Repetition is the mother of learning. A drill is basically an exercise or practice technique that you perform repeatedly over and over in order to improve or learn something. Batting drills get you to repeat certain aspects of batting in a controlled environment where you can measure your progress. Drills can also help you to hone in on and target specific aspects of your technique and even your mental attitude.
In order to be effective, drills must be performed correctly. In this article, the first in a series on cricket drills, I discuss the preliminaries and best practices you need to adopt so as to get the most out of your drills.
The Reason for Repetition in Drills
Drills can be positive and constructive, producing improvements in your game, but don’t overdo it. Too much repetition can be bad. Select the right drill for the adjustment you need and train to the right degree of exertion to get the most out of your training sessions.
In any sport, technique is crucial. In cricket, techniques such as throwing, catching, bowling, running and hitting the ball with the bat are fundamental. These skills are learned through repetition so you don’t need to systematically consciously tell each muscle group what to do. This would be too slow and awkward. In order for the action to flow freely, it is necessary to practice any particular skill over and over, until it becomes automatic and fast. This is called muscle memory.
Essential to any successful practice session are the preliminaries.
Plan ahead – always have a plan before you go into the drill. The plan should not be something like ‘I want to hit shots.’ but rather, you should have a specific aim in mind. In what areas would you like to improve? What are your strengths that you could beef up into a superpower? What weaknesses could you sharpen and turn into your strengths? Answering these questions, you might come up with a plan like ‘Today, I am going to engage in three drills for front foot shots: cover drive, off drive and straight drive, to improve my attacking game.’
Remember, you know your own game and your own goals. Don’t rely on your coach to come up with a plan for you will. They will if you don’t but it is always better to proactively improve yourself.
Warm up properly – The warm-up is as essential as anything. It is scientifically proven that warming up correctly helps you avoid injury and increase the effectiveness of your session. I say ‘correctly’ even though, anyone who has ever practised at a cricket club will know, that very few players warm up at all. Some clubs have a mandatory warm-up session that all players who attend practice have to take part in, but I have seen them and they are cursory at best. Turn up for practice early and carry out a thorough warm up. This level of dedication will not only help you get the most out of the sessions but, in the long run, you will be a much better player for it.
Make Measurements – You have made a plan, you have warmed up properly. Now, for your plan to be effective, you should keep score of how you are doing. The human mind is an amazing thing but the memory is also a little fallible. It’s true that we don’t remember everything we do so don’t rely on memory. Record your progress, either on a paper pad or computer – there’s always a laptop around these days – and review your scores during and after each drill and after the session as a whole. This will give you insight into which drills were most effective and where you are up to in achieving your goals. It gives you measurable progress and stimulates you to further improvement.
Tape the session – video recordings are an excellent way of charting your progress. You don’t even need a video camera. These days, you can ask your teammate or coach to record you on your smartphone. Don’t be embarrassed to ask either. This shows deep commitment. It is an underused aspect of practice because most people are ashamed to ask someone to film them. However, this is how the pros train. They tape every session – with cameras on both sides of the run-up and batting track, hooked up to a laptop – and afterwards, they play back the footage of every ball and review it, either as a group or individually with a coach or coaches. You don’t have to be as diligent as all that when playing for a club. There probably isn’t the equipment or staff for that level of integration, nor do you probably have the time. But a recording of your session on your phone is sufficient for you to review how you performed and gives you a good idea of where you need to make adjustments next time.
Adopting best practices during a training drill will ensure improvement in the selected skill. For batting, the two fundamental elements to be aware of are stance and grip. These are key elements in batting and must be practised correctly so it is vital to get these right from the start and continue.
Stance – There are many stances in batting including front on and side on with variations on each. Some batsmen like to open up their stance to face the bowler but the most common stance is side on. The stance is the starting position for every shot. It must provide stability so the shot can be played accurately and with the correct amount of power. The feet should be shoulder width apart with one foot either side of the crease. This is not mandatory as some batsmen prefer to play further forward with the back foot on the crease or further back with the front foot on the crease. It depends on your batting style. The weight should be on the balls of the feet and the knees slightly bent so that the weight can be transfer quickly onto either front or back foot depending on the length of the delivery.
Grip – This is important in executing shots with maximum dexterity and power and will depend on which hand is dominant in the batsman. For a right-handed batsman, the left hand goes at the top, and vice versa for a left-hander. The hands should grip the handle towards the top of the handle with the top hand gripping more tightly. Next, the batsman should look down the centre of the handle to ensure the ‘V’ grip, whereby the thumb and forefinger are angled to form a V shape when looking straight down the bat.
Get the fundamental best practices right before attempting to move on to more advanced elements. Getting these right first will lead to better technique overall. Taking the time to do this initially is well worth it. After all, you don’t want to move on only to find a flaw in your technique that can be traced back to a fundamental as this will require some remedial drill work and could set you back.
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