Cricket is a wonderful game, and most of us have had the experience of playing cricket during childhood or maybe even longer after that if you have been lucky. I have enjoyed playing hardball cricket for around 15 years throughout my school and undergraduate period. Cricket is a game you need excellent skills and concentration to play. Most of us enjoy watching matches on TV and love the sight of the ball flying over the boundary rope for sixes. Some batsmen make it look easy. Have you ever wondered how they do it?
It takes an insane amount of skill to consistently hit the ball accurately when facing fast bowlers, a skill that is cultivated through years of practice. The average cricket bat is about 4 inches wide, and you’re trying to make contact with a ball that is approximately 3 inches in diameter. Now consider that the ball will travel through the zone where it can be hit by the batsman in a fraction of a second and you can exactly imagine what a tough task batting actually is!
The picture says it all. The standard cricket pitch is 22.56m in length. The distance between the wickets on either side is 20.12m. The vital dimension to notice here is the distance the ball travel once it is released from the bowler’s hand until it reaches the batsmen, which is 17.68m. Now imagine a fast bowler bowling at a pace of 150kmph, and that gives the batsmen approximately 0.42 seconds before the ball reaches the batting crease.
The average reaction time of a human to a visual stimulus is 0.25 seconds. A well-seasoned batsman might be able to improve this reaction time up to 0.22 seconds. Let’s say our hypothetical batsman is very quick at the shot selection and have a reaction time of 0.22 seconds. So to execute a shot and hit the ball, the batsman has to make the shot selection at least 0.22 seconds before the ball reaches him. If he waits longer, it will be too late to play a shot, and there is a high chance he will miss the shot entirely and get out. So this leaves the batsman with 0.42–0.22~0.2 seconds since the ball leaves the hand of the bowler to study the trajectory of the ball and to execute his shot. Interesting huh?
The batsman will have to consider various factors in making his shot selection. A great batsman is someone who has mastered the art of predicting the ball trajectory accurately, shot selection and initiating the shot at the right moment (timing) well enough to get the ball where he intends it to go most of the time.
The above sketch shows the side view and top view of a cricket pitch, which will give you an idea on what I am talking about here.
As shown in the above example; the ball will have travelled approximately half the pitch length, and the batsman will have to predict the trajectory of the ball for the rest of the pitch length to decide the line, length (where the ball pitches) and the height at which the ball will reach the bat and adjust and execute the shot accordingly. This is similar to the hawk-eye technology which is used in modern cricket to review LBW decisions, but the hawk-eye will have more time to collect the data until the ball hits the pads of the batsman.
If you take a good look at the sketch diagram I have provided, you might have noticed that the trajectory of the ball is not linear in both side view and top view. This is caused by the gravity and air friction which causes the ball to swing in the air. To make it more interesting, a bowler can swing the ball in either side and vary the pace of the bowl to confuse the batsman. As if this is not difficult enough already.
Eye on the ball?
This is something cricket coaches will always keep chanting to the batsmen. Keep an eye on the ball. Well practically, while it is challenging to keep an eye on a ball shot your way at 150kmph, I interpret this saying bit differently.
If you have been watching cricket matches for a while and have the commentary mentioning words like anticipation, great foot movement; here’s what it all means. A batsman can analyse the bowler and deduce the trajectory of the delivery even before the bowler releases the ball from the hand.
When the bowler starts his run-up holding the bowl in his bowling hand, the way he is gripping the ball, seam position of the ball will give the batsman few hints on what kind of delivery he is going to be facing. This is why some bowlers cover their bowling hand during the run-up. Added to that the rotation angle and direction of the bowling hand will give the batsman a hint on the line of the bowl even before the bowl is released. These pro tips are what differentiate good batsmen from great batsmen. Anticipation is where a batsman can predict where the next delivery is going to get bowled at, even before the bowler starts his run-up. For example; if the previous delivery was a well-directed bouncer, there is a chance you are going to be facing a yorker in the next. A batsman can use foot movement accordingly to put himself in a good position to hit the ball by analysing these facts.
Apart from all the factors, batsmen can take into consideration in predicting the trajectory of a delivery that we have already discussed; there are few more considerations that the batsman has to make. The wind direction, humidity, uneven bounce, how old the bowl is has to be taken into account. That’s why a pitch report is a crucial part of the game. If the pitch has fewer cracks, the bowl will not stray from its line after hitting the pitch. Having an even bounce will help batsmen to judge the bounce of the ball after hitting the pitch. Which would be commented by the pitch reporters as a “good batting pitch”. This is why batsmen take some time and play defensive at the early stages of their innings, to study the bounce and variations of the pitch before they decide to go for advance scoring shots.
Practice makes perfect
As of any other skill, batting is a skill you have to practice for hours to be a master at. You have to be quick in shot selection and execution by judging the flight of the ball in a split of a second. Professional Cricketers train hours a day to master these skills before they are coming into the middle, to bat in an international match and hitting jaw-dropping massive sixes out of the ground. What you see on the TV is only 5% of the hard work a batsman put in off the screen to master the skills of batting. A bowler with pace and good variations such as in swing, out swing, reverse swing, slow bowls is never something you handle without good practice.