Much has been said about the nature of cricket changing with new formats and rule changes, but what does this mean for batsman who are learning the game and trying to make a career from this dynamic game. Should we stick to the tried and tested methods of textbook technique or embrace a new manual which accommodates quicker scoring rates with bowlers who are constantly attempting to adapt?
There is a lot of nuance in this debate and although the purists will maintain the principles and traditional style, most modern batsman are being exposed to T20 cricket at an earlier age. One only has to look at a week in the life of a 17 year old batsman playing in the 1st XI at a school. Mid-week he is playing a T20 Cup game and on the weekend may be playing a 50 over match and a “Time or Declaration” match the very next day. This is difficult for the player to adjust to and challenging for the coach to manage as a batsman’s roles may vary from format to format.
The modern “technique” seems to be born from an outcome rather than a model and this can be an effective way to approach it. The stance or setup is a perfect example, when opening the batting in the longer format, one should look to be patient outside off stump whilst waiting for the bowler to deliver boundary balls at the pads or those not threatening the stumps. Staying resolute in defense whilst waiting for the opportunity to score boundaries or rotate strike. A batsman would thus be advised to cover his off stump to assist with this and allow to play with as straighter bat as possible in the channel. In T20 cricket, bowlers are targeting a shorter length and a tighter line with the new ball which is more difficult to get away with ease, if a batsman detects width it is an open invite, often despite the length to free the arms and hit a boundary with limited risk through or over the field. In this case it may be easier to sit deeper in the crease and be on a leg stump guard in order to create width to generate power for boundaries. This is even more highlighted when batsman move around their crease in the shorter formats to create lengths and angles to help them pierce the field.
Bowlers have adapted to the modern batsman’s new skills such as ramps, lofted drives and an aggressive mindset. Spinners have been on the forefront of this. Bowlers such as Rashid Khan, Sunil Narine and Mujeeb Rahman are examples of those who are combatting current scoring trends by bowling balls that traditional spinners would not even have thought of. With speeds of 95 kph and above, bowling into a length about 7 meters from the crease pose the batsman with a question that old school thinking cannot solve easily. Advancing down the pitch is challenging, sweeping balls which are consistently targeting the stumps is dangerous and playing back from deep in the crease all have an element of risk if you pick the wrong length or variation. Successful batsmen have implement strategies and techniques which combat this through use of adapted slog sweeps, varying guards and “hybrid” type shots (neither those off the front or back foot nor with a straight or horizontal bat) being played in order to get balls into areas not protected by the boundary riders.
It goes without saying that the modern batsman needs to be equipped with the skills and thinking to execute various shots and strategies from a younger age than ever. This starts with intention. Hitting sixes needs intent, dropping short singles needs intent and so does manipulating the ball 360 degrees around the ground. As coaches, this is where strategy and practice should be born. “Drills or games” which allow for freedom of technique to strike a ball in a specific area and with a particular intention are powerful and act a problem solving exercise rather than a stipulated way of thinking and doing handed down over the annuals of cricket. This applies to the forward defense as much as it does the leg side mow over the fence but although this can be played to the same ball it requires an altered mindset and technique and both have their place in developing the modern batsman.