We caught up again with Essex CCC Batting Coach, Tom Huggins who shared his thoughts on situations we might find ourselves when out in the middle.
Have you ever been in one of these? What did it feel like? How would you react in these situations?
Understanding the Stages of Batting
From a batting perspective, being comfortable with our individual techniques and able to implement these skills is paramount to our success. Having a game plan and fitting this into the match situations we find ourselves in is a further part of the jigsaw, and being able to be clear mentally about how we are looking to achieve what we are setting out to achieve is equally important.
As a batter, our aim wherever we are batting should be to have a positive influence on the match situation. Our roles in these positions and situations are not always the same and it is very rare that we play identical innings. Therefore a knowledge of the various potential phases of innings we go through is important so that we can remain slightly calmer when they come about.
These periods or stages that we go through are all slightly different and therefore they pose different questions. The below is my take on these stages. It is important to say that this is definitely not an exhaustive list and we won’t go through all of these in every innings. In fact we might only experience a couple, but by thinking about others we can give ourselves a greater chance of having a clarity of thought in different situations we might encounter.
One of the main areas that is within our control is our preparation. Admittedly at a younger age this first part is slightly more tricky, but over time we start to build up an enormous database that is an extremely useful tool when it comes to preparation. We play against the same teams and therefore usually the majority of the same players. We can start to use this to our advantage before we even get to the ground. Who are their bowlers? Who might I face? How will they look to bowl? What are my strengths against each of these and what have I got to be wary of?
We can also start thinking about the ground we are playing at and what we know about it. What sort of surface is it potentially going to be like? Are there any unusual ground dimensions that would make targeting one area more appealing for example?
All of this can be done in the days preceding the match to make us feel happier and clearer in our thoughts. When we get to the ground what sort of preparation do we specifically require to get us in the best place to succeed? Obviously there will be a team warm up time, but we need to make sure that we arrive and give ourselves time to get our batting prep done whatever that might consist of.
Some people have consistent pre-match routines, while others chop and change a bit depending on what they feel they need on that given day. This is purely individual and based upon our own needs. Some people like to get their feet moving, for others it’s about hitting some in the middle of the bat. Some players like full nets, some like throws, some are just happy visualising, but whatever it is, make sure we have enough time and we are happy with where we are both mentally and physically.
This is the only physical part of our innings which is guaranteed. It doesn’t matter whether we got a hundred last time we batted or whether we’ve failed three times on the bounce, we begin every innings on nought and therefore there are certain aspects of our thought process which should ideally remain consistent.
When we walk out there, regardless of format and within reason, regardless of situation, the first few balls we face are about gaining information. Information about the surface, about the bowler, about the field, about the situation. What is the pitch like and therefore how does this affect my options and decision-making? What shots are low risk options today and what are the ones that are best kept in the locker? When we add this to the information we have already gained through our preparation, we are giving ourselves the best chance to succeed.
Unfortunately, most innings we play are not a straightforward case of getting ourselves in and then being free-flowing against everyone we face. We often need to work out which phases of the overall innings are important and play accordingly. It might be that we lose a wicket and need to consolidate to make sure we don’t have two new batters at the crease, or their strike bowler comes back and the game dictates that we sit in and make sure that they doesn’t achieve what their team are after.
During these phases we might need to be open-minded about assessing our risk and reward to ensure that we can influence the game positively later on. What is this bowler’s plan? Are they looking to get me out and if so, how? We can get an idea of this by the fields they set or how they have previously taken or looked to take wickets. By being aware of these factors we are in a better place to counteract them and therefore have a higher chance of success.
The Big Picture
This is about match-management, about understanding what we need to do to have a big impact upon winning the game. If we are setting have we got a target score in mind and as such, how are we going to break it down in order to make sure we achieve this total. Likewise, if we are chasing, where do we need to be at certain stages of the innings?
What equation are we happy with at various points and as a result of that, what risks do we need to take when and against whom?
Within this, it is always important to remember that we are in a partnership with a teammate at the other end who has different skills and talents to us. There is a lot of talk on television these days about match-ups and while it is unlikely that we will have statistics about the opposition, we should know both our own and our teammates strengths. For example, if our partner is strong against spin and our technique means we are better placed to face pace, it would make sense that if a risk needs to be taken they takes it against spin and we look to take a seamer down because our success rate of doing so should be higher.
Always try and communicate with your partner and incoming batsmen as much as possible so everyone is aware of the big picture because it is easy to get a cluttered mind in a pressure situation. By sharing our thoughts, it enables us to be more calculated as a batting unit.
The Loss of Rhythm
During some of our innings’, we go through stages where for no reason whatsoever we lose our timing and rhythm and become becalmed. It can begin with something as simple as getting a ball we should have hit for four and finding a fielder and feeling as though we’ve missed out and need to catch up by hitting the next ball for four. So we try extra hard to make amends, tense up and miss the next opportunity, and the next, and the next. The hardest thing to do in this situation is to step back and relax.
In almost every situation our team is better off if we are at the crease rather than giving our wicket away, but it can often feel the opposite and we tense up and lose the flow of our rhythm and movements, often making poor decisions in the process. Therefore, it is important that we take a minute to compose ourselves and a lot of the time, if we think about
getting off strike and getting a single this can free our movements back up. Before long we’ll have our timing back, but in the moment it is important to realise this passage of our innings and ride it through by understanding that it won’t last and we’ll be able to catch up later.
The Start Again
How often does it happen that a break gets a wicket? Whether it be drinks, lunch, a new day, or even an injury hold up, they create time for us to lose our concentration and step out of our zone.
There is nothing wrong with exiting our zone because it is hard to keep mentally in our bubble for long periods of time, but we need to be able to recognise this and switch back on before we face our next ball. That might entail remarking our guard and reminding ourselves that we need to give ourselves a few balls to make sure that we are fully watching the ball and making good decisions again.
The Make it Pay
We’ve batted for a period of time, we’ve faced a fair few balls and we are well and truly in. We have given ourselves every chance to succeed and now it is time to ensure we make a match-winning contribution. We don’t want to leave this to anyone else, we’ve put all the hard yards in getting to a position where we’re in control of the situation, now it’s a case of making sure we are there at the end to see our side home.
We don’t want to give the opposition a sniff because the old adage of one brings two is very true and a couple of quick wickets invariably brings the fielding side back into
How do we do this? By being disciplined, staying in the moment and making good decisions. The moment we get too far ahead of ourselves, cricket has a cruel way of letting us know. We need to ensure that we are the batter who gets takes the game or innings home.
The Fun Part
This stage of our innings is one that comes about only a few times a year if we’re lucky. It’s the period where we are in complete control and it feels as though we can do anything we want. Everything is happening in slow motion and the ball seems the size of a football. Everything is in sync from our movements to our decision-making to our contact and it feels as though we are invincible. Anything we try comes off and it’s about staying in the moment and enjoying the sensation because it unfortunately doesn’t come about as often as we would like.
So there we have a few stages of innings that we might encounter. It is important to re-iterate that this is not a complete list of phases that we may go through as batsmen because no innings, match, season are the same. This is the beauty of cricket, it throws up different challenges every time we take the field. They are also not ordered so one doesn’t necessarily follow another. The only two that are guaranteed to a certain extent are the preparation phase and starting our innings. You might not experience all of them, you might not experience any, but hopefully this can give you a small insight into how we can try and get the best out of our ability through trying to have a clarity of thought.