Sunday 2 December 2012

FITNESS : Fitness for Fast Bowlers Made Simple

This is a guest article from Strength and Conditioning Coach John Cook

Here is a no brainer: speed is one of the most important factors in bowling. By reducing the decision making time of the batsman, you increase your chances of taking wickets and reduce the chances of conceding runs.
An old school of thought is that simply bowling more will increase both your bowling speed and ‘toughen up’ your body to prevent injury.
But over-bowling is one of the primary predictors for injury.
Page of references, all on ‘bowling overuse’ reveal numerous studies that prove this fact.
So if an increase in bowling workload doesn't provide the desired performance boost, how can an increase in pace be achieved?
Whilst technique is vital for optimal bowling velocities, optimal technique is not possible when you lack fitness.
Physical fitness is not just how far you can run, or how many biceps curls you can do. The idea encompasses a range of interrelated physiological parameters, including strength, power, speed, agility, endurance, flexibility, reaction time, body composition and many others.

Train to play
So you must first analyse and understand the physical demands of your sport.
A needs analysis means we can incorporate exercises into our training program that are beneficial to performance and remove those that are not.
So we are not only making our training specific, but also efficient by in essence ‘removing waste’ from the workout.
Just a short example: the widely used bicep curl.
The role of the bicep muscles is to flex the elbow, but since the laws of cricket require the ball to be delivered with a straight arm, do we really need this exercise in a bowling workout routine?
Conducting a thorough needs analysis is vital for success. We use a number of methods to determine the requirements of the sport; simply watching the movements and analysing the positions achieved can tell us a lot, but not everything. Some subtleties of a sports physical requirement are only discovered through laboratory or field research and fortunately for us, this is often documented in journal articles.
So what exactly would you include in your training program?
Let's start with an element of fitness that is overlooked by most young cricketers.

Mobility for Cricket
Your ability to reach a certain posture or position is vital for the fast bowler. The ability to achieve stability in these positions is referred to as mobility. Just look at this picture of Brett Lee for an example.
If Brett Lee had short, tight hamstrings and equally short pectoral muscles, he would not be able to achieve this strong, stable loading position and would not deliver the ball with the same force.
For some individuals who lack this mobility therefore, an aim of physical training sessions may mean lengthening short tissues or reducing tension in overly stiff tissues.
While for others, it may be about establishing stability in the range of motion that one already possesses.
An athlete should be mobile enough to achieve the proper positions in the sport, and be strong and explosive enough to move from those positions.
So given we can see that Brett Lee has a good hamstring range, does research in cricket also find hamstring range is important?
It turns out it does, but for improving performance in a different way; keeping you on the field by reducing injury. Bowlers who have poor hamstring flexibility are predisposed to lower back injury.
Another mobility issue linked to injury is the ankles. Research found that bowlers with a reduced range in the ankle were at a significantly increased risk of injury compared to those with a large range.
So how do we work this into our routine?
One common method is by performing a dynamic mobility warm up prior to your training session. An example of an exercise that I currently use with athletes is the ‘inchworm’ as these work your hamstrings and ankles and you need to maintain stability through a range of motion using your core.
Performing these and other mobility exercises before a training session acts as a good warm up, by raising body temperature, activating muscles you intend to train and improving mobility.
A second attribute of fitness you can work on as a fast bowler is strength.
But where do we need strength and what is the best way to develop this?
This is where examining the literature can aid us. Simply looking at the bowling action may lead you to believe that bowling is an upper body strength activity. What may surprise you then is that the lower body has more relevance.
Research by Phillips and colleagues showed significant contributions by the lower extremities in the way in which bowling speeds were generated. A study in 2006 also highlighted the fact that the higher velocity bowlers had greater lower body strength levels.
More specific to this, analysis has shown that the centre of mass deceleration over the delivery stride phase was the strongest predictor of ball speed in fast bowling groups.
Given that the legs need to absorb forces of around 4 times your bodyweight, it is clear a large amount of strength is required in the legs.
So how is the best way to build strength in the legs?
The squat would be the obvious choice, but can we improve on this?
Bowl on one leg, train on one leg
Looking at the bowling action, we can see that the large forces are distributed on just one leg.
A new study tested the difference in muscle activity and testosterone response to unilateral and regular back squats.
Researchers were surprised that the unilateral squats triggered a slightly greater testosterone response than the bilateral back squats. Both exercises produced comparable muscle activity in the lower body.
Training using just one leg also increases stability and experimental evidence has shown that more weight can be handled using single leg methods.  
Additionally, mobility issues - where the back rounds at the bottom of a squat - are removed by using single leg variations such as the split squat and Bulgarian split squat.
A more cricket specific way of training the legs for cricket therefore may be to incorporate single leg exercises into your routine.

Developing explosive power
Strength is important, but to bowl fast we also need power to get the ball down the other end quickly.
When compared to other sports, fast bowling displays similar patterns to javelin and baseball pitching, where by the largest body parts actively accelerate and decelerate smaller body parts.
In such a sequencing pattern, the stronger more heavily muscled proximal joints should become active before the weaker but faster distal joints. This means strength training should be focused on the more central muscles as previously discussed.
While the impact that the lower body must cope with at the is quite high, the relative resistance that the upper body must overcome is very low.
You only get about 0.15-0.18 of a second for force to be generated. As a result training maximum strength development in the upper extremities may be pointless as the fast bowler may not have sufficient time to reach maximum force capability.
In fact for the upper body, slow and heavy resistance training may even decrease maximum rate of force development
Ballistic and explosive type training, on the other hand, increasse maximum rate of force development.
Medicine ball training has been shown to increase the speed at which the upper body limbs can exert force and is a more suitable training method for the upper body than traditional weight training.

Final thoughts
In this brief analysis, It has been shown how analysing a sport and determining the physiological requirements is vital in designing a fitness training program.
This article is only touching the surface, however as this is a massive area to cover but hopefully this will get you thinking about your next workout and how you can make it more cricket-friendly.

BOWLING : Spin the ball to off or leg side.

It's a growing trend these days for spinners at the top level to be able to spin the ball to off or leg side.
This is great but batsmen are now doing their best to read what delivery is on its way. They usually try to read it from the hand, but failing that they must read it in the air.
But if the seam is scrambled during flight then it becomes almost impossible.
The likes of Ajmal and Narine do not bother with making the seam look pretty in flight (like a seamer should). They scramble the seam and make it a mess, as the ball will still spin that way. It’s just that the batsmen do not know which way it will turn.
Tahir from South Africa has a very effective googly as he scrambles most of his deliveries and it becomes very hard to pick.
So, if you have the ability to make the ball go either way with doosras, carrom balls or googlies, then try and scramble the seam sometimes.
If the batsman did not pick you from the hand he will have no chance of picking you in the air with a scrambled seam.
How do you scramble the seam as a spinner?
You can change the angle of the seam on two ways:
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>Change your grip (the position of the ball in your hand before release), so that the ball is released at a different angle.
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>Keep the same grip but change the release angle on your wrist.
The best way to practice this is with a two-coloured ball: one with white and red halves. That way you can clearly see if you are managing to scramble your seam in flight.

BATTING : Watch the ball closely !

Watch the ball closely!
How many times have you - and I - uttered those immortal words?
It is great information.
For some of our cricketers; but not all of them.
Research has show that it's about a 50/50 split. Many batsmen will benefit from looking hard at the ball and picking out details (the seam for example); a narrow focus. But at least half will be better with a softer focus on the ball, allowing it to come into their vision rather than forcing themselves to focus hard; a peripheral focus.
How do you determine which category each player is in?
Listen to your batters when they have played well against spin and you will either hear them say either:
"I really watched the ball closely today and could see which way it was spinning from the seam rotations."
or conversely:
"I picked his googly well today as he did something different with his wrist at the bottom of his bowling circle."
Someone who benefits from a narrow focus will say the former. Or something very similar at least.
Someone with a preference for peripheral vision will say the latter.
We all have a preference for one over the other. Using the correct focus makes your batsmen more balanced and more likely to make quicker and better decisions.
The problem comes with a lack of correct visual preference. The narrow focus player gets distracted by things other than the finer details, or broader vision person tries to focus in hard on the seam.
The quick test above is a good start to finding out which focus is best, but here are some more detailed tests you can ask players to complete:
<![if !supportLists]>1.       <![endif]>Experiment between the two kinds of focus. Have a net against bowlers where you only do one and the next net do the opposite style of focus.
<![if !supportLists]>2.       <![endif]>Rate your movement efficiency for each session
<![if !supportLists]>3.       <![endif]>Rate your decision making effectiveness for each session
<![if !supportLists]>4.       <![endif]>Speak with the bowlers and get their views on performance in these two parameters
<![if !supportLists]>5.       <![endif]>If you are being objective and you have been consistent with keeping you focus the same for each ball then there will be a clear winner.
Better still, have each player bat for 30 balls in each visual style and log the player's assessment of each shot against the movement efficiency and decision making effectiveness.
I'm sure this challenges the approach that you have used in the past. I know it has with me. I learned why my words and practices worked for one person and didn't for another.

Friday 3 February 2012

BOWLING : Drills for Spin Bowlers

Bowling from the Delivery Stride Drills

I ask spinners to bowl from a stationary position at the crease which enables the player to isolate a certain part of the action or a part of the technique. So get your bowlers to work from their delivery stride initially and once they can hold the action and the technical enhancements that you majoring on in your coaching.

Things to work on and observe in Delivery Stride Drills

Different alignments of the seam angle against the pitch to produce different spin results (top spin, maximum breaking ball, stock ball, arm ball, doosra)
Up and over shoulder rotation within the bowling action (some bowlers have a tendency to rotate their shoulders in a horizontal axis, this reduces the shape of the ball in flight)
Completion of the bowling action. Ideally, a spin bowler should find that their bowling hand completes the action around the opposite trouser pocket area. This is an indicator that a full and complete bowling arm circle has occurred. Many bowlers have a tendency to cut the bowling circle short and their bowling hand ends up near the bottom of the ribcage. This reduces the dip on the ball and often leads to a loss of control of length.

Appropriate flight. Shane Warne's mentor, Terry Jenner carried a "Spin bowlers kit" around in his bag. One part of that was a simple piece of rope that he would fix across the net and challenge the spin bowler to deliver the ball above the rope yet dip and land within a coned area on a length. If a bowler is rotating the bowling shoulder up and over (rather than round) and completing the bowling action to the opposite trouser pocket then there is a good chance of the ball being flighted from the hand, over the rope and down into the coned area on a length.
For a net session, the cones can be taken away and chalk areas applied to the indoor pitch or matted area to measure the flight of the ball in a net session. A batter can then be introduced to play against the spin bowler delivering from the crease


Once a spin bower has mastered this then a couple of steps are introduced and the results are assessed, if the technique holds up under momentum then the approach can be extended to incorporate a full run up.

Bowling from the Crease or a Couple of Steps in Nets

Just as with the fast bowlers last week, the stationary drill and then a couple of steps progression can be used within nets. The watchword again is to keep an eye on the competitive nature kicking as this can lead to technical breakdown.

The option here is to take the isolating technical focus away and work on delivery of skills (executing variations) or tactics (field setting/angle of delivery/getting batters off strike) or if the bowler is in danger of complete technical breakdown then take him out of the net and back into the drills above.

As preseason progresses, the bowler will be a more compete technical model who can adjust to the competition scenarios that we put in place, the personal battles with the batters and bowl your side to victory on a number of different surface types.

Wednesday 1 February 2012

BATTING : How important is a trigger movement to your batting success?

Almost every first class batsman has a trigger movement of some kind: That shuffle of the feet just before the bowler delivers the ball that gets you into position.  Yet the coaching books are adamant about keeping still.
Who is right?

Should you be using a trigger move?
As with all great cricketing questions the answer is 'it depends'.
Head still, eyes level
Batting, like any ball striking skill, is about being balanced and meeting the ball in perfect coordination with the body's movements. That is what timing is all about.
It all starts as the bowler releases the ball and you have that fraction of a second to decide where the ball is going and what shot you are going to play. This becomes much easier to do if your head is still and your eyes are level.
The ball is already moving, if your head is moving side to side at the same time it takes the brain valuable extra time to predict line and length: Time that can make the difference between sound defence and nicking off first ball.
So it makes perfect sense for coaches to tell you to keep your head still and simply be relaxed and balanced at the crease.
The advantages of trigger movements
To a 10 year old learning to play, keeping still is good advice. It is a fundamental basic of batting that can be confused easily with the complications of triggers.
But there are obvious benefits to a player with the basics down already: Time, rhythm and balance
  • Time. All well executed trigger movement is able to buy you time. You are already halfway to playing a shot before the ball is out of the hand.
  • Rhythm. If you move a little at the right moment your big movement shot becomes easier, almost like you have played a tiny practice shot first to get into the swing of things. Like a metronome ticking back and forth in perfect timing.
  • Balance. A movement pre-delivery can get you onto the balls of your feet with your head over your toes. You are both ready to move but also stable and balanced.
We also know from other sports that a trigger movement helps you focus mentally.
All this is possible without a trigger movement, but is a lot more difficult. The trigger gives you momentum into whatever shot you select.
The problem with trigger movements
Like a lot of newer ideas in cricket, the trigger movement is a misunderstood technique. Yes, it has huge advantages when done correctly but when done wrong you are staring down the barrel of failure.
I think what may happen is that players are influenced by what they see on TV, but attempt to recreate the trigger movements of their heroes without access to high level coaching (or any coaching).
Your setup is crucial and adding or changing a trigger movement out of context can lead to:
  • Loss of rhythm. Moving too early can upset that delicate metronome of rhythm that all good batsmen need.
  • Less time. If you move too late and your head is not still when the ball is delivered it will feel as if the ball is on you much more quickly.
  • Unbalanced. Getting caught off balance when the ball is bowled because you have moved incorrectly will limit your range of shots and timing drastically.
In short, getting a trigger movement right is hard work. When Rob Key adopted one in 2003 he said:
"To get it I had to hit hundreds of balls on freezing mornings at Canterbury three or four times a week on a pretty dodgy surface in an indoor net. I'm a work in progress really, but you have to work hard at something like that because it's not something you can think about when you're batting. It's got to be natural."

Still or moving?

Where does all this leave us?
I think it makes trigger movements a highly personal thing, and not something to be entered into lightly.
First, the basics. No matter what your personal style, to succeed you must have:
  • Head still at the point of delivery
  • Eyes level in your stance and at the point of delivery
If you have not achieved much success with the bat yet my advice is simple: Focus on keeping still for now. It's doubtful the bowling will be of a speed a trigger become more important anyway.
You may have a natural trigger movement. As long as it is not away from the stumps and it gives you confidence then stick with it. If not, focus on keeping still again. Go back to basics.
Most people don't have one naturally and make a conscious decision at some point to adopt one. If you want to do this, remember Rob Key and how much work it took him, a very fine batsman. As long as you are prepared to put in as much work as Rob to do it there are a number of options. Try them out and find a comfortable one, then get to work:
  • Back foot back and across towards off stump, transferring weight back onto the front foot as the ball is bowled.
  • Front foot forward (not across).
  • Widening your stance, back foot back, front foot forward.
  • Taking a pace down the wicket
Generally the back first movements are better for pace and the forward first movements are better for spin. Moving down the wicket is a good strategy to get your feet going but is best avoided every ball, especially when the keeper is standing up.
Bob Woolmer rightly points out the longer you bat in an innings the less you find you need a trigger at all. He also advises that it's impossible to coach as everyone will have something different they find comfortable.
I admit to being sceptical about the need for a trigger at club level at all. Bowlers are not the same standard and the whole thing is prone to going horribly wrong if not taken in context correctly. If you must have one, stick to the basics of being still at the point of delivery. If you are struggling for form look elsewhere to turn it around, a trigger is not the answer.

FITNESS : How to Prevent CRAMPING?

Are you a cramper? If you have ever cramped up on the cricket pitch you know how annoyingly distracting the pain can be from batting, bowling and fielding. From experience I know it can put you off enough to get you out or prevent you from bowling. Science is well aware of the issue. We know that some people are more inclined to exercise related cramps than others. But that is about as far as the facts go. The rest is theory based on incomplete information, despite reams of research. Where does that leave the cricketing cramper? Let's take a look at the ideas and see if we can come up with some simple steps to follow.
What is cramp?
Cramp is the pain you feel when a specific muscle unconsciously contracts. You have no control over when it happens but it always happens during or just after playing cricket (or other exercise). While you are cramping you can barely use that muscle, if at all. Even after the cramp has gone (and sometimes they can last for several minutes) the muscle can feel sore. Some people cramp more than others.

What causes cramp?
Traditionally, cramp has been thought to be caused by loss of salt and/or potassium through sweating. While you do lose electrolytes when you sweat, there is a debate among scientists as to whether this is enough to cause the problem. Nobody knows for sure. There is one other theory. It's a complex one that says the when the nervous system that controls a particular muscle gets tired it also gets confused and contracts more than it should. This second theory explains why cramp is more common in certain muscles. Muscles that span 2 joints spend too much time contracted (for example gripping the bat). They get fatigued which kicks off the reflex of cramping. But again, it's never been proven beyond doubt.

Preventing cramp
Nobody knows enough about cramp to give an absolute answer to preventing them. Here a few things you could try:
  • Drink water at about 500ml per hour.
  • Drink a sports drink at the same rate to replace lost electrolytes.
  • Avoid drinking too much of anything to prevent diluting your electrolyte levels.
  • Eat a banana for the potassium.
  • Stretch every day and certainly after exercise or playing.
Cramp varies from person to person. Some things work for some people and not for others. Experiment with how much you drink (don't overdo it as this can be highly dangerous) and what you eat.

Friday 13 January 2012

COACHING : 27 Preseason Hacks: A Cheat Sheet for Nets That Actually Improve your Cricket

Preseason nets are looming and this year you are determined not to waste them. You want to take every last drop of improvement in time for that first game in the spring. That means this year talking to the coach or captain and getting him to copy some of the practices of successful club, academy and school sides. As you already know, being an amateur player is no longer an excuse for amateur practice. So let’s use some of that determination with these changes to nets:

1.Get the right atmosphere. Senior players, coach and captain need to buy in to using practice as a time to practice at game intensity. Socialise afterwards.
2.Treat every practice like a game. How seriously do you take games? However serious that is, match it in practice. If you never want to drop a catch in a game it’s simple, never drop one in practice and treat it like you dropped the superstar opponent in a crunch fixture.
3.Use what you have. You might not have perfect facilities and training aids. Just use what you can. Fielding practice only needs one ball.
4.Break the preseason into periods. Focus on skill, a fitness base and technique in the early pre-season and game-plans as the spring approaches.
5.Give throwdowns. All batsmen should “warm up” with a few minutes of technical work from gentle throwdowns getting progressively harder. This grooves technique before entering the net.
6.Bowl without batsmen. While that batters bat, the bowlers bowl in an empty net, trying to hit their target line, length and pace/deviation.
7.Divide the nets up. Have a pace net and a spin net. Ideally bowlers bowl in pairs, 6 balls at a time. This keeps balls coming at the batsmen but allows bowlers to work as a pair and get the feel for bowling in overs.
8.Divide the nets up (part 2). As the season approaches, split the nets into different scenarios, such as batting a long innings or hitting out at the death.
9.Bring in the fitness. You can easily incorporate sprints, agility, core work, mobility and basic strength training into nets. Do that thing.
10.Start with fielding. Fielding is the first thing to get dropped, so do it first as a warm up with game intensity and stop dropping catches.
11.Use video. Every net session has a camera now because they are standard on mobile phones. Use it to analyse your technique.
12.Set goals for each session. Theme your sessions around something that gets people thinking rather than going through the motions.
13.Set goals for the preseason. Have an ultimate aim for where you want to be at the end of preseason and work backwards to where you are now. You can do this at team and individual level. It gives you a roadmap.
14.Work on a variation. Every bowler should have at least one variation they can bowl at will. It doesn’t have to be flash. A good yorker is ideal.
15.Stop the wicketkeeper bowling. Even if the ‘keeper is a really good bowler, he should really be working on his wicketkeeping.
16.Stretch. Your warm up has no excuse not to work on the mobility of everyone’s hips, t-spine and ankles. Foam rollers are next on the list.
17.Track your changes. Keep a record of what you have done and how you did it. Track what works and change what doesn’t.
18.Have an extra session. You can always have an extra session. Get together with some cricket tragic mates and keep your game-heads on.
19.Use deliberate practice. It was the buzz word of last year for me. It’s going to be even more important the more we learn about developing skill. Get started using deliberate practice.
20.Get outside as soon as you can (even when it’s cold). Cricket is played outside. As soon as you can bear it go outside and don’t go back in.
21.Learn a new shot. My guess is you need to work on your on-drive.
22.Bring in the kids. Toughen up the next generation by bringing them in to senior practice so they can learn how to play hard, even in practice (but make sure they are safe of course).
23.Play games. Don’t be afraid to ignore the nest altogether and play games. Indoor cricket teaches you a lot if you set it up right. Plus it’s great fun.
24.Work on building trust. Trust is vital to a successful team, and it’s about much more than bonding over a pint. Use nets to build a culture of shared intensity and responsibility. If you are influential (coach, captain, senior player) be fast to reward success as a team.
25.Learn how to run. Sprinting is as technical as a cover drive. While you are not a 100m Olympic contender, you can spend time working on learning how to run faster and get a pay off with less run-outs. Wear pads, it makes a difference.
26.Pile on the pressure. Pressure changes everything, so add some to nets in the latter stages of preseason by setting targets, sledging, and middle practice in good weather. Learn to get out of your own head.
27.Deal with the difficult ones. Not everyone will buy in to a serious training culture. Learn how to deal with resistance in a friendly way.
What changes will you be making this preseason to have a better summer?

Wednesday 11 January 2012

FITNESS : Talent Wins Games, Teams Win Trophies

In cricket there is a reliance on individual performances to win games. But in the long run team strength will prosper over a couple of star players.
Below is an overview of the importance of team culture and how - by focusing as a collective - the team can give them the best chance of success.
The spirit of the team will be the foundation of your team.
During difficult times and during pressure, a team’s spirit can crumble.
Negativity enters the team’s mentality.
But by sticking together you will soon see this negativity disappear.
During a losing streak, it’s easy for the side to lose focus on how to win games, and just try not to lose, (trying to win and trying not to lose are very different things).
How to keep spirit in difficult times
Try briefing and debriefing before and after games together to understand the things that you did right and wrong as a collective.  As a team it is important everybody understands what things need to be worked on and what things can be continued.
Also encourage players taking personal responsibility to train.  You will have a struggled start, but eventually it will become infectious.
This was evident in the 2011 Twenty20 Leicestershire team who, during the pre-season, saw their training budget slashed by the county committee, leaving them with no option but to undergo their own training regime and support each other in this responsibility.
Under this self-responsibility, the level and effectiveness of their training increased as it enabled them to work on personal areas of development.
You can easily do the same with your team.
Yes it takes individual and team respect but get it right and the irradiation of negativity will be found naturally. 

BATTING : Alternative Technique to Combat Swing Bowling

It’s a muggy overcast day and the opening bowler is moving the new ball all over the place; you’re playing the ball as late as you can but are still struggling.
There’s only one thing left to do, and that is charge him!
It's not as crazy as it sounds, read on.
Swing bowling is the downfall of many prolific batsman; and late swing is the most destructive weapon in a bowlers armoury.
Playing in an orthodox way you have no way to counteract the evils of the ball moving late and nicking off. Until you consider moving down the track.
I stumbled upon this technique when watching one of our senior players open the batting in conditions favourable to swing. The theory was that the pace was not an issue, but the lateness of the swing was what was causing him the most problems.
We have already noted that the hardest swing to play is when the delivery begins straight and then moves late; lulling the batsman into playing a false shot. So surely the best way to play late swing is to attempt to eradicate it completely?
He would advance 2 or 3 paces down the wicket and play the ball before the swing had chance to take effect.
This would allow him to play the ball with more confidence whilst allowing him the protection of distance from his stumps with regards to LBW.
Secondly, it also gave the impression to the fielding side that he was being very positive in his mind set and looking to take the attack to the bowler; all from simply trying to eradicate the late swing.
What do you think?
Is this madness or common sense? Leave a comment and let us know.

Confident Batting Starts Long Before you Walk Out to Bat

You’ve scored an unbeaten ton in your last 3 innings.

You’re batting well, you feel good and most importantly, you look good!

You can carry as much form as you like coming into your next game, but unless the opposition study and follow your scorecard closely, they are unlikely to know your recent success.

But, they can sense it.  They know something special is coming out to bat when you walk out. It’s almost an aura.

First impressions count.  You do it yourself to other batsmen.

Think about the “league legend” that everyone knows. We try to judge the mood he is in by his body language.

When he strides out with his bat over his shoulder, almost whistling a happy tune you steel yourself for a lot of leather chasing.

But what if you are not a league legend and you have not come off the back of several big scores. Can you still produce the same aura?


This is why you should begin to bat, before you’ve started your walk out to the middle.

By that I mean be conscious of your actions whilst waiting to bat; you are not invisible to the opposition or your team mates just because you aren’t on the field.

Now, I’m not saying act the big shot, you still have to be comfortable with yourself, but imagine the difference your attitude and manner has on your surrounding team mates and the opposition.

If the opposition see you giving off negativity and doubt they are more than likely to feel confident against you.

In your own style you need to give off a cool, controlled attitude to settle the rest of your team and give the message that the opposition are in for a grind. 

Look to up the tempo by jogging out to the middle playing big shadow shots, sending out a message to the fielding side that they are in the firing line.

Sure, there is an element of “faking it until you make it” but you have to start somewhere. Why wait until you are 120 not out to give it a strut?

Right from the moment you arrive at the ground, be conscious of your visible signs of preparation and the effect they have on others. 

Visible preparation will allow you to embrace the mind-set that you wish to achieve. You actions speak loudly. 

FITNESS : 4 Tactics that Really Work

1. Build a tactical relationship with the keeper
In T20, captains often find themselves on the boundary or in a position that slows field judgement and decision making.
This is where the keeper becomes the key man.
Captains who build a relationship with their keeper, share their views openly and then trust the keeper to put those plans into action create thinking time; that vital commodity of which I mentioned before.
Paul Collingwood developed this with Craig Kieswetter during the victorious 2010 Twenty20 World Cup.  
This allowed ‘Colly’ to chat with bowlers, plan the next over or reflect on what had just happened in the game. England were always creating time and as a result made better decisions under pressure.
So coach your captain and keeper to work as a leadership team.
2. Turn American - Work on your call plays
Part of Somerset's success in the T20 in 2005 was that we had ‘call plays’ for different strategies or set piece moments.
Fielders used to know when the slower ball was coming and shift their position in the field, know when a bouncer was coming which led to a subtle shift in position of our square of the wicket fielders, when to hold the edge of the circle and when to hunt down the ball and stop that single.
Against Gloucestershire in a must-win final group game, Somerset picked up 3 wickets off of slower deliveries because the fielders walked to a different deep fielding position as the bowler was running in and took catches 25 yards from conventional field positioning.
Call plays are a huge part of Rugby and American Football; make them part of your tactical armoury too.
3. Know your home ground history
Make the scorer an integral part of your coaching team
Each ground has a statistical history that tells you how to win games of cricket. Most teams have a scorer, but how many Coaches use the scorer as a member of their support staff?
Important questions that can reveal tactical advantages are:
  • What is the average winning score batting 1st?
  • What score guarantees you a win batting first?
  • How many boundaries are scored per 20 overs?
  • What number of boundaries per innings guarantee me a win?
  • What is the scoring ball% that gives me a 80% chance of winning T20 on my ground?
  • Which bowler types are most effective on my ground?
The list is endless, yet the answers should inform your strategy in selection, deployment of bowlers, batting orders and roles within the team.
After all, you do play half your games at home so it's vital that you know how to win there!
You will be amazed at how confidence rises when your home ground is a fortress. The cricket being played increases in quality and the smell of silverware brings the best out of your cricketers!
4. Use short boundaries and wind assisted hitting
How many times do we watch players getting caught out 5 yards in from the longest boundary or holing out into a game force wind?
Too often if you ask me!
It's vital to play the conditions and to use the elements to your best advantage. In the warm up matches to the 2010 T20 World Cup, I watched Ireland lose to New Zealand by 40 runs.
New Zealand won at a canter by maximising the impact of the elements. Kiwi batters hit as many balls as possible downwind and Daniel Vettori asked his bowlers to ensure that Ireland hit as many balls as possible into the howling wind.
It was basic cricket at its basic best yet ensured a comfortable NZ win against a side that are more than capable of an upset.
Similarly, Somerset played all 4 home group matches in the 2005 T20 Cup On the same pitch with a 60 yard boundary on one side and a 110 yard boundary on the other.
The aim was to hit to the 3 shortest sides of the ground when batting, and make the opposition hit to the long boundary as much as possible when bowling.
Our fastest fielders patrolled the long boundaries and we squeezed the opposition into submission. Ian Blackwell - the competitions highest wicket taker that year - bowled all his home overs from one end into the 110 yard boundary.
Somerset qualified for the quarter-finals based on their home performances and ended up winning the trophy later that summer.
These simple tips can turn games: streetwise winning cricket at its best. 

FIELDING : How to Use a Tennis Ball to Improve Your Catching in 5 Minutes

Tennis balls: bright, light and fluffy; obvious descriptions.
But what is not discussed is how much harder they are to catch than cricket balls when at speed.
Try it.
Cricketers won’t admit this because everyone knows a cricket ball is one of the most dangerous things in the universe, but it’s true!
Because they are so light and have high rebound properties, they take more skill to catch than a heavy and hard cricket ball.
To catch a tennis ball at speed you need to exaggerate all the technical elements used when catching a cricket ball correctly.
I first thought of this drill after seeing Gary Kirsten firing tennis balls at a batsman in the nets using a racket, simply to replicate the speed generated by a fast bowler when the delivery is full.
It got me thinking how using the same method could test and develop your reactions to close and infield catches.
By simply allowing the ball to drop and hitting it on the half volley towards the fielder using a forehand shot, it allows the coach or team mate to quickly develop your ability to react at intercepting the ball.
This is an easy and fun drill to practise; all you need is a tennis ball, a racket and a willing partner.
Dropped catches
What also became clear was that the success in holding the catch was lower than normal.
We dropped more catches with a tennis ball.
This was because the ball rebounds quicker out the hand than a cricket ball.
That’s great because you need to improve their co-ordination in holding the ball as well as your reactions.
For me this drill is a great way to warm up the reactions and eyes on a  cold day, when nobody wants a hard ball flying at their cold hands. 

FIELDING : 5 Mistakes You Never Knew You Were Making In the Field

1.  The reverse long-barrier
Some people do it from bad habit others do it from bad body positioning.
The premise of the long barrier is to build the biggest wall you can to prevent the ball from passing you; so in theory any big shape you can create works.
But the ultimate long-barrier is one that allows the fielder to return the ball as quickly as possible; as most long barriers are performed in the deep where an extra run from a poor return is possible.
It’s level one coaching, but a trick that so many people miss.
Right handers need to have their left knee on the ground in the long-barrier (and vice versa for left handers).
Doing the long-barrier the wrong way around puts the fielder in an unnatural position to throw, giving away another run to a sharp batting pair.
2. Looking in the wrong place
Do you look at the bowler or batsman on delivery of the ball?
Fielders behind square; watch the bowler.
When fielding behind square, the ball comes from the edge for the bat.  So by watching the ball your brain and eyes are able to keep up with the pace of the ball as well as anticipate any edge.
Fielders in front of the square; watch the batsman.
Because the ball is hit in the opposite direction the ball after it’s bowled, the brain and eyes will have to react to a complete change in direction and more difficultly, judge the pace at which the ball is travelling in this opposite direction.
3. Standing in the wrong place
I’ve seen this cardinal sin at first-class level; allowing the batsman to take a quick single to you in the infield, especially if you were told to prevent it.
Don’t assume that every position has a set distance from the bat, this changes with every batsman.
But the distance will also vary with the situation.
In game situations where singles are just as valuable as boundaries the need for preventing these singles are greater.
If boundaries are required, the fielder can afford to press back slightly. The batsman will always be looking to hit the ball hard and the odd stolen single is less important.
4. Holding back an appeal
Always appeal on reaction. Train yourself to appeal on your instant gut reaction.
So many players simply never appeal regardless of their fielding position; it is just their personality not to be loud.
This is especially true of younger players unsure of themselves.
But go for it; if you think it’s out appeal.  Chances are that if you think it is close, the bowler probably thinks it’s closer!
5. Ignoring the non-striker
Just because the batsman has hit the ball and it’s been fielded, doesn’t mean it’s a dot ball.
Most batsman will back up, some more than others.
So why not run him out?
It is not unsportsmanlike to run the non-striker out.  If it was unsportsmanlike, then backing-up would be deemed unsportsmanlike.
Always communicate to your team mate who is covering your potential throw first.
 Do it quietly between overs; or if it is you backing up, use discreet hand signal to the fielders on the other side of the wicket that you are available to back-up the throw.
It’s one of those chances you will only get once.  The batsman will be aware of his overzealous backing-up now and the second chance of a run out will be rare. 

BATTING : Avoid Being Left Behind When Walking In

It’s junior fielding lesson number two: walking in with the bowler.
Unfortunately, you often see a least one fielder in every side who doesn’t do it; and it makes a massive difference.
But you can go one better than walking in; you can trot in.
Walking in keeps momentum going forward.  Move continually towards the ball prevents a quick single or allows you to cut the firmly struck ball off before it is past you.
The positioning of the fielder is always a balance between being close enough to prevent a quick single and far enough to allow the furthest distance to increase reaction time.
But with an increase in speed during the walking in, you are a greater distance from the bat. This creates further reaction distances whilst knowing that you are holding a greater speed to attack.
By trotting in you can afford to be a yard further away from the normal position, but still be able to attack the ball just as quickly due to more momentum.
This deeper position will also play on the batsman’s mind. 
Seeing the fielder setting themselves slightly deeper than normal, it may start to create whispers in his head that a quick single is on the cards; he commits to a fatal quick single.  And with the extra speed you carry into the ball you increase the chances you have of a run out.
You can see some of the best fielders in the world using this technique every ball they witness.
Jonty Rhodes did it and Paul Collingwood still does; do you need any more convincing?