Dec 18 2013
by Kevin Keys
Study the fielders
Even if you have not been on strike for a couple of overs, this need not be a dull time for you. You should be closely studying the fielders, observing who has strong or weak throwing arms, who is left or right-handed, who is particularly agile and who is slow or quick to get to the ball. Many extra runs can be gained by taking advantage of any lack of skill or urgency by a fielder and many a run-out can be avoided when non-striking batsmen are observant of such factors as mentioned above.
The state of the wicket
If the wicket is hard and fast, with little sideways movement, play forward when in doubt as this will limit your errors. In other words, go back to the short ball, forward to the full or short of a length ball. If, however, you are facing a real speedster, you may be forced on to the back foot to most of his deliveries.
If the wicket is slow or wet, with the ball not coming on to the bat, reverse the approach and play back when in doubt. Look to use the pull or cut if the bounce is consistent.
If the wicket is consistently keeping low, you must favour the front foot, to reduce the chances of being bowled or caught LBW by a “shooter”. Try to play straight as much as possible.
If the wicket is erratic in pace and bounce, with one ball keeping low and the next rearing alarmingly, all the previous plans are of little use. You will have to trust your instincts. If the bowlers are exploiting the conditions to their advantage, you may be best to take the game to them by hitting over the infield. This may put them off their previous control of line and length and turn things to your advantage.
Study the bowlers
When facing the real speedster or a medium pacer who is swinging the ball a large amount, it is often advantageous to make your first movement back and across towards off stump to give you a bit of extra time to make your decision. If the ball is short, you continue the back foot movement. If it is full of length, you push forward into what is called the “half-cocked” position. This technique gives you surprisingly more time to see the ball. A disadvantage is that it will reduce your front foot driving opportunities, but it will certainly help you settle down at the start of your innings.
Against all other types of bowlers on good wickets, you are safer on the front foot while you are adjusting to the conditions. If you are facing spinners at the start of your innings, resist the temptation to move out of your crease to the ball. Instead, play yourself in by pushing forward from within the crease, ensuring that you keep your back foot grounded well behind the batting crease. Watch out for the delivery that is full of length, which drifts away. It is easy to overbalance and lift your back foot as you try to drive at the ball.
Hopefully you will have developed attacking shots off both the front and back foot. After getting a start, picking up a number of singles and successfully adjusting to the conditions, it will come to the time when you need to look to play more aggressively.
This is where you have to weigh the risks of each shot against the potential rewards. You should know your capabilities well enough to know which shots you have mastered to a level where they are reasonably low risk and which you have not yet mastered and are too high risk to play unless the state of the game demands them. Often the decision comes down to two choices, higher risk cross-bat boundary shots and deliberately hitting in the air. If you are going to play the cross-bat strokes, the pull and the cuts, you must be sure of the pace and bounce of the pitch. Lessen the risks by not hitting the ball in the air and don’t try and hit these shots too hard. Instead, use the pace that is already on the ball and help it on its way to the boundary. In other words, deflect the ball towards the boundary with a turn of your wrists rather than trying to “thrash” it.
If, because of the state of the game or the way the field is set, you must take the aerial route; make sure you are aware where the boundary fielders are placed. Don’t be “sucked in“ to hitting the ball directly to one of these fielders. If all the fielders in front of the wicket are up, the safest aerial shot is the lofted straight drive. Make sure you go completely through with the shot. Hit it hard, not half-heartedly.
Lastly, try and hit in the air downwind rather than in to the wind. Many a batter has tried to take on a strong breeze only to see the ball “hang” in the air as a fielder manoeuvres under it.