Although the laws and the rules of cricket can be quite complicated for newcomers to the sport, to be able to play it, you just need to master four main skills. These disciplines are batting, bowling, fielding, and wicketkeeping. But don’t panic, you don’t need to be able to do all four to play a crucial role in the team.
Many players nowadays are specialists in just one area, such as Joe Root who is a top-class batsman. But then you can get a phenomenon like Ben Stokes who is amazing with the bat, excellent with the ball and incredible in the field.
We’re going to look at each of the four disciplines, along with the fundamental skills needed to be successful at them, and things you can work on to become the best player you can be.
Mastering the art of batting is one of the toughest aspects of cricket and it is why batsmen often take the plaudits for a teams’ success, especially if they have hit a wonderful century or blasted a quick fifty. Some players make batting look effortless, but when you’re stood waiting for a delivery without knowing how quickly it will come to you, where it will land, or where the ball will go once it does, it makes you realise how talented the most consistent batsmen are.
The best one’s will have incredible concentration levels and a solid technique, whether they are looking to defend a ball or go on the attack. They will also be confident whether they are facing a fast bowler, medium pace, or spin bowler. But what can you do to be a better batsman?
The importance of hand-eye co-ordination
The main aim for a batsman is to hit the ball and score runs – but it is not as easy as it sounds. To be able to do this consistently, you need to have excellent hand-eye coordination. You can develop this in your game by facing a lot of deliveries in the practice nets. It might be an idea to start with facing slower deliveries, so you can build your confidence connecting with the ball, before moving on to facing quicker deliveries.
Hand-eye coordination can also be improved by playing other sports, such as tennis, but only by playing cricket will you really be improving your ability to pick up on the nuances of each delivery you might face. The more practice sessions you can get in, the quicker you will train yourself to focus on the ball and notice the subtle differences in how a ball is coming to you, and where it is likely to land.
Develop a solid technique
Having a solid technique can help you to score plenty of runs, but it will also help you to get out of trouble if you face a good delivery. Start with the basics by getting the position of your hands on the bat correct so you have a solid grip that allows you control over it. You next need to find a comfortable stance that works for you.
Some players adopt a sideways stance with their shoulders pointing towards the bowler, whilst others prefer to stand more face on with their chest pointing outwards. If you watch Rory Burns for England, he has a very unusual stance, but it is one that works for him. Again, you can work on how you want to stand to face deliveries in the practice nets, get comfortable with it, then try it out in a game situation.
An overlooked aspect of a batsmen’s technique is what ‘guard’ they take. Your guard refers to where you want to stand in front of your stumps, with different batsmen choosing to align their position with their off stump, middle stump, or leg stump. This will make a difference to how you might play your shots and where you’ll be aiming to play the ball.
The growing importance of strength and reflexes
Although strength and agility has always played a big part in batting, the development of the one-day game, especially since the emergence of the T20 format, has meant it is now an essential attribute for becoming a successful batsman.
We regularly see the ball clearing the boundary in one-day games or T20’s, but this big hitting is becoming more prevalent in the longer form of cricket now too. To hit the ball strongly and a good distance, you will need to have a certain level of upper body strength and core strength.
This can be worked on in the gym but having good upper body strength will help you to swing the bat and connect with the ball powerfully, while your core strength will not only prevent injury, but also provide you with the stability and balance you need, especially when playing attacking shots.
Being agile and having quick reflexes is going to help you to deal with fast bowlers so you can respond quickly to what they are delivering at you. These two attributes will not only help you to adjust your shot when a ball does something unexpected off the pitch, but also allow you to move your feet quickly if you need to defend a ball or go on the attack.
Quick reflexes are also very useful for helping you to get yourself out of the way if a quick delivery is coming straight towards your head! The best place to improve your agility and reflexes for cricket is back in the practice nets. It is a part of your game you can develop by facing as many deliveries as you can.
There are generally two types of bowling technique, fast bowling, or spin bowling. But to be successful at whichever method you use, there are some basic skills that you’ll need to master to be able to see those wickets tumble at the other end.
Nail your run-up
As a bowler, getting your run-up correct is just as important as the delivery. It’s the run-up that allows you to build the momentum to propel the ball towards the batsman, whilst staying accurate and balanced.
Ideally, your run-up should be the same each time, as this allows you to focus on delivering a good ball each time. Practicing a natural, and repeatable run-up will not only help you to become more accurate, but it will also help you to conserve energy as your body gets into a smooth rhythm.
Fast or spin bowling?
Before you can practice your run-up, you need to find a bowling technique that works best for you. Fast bowlers will have a longer run-up, somewhere between 10-20 paces, where all the momentum is built to allow a quick delivery.
A spin bowler will have a much shorter run-up, perhaps 5-6 paces, and deliver a slower ball that will bounce more unpredictably for the batsman. To become a successful spin bowler, you must be able to spin the ball. This is perhaps more important than being accurate as it is the spin you can get on the ball that will cause all the problems.
But in either discipline, mastering the art of delivering an accurate ball will keep the batsmen under pressure and the wickets will come. Bowlers such as James Anderson, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne made their names by taking wickets, but this was down to their unwavering accuracy and consistency to deliver great balls.
What Is a ‘Yorker’ in Cricket?Whether your preferred method is fast bowling or spin bowling, you will have a standard delivery technique that you’ll use most of the time, which is often referred to as your ‘stock ball’. This is no bad thing if you can develop the ability to deliver the ball accurately, on a consistent line and at a consistent length.
Once you are bowling accurately you can start to look to bring ‘variations’ of your deliveries into play. This will help to keep the batsmen guessing down the other end, so they don’t get too comfortable. Developing ‘variations’ in your delivery will improve your game no end, and this can be done whether you are a fast bowler or spin bowler.
For fast bowlers you can include bouncers, yorkers, off cutters, leg cutters, back of the hand balls or split finger deliveries into any over, but all these different styles of delivery need to be practiced a lot.
Spin bowlers also have variations they can introduce into their game including the flipper, googly, doosra or slider. The terms sound complex but mastering any of these techniques will see your wicket haul increase rapidly.
Strength and flexibility are just as important for bowlers
Being flexible and having core strength is important for all bowlers, whichever technique they employ. A fast bowler will put a lot of stress on their back and leg muscles, as well as their hips, knees, and ankle joints. Maintaining flexibility is crucial to avoid injury and it will increase your range of movement enabling you to bowl faster too.
Having a good level of core strength means your body will be stable when you deliver the ball, which helps with accuracy, balance, and speed.
This is a skill often overlooked by cricketers, but it is a very important element of the game and one you should focus on to be part of a successful team.
Probably the most important ability a fielder needs is to be able to catch a ball. It might sound simple, but when it is coming towards you at pace, or from a high height, your team will be relying on you to take the catch. The most successful teams are good in the field and rarely spill any chances provided to them.
Hand-eye coordination and concentration is key
Catching drills are very important to develop your hand-eye coordination as well as your concentration levels. Your main task as a fielder is to stop the ball from getting past you, whether that’s a catch, or stopping it along the floor. Seeing the ball quickly and reacting to what you need to do can be practiced, so don’t neglect this part of the game.
You also need a high-level of concentration to be a successful fielder. The ball might only come your way once every few overs, but when it happens, you need to deal with it. It’s the same for catching – you might only get the chance of a catch once in an innings, but when you do, you need to take it, so remember to always stay alert.
Develop quicker reflexes
When fielding, the ball can come towards you quickly and you’ll only have a split second to react. If you are a slip fielder, it can fly off the edge of the bat and you need to be ready to take the catch. You can improve your reflexes with practice, which will also help with your mobility, and there are several different pieces of equipment you can introduce into your drills to help you.
The quicker your reflexes, the better a fielder you’ll become which could give you the edge for selection over players who might specialise in the same discipline as you.
Get the ball back quickly and accurately
Should the ball get past you, or the batsman has played a shot into the area of the ground that is not being covered, getting it back to the wicketkeeper or aiming for the stumps for a run-out as quickly as possible is now your job.
Throwing is a skill that can be practiced on a lot, to improve distance and accuracy. By putting in that training, your movement will improve, and you’ll develop the muscles needed to throw the ball back forcefully. Practice will also help you become more accurate with where you’re throwing it. The speed and accuracy of top-class cricketers when they are fielding is scary, but this has only been developed through practice.
To get to the ball quickly in the first place, you can improve your sprinting skills by doing some leg resistance exercises that will build power in your legs.
A lot of the disciplines needed to be a good fielder are also needed to be an excellent wicketkeeper, but there are some specific skills you’ll need to develop behind the stumps. The more balls you can face during games or in practice, the better you’ll become as experience is the key for this unique position.
Although most fielders will be involved every now and then during an innings, for a wicketkeeper, they are involved for every delivery. You have to catch the ball each time the batsman misses it, leaves it, or knicks one off the bat into your gloves. You also must stay alert to the chance of a stumping if the batsman comes out of his crease and misses the delivery, or to run players out if a ball is returned quickly from the outfield with the batsman short from getting home.
As covered earlier, hand-eye coordination, concentration and reflexes are crucial for being a wicketkeeper, but one thing they also must have that can’t be taught, is bravery. Wicketkeepers, especially those that stand close behind the stumps, have to deal with incredibly quick deliveries a lot of the time, so facing quick ball after quick ball can be intimidating.
It is a very specialised position and the only way to get better and stay at the top of your game is through practice.
One key word used in each of these four fundamental skills for playing cricket, has been practice. You can improve certain elements of your game in the gym, but nothing beats the skills you will pick up in the practice nets or in a real game situation.