balls compared to someone throwing overarm from 18 yards. It ensures the practice is worthwhile.
This drill is a good way of working on your forcing shots – ones that require you to use your power as much as your timing – such as your pulls and cuts. This will get your upper body moving in tandem with your feet and start bringing things together. From here, work on your drives, making sure you are hitting all balls sweetly before making your way to the net.
NB Tennis balls can be used for this drill.
DRILL: Get a partner to underarm balls around your head and chest area to get your head moving and bobbing and weaving. Then move forward into your full balls but, for these, make them full tosses below knee height. This entire routine should last between five to 10 minutes and be short and sharp.
8 to 10 pulls
8 to 10 cuts
8 to 10 back-foot defence
8 to 10 back-foot drives
8 to 10 off drives
8 to 10 on drives
The worst case scenario for any coach is when someone wants to use the bowling machine to feed themselves some half volleys outside off stump. I call these ‘feel good’ nets; we have a couple at Notts who like doing this – and I ask them what they are trying to work on. Often they can’t answer without admitting they just want to aimlessly hit balls.
When you go on the bowling machine you need to be challenged intensely over a short period of time, until you feel you can handle it well. If it takes a dozen or 20-odd balls then great, but walk away knowing you’re in a good place technically and mentally. If it takes longer then fine, but you don’t want to be dragging it on unnecessarily.
Look to work on certain shots or kinks in your game that you have noticed from the net that you need to sort out before the forthcoming match. As mentioned earlier, it could also be used to replicate a particular bowler you might face – i.e. a quick bowler who might stick one up your nose or attack your stumps relentlessly. Make sure the angle of the machine is right for the particular bowler you’re trying to replicate and make sure the ball is coming from the appropriate place on the crease. This shouldn’t go on for longer than 10 minutes.
This is probably the hardest thing to get right in the club game because often you’ll have five or six bowlers in a net.
Make sure your nets are purposeful, not just aimless hitting
The key is not to just have a generic net where you hit a handful of good shots, some poor ones and some stupid ones. You’ve got to be hard on yourself in what you’re trying to do and not try to play every shot because it’s ‘just a net’. The bowlers at the same time will respect it rather than you playing callous and carefree and giving them the hump. Then they’ll try and knock your head off and it all becomes utterly useless.
Each batsman should set themselves a target. For example, they may aim to leave a dozen balls outside off stump, which is key for an opening batsman. They may take that further and say, ‘Right, I’m not going to hit a ball to the off side in the air’. It’s also important to set realistic targets to the bowlers you are facing so you can come out of the net feeling that you’ve accomplished something.
The discipline of starting and learning to get yourself in isn’t adhered to very well at club level yet they then wonder why they get out so early on the weekend.
Start slowly for your first six balls and then start to play your routine shots. Most players have two shots they play well – stick to those until you get a bit more comfortable and are starting to see the ball well.
AND, IF YOUR GROUNDSMAN ALLOWS IT…
If you’re playing at home, get out in the middle with your bat and stand at the crease. Visualise the start of your innings and take your guard and look up to take in all the scenery behind the bowler’s arm. Otherwise, do this when you get to the opposition’s ground. It’s these small things that make a big difference.