In the first of a series that sees professional coaches recommend the optimal approaches to practice, Middlesex bowling coach Richard Johnson talks us through a genuinely effective bowling workout when preparing for one-day cricket.
Club training sessions generally last for around two hours. As a coach, you will get nothing from making your bowlers bowl all the way through them. If you tell a bowler they’re supposed to bowl for even an hour, they’ll just try to get through it and bowl within themself instead of focusing on honing their skills.
Bowlers get most out of short, sharp sessions. You want your bowlers to give you 100 per cent all the time, rather than just bowl for an extended period of time without any aims.
The following session is one of my favourites and is designed to get our bowlers at Middlesex to prepare properly for a one-day game.
WARM UP – THE MEDICINE BALL
The biggest mistake made at club level is bowlers going immediately into a net without warming up. But even when you do a warm up, it’s important to do it as quickly as you can.
More and more bowlers incorporate the medicine ball into their pre-net and pre-match routines. Slamming the ball down on either side activates your core and side muscles in anticipation of the pressure and force you’re going to exert on them.
Holding the medicine ball above your head, with your legs shoulder width apart, slam it down to your left so that it hits the ground about a foot away from your left foot. Pick up the ball and repeat to your right. This is one “side slam”. Do the whole thing five times.
Adopt the same start position with the ball but this time place one foot forward, with your head above your knee. Slam the ball in front of your front foot then repeat with your other foot forward. This is one “front-on slam”. Do the whole thing five times.
You can warm your arms, shoulders and legs up, but ultimately, there are muscles you use when bowling that you only use when bowling. It’s very hard to loosen these particular areas individually – bowling is the best way to do that! Start by bowling off one pace, then five, gradually working yourself into your full run-up, without going all out.
At Middlesex, we do this on the outfield into a baseball mitt, but it can also be done in a net. It’s important that if you do use this drill in a net that there’s not a batsman at the other end. As soon as you put competition down the other end, a bowler will start to over-exert themself.
Start with just one pace before going into your bowling action. Do this two or three times and then extend to half the length of your run-up and repeat. Then three quarters and, finally, your full run-up. Gradually increase the intensity as the drill goes on, but you should only be going 100 per cent in the final walkthrough.
Now you’re ready to bowl.
This is one of my favourite drills to do with our bowlers. Here, we’re looking for them to practise hitting those different lengths that you’ll have to hit on a Saturday. You can have has many as two to six bowlers in a net doing this. There’s still no batsman.
Set up target discs, or even sheets of paper, on a good length, wide yorker and yorker length, and a bouncer length. For the yorker, you can use the base from a set of Kwik Cricket stumps. It makes it a larger area, but any ball in that area is always going to cause trouble. Also, it’s important not to make these drills too hard because you want your bowlers leaving these sessions with confidence.
Standing as the umpire, call out a target for the bowler to hit (good length, yorker, wide yorker or bouncer) when the bowler is at the top of his mark. He or she will then run in and attempt to hit the designated target.
After a bit of time, introduce a bit of competition into the session by keeping score, which will in turn create a bit of pressure. Get each bowler to remember their score – or note them down if you don’t trust them! I did this drill the other day with a few of our young second team bowlers, who all put money into a pot, winner takes all. Do this over three rounds, with each bowler getting six goes in each.
For the final round, make things more difficult by calling the target as the bowler enters his jump/gather, so they have to react and adjust instantly to the call. This also replicates when a batsman moves in or around his crease as the bowler’s running in, trying to disrupt his length and or line. This enables them to practice making snap decisions on where they are going to put the ball and still do it with quality.
Now we introduce a batsman and set up match scenarios which he and the bowler have to play out to see who comes out on top.
A net can often be crowded, especially at club level when you only have two or three lanes. The best way to ease congestion is for two bowlers to work in tandem for one over, then two others swap in, giving the first two a rest period. Within the pair, each bowler bowls six balls each – when the first bowler has bowled, he will walk back to his mark, by which time his partner would have already gone through. Therefore each bowler’s six balls are being bowled in the same amount of time as a normal match over.
Start off with the first five overs of a game and bowl in your pair with a new or newish ball – if the batsman allows it! Inform the batsman of the field set, and he will try and get the target you set.
Afterwards, move to a death situation, bowling with an older ball, again in your pair, changing the field setting to one that’s a bit more spread out given that it’s the latter overs.
Keep score by setting targets that have to be defended and try and make it as realistic to a match situation as possible. This is a difficult one because sometimes you have to have a few bowlers in your net. But provided you can all keep score, there’s no reason why this won’t work.
Turn this into a consequence session if you like; if the batsman gets the runs or the bowler restricts the batsmen, they have to do a forfeit. It’s usually a physical challenge. Generally, the more tiring the better!
By this time, you’ve bowled about 10 overs. This is perfect for match preparation, especially when you take into account how focused each of those overs were.
As well as your normal cool down, elastic Therabands are a great way to stretch out the muscles, especially your back and shoulder muscles. Another key part of recovery is rehydration. Make sure you have a water bottle at hand throughout training and continue to use it after the session is over.