Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Batting camp? What batting camp?

While we're busily handing out gold stars and placing red ticks beside bowlers' names, one inevitably comes back to wondering what the hell went on in the much vaunted batting camp.

Actually, we can probably guess what went on in the batting camp, based on what we've already been told, but that begs the question of whether the actual problems have been identified.

Yesterday's effort with the ball through the first session was as good a performance as you're going to get from an emerging attack in conditions that weren't totally bowler-friendly. One notes comments from both sides about never really being in on this pitch, accepts that there's some validity in them, and then goes on to applaud the manner in which the quicks stuck to the new bowling plan and had persistence pay off big time.

When we're looking at that, there are two things that have to be noted. The first is Craig McDermott's directive to pitch it up and give the ball a chance to swing. With that fuller length all the bowlers look much more dangerous by doing things that we weren't quite managing to do under the old regime.

Like swinging the ball when it's new and getting it to reverse later on.

One also notes little things like the revisions in Hilfenhaus' action that combined with the change in definition of a good length to deliver his first Test five-for.

So, I hear you ask in your relentless quest for knowledge, why can't we do the same thing with the batting?

Well, in a way you could, but it's going to take a lot more work than a direction to the technical staff to change the good length parameters by moving them a metre towards the bat.

What follows may be a little on the technical side, may not be an accurate depiction of current thinking at the top level and is definitely the sort of thing a cricket purist could spend a lot of time debating with a glass of amber fluid in one hand while the other performs the regulation hand gestures required when discussing batting technique.

The first thing that should be noted is that orthodox notions of technique have evolved over time, and represent a gradual tweaking of technical issues that date back well into the nineteenth century and the days of uncovered pitches in English conditions. As the game has evolved some of those issues have been taken out of the equation (i.e. uncovered pitches) and conditions in countries outside England have taken some of the English factors out of play. You also have techniques developed on consistent, artificial surfaces that don't quite demand the same precision associated with playing on turf.

But if I had to identify the two key elements in the orthodox batting technique, they're the issues associated with the movement of the front foot and the subsequent positioning of the head.

A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words, so, in the interests of brevity, let's have a picture.

So, what have we got here?

First the lines.

The most important of them are the horizontal one that designates a good length and the vertical one that represents the batsman's eye line" as defined by his stance.

The good length decides whether you play forward or back, the eye line determines whether you're playing to the off side or the leg side.

Of the two other vertical lines the front foot leg side line defines the limit of where you can get to and actually hit the ball on the leg side. Anything on the other side of it is basically unhittable, which is why they're so strict on Wides in limited overs cricket.

The second line, designating the danger zone represents a line that's not quite wide enough to cut, but possibly not close enough to hook or pull. If you're a fast bowler who's aiming to bowl short, this is where you want the ball because a cross bat shot will be difficult to control, and there's the possibility of physical harm if the batsman can't avoid or hit the ball.

From there, it's a matter of moving your feet into a position where your head is over the line of the ball. The only shots where this doesn't apply are the cuts, which is why the coaching manuals I read as a kid suggested avoiding the shot until September (i.e. the very end of the English season).

You can see roughly where the front foot needs to go for the front foot shots , and one notes that moving the front foot to the leg side is a key component of the hook and pull shot.

I could go on at much greater length about all this, but let's leave it at that for the moment and consider what happens when you don't get your head over the ball, which is a difficulty in picking up the line of the ball and a subsequent vulnerability when the ball moves through the air or off the deck.

With the number of played ons in this game, does that last bit sound sort of familiar.

Now, it's quite possible to throw the bat at a ball pitched outside off stump without getting your front foot across to the line. It's even possible to take your foot forward and hoick the ball over onto the leg side. It's something limited overs cricket encourages, but it leaves the bat susceptible to the ball that does something.

And this is where the difficulty lies. It's easy enough to change the parameters when you're looking at the bowling, and once you have you're down to tweaking and refining.

With the bat you're looking at breaking down long standing habits, even if you have managed to correctly identify the technical issues, and we're talking something that's going to take more than a couple of days of what some of the radio commentators were labelling naughty boy nets.

That's about enough on the subject for now, though I'm always up for a lengthy discussion of such matters…

So, what about today?

Well, to state the bleeding obvious, it's all down to how long we bat. A 230 run lead may already be enough, but 250 would be better. 300 is possibly beyond reach, but you never know. Maybe if Hussey and Pattinson can make it through the first hour it might be gettable. The highest successful chase in an MCG Test is in the 330s, so you'd guess anything beyond that would be ungettable.

Or it should be, if you're talking an ordinary Test side.

This Indian side, of course, isn't an ordinary batting order. If you had to pick an order most likely in world cricket at the moment I suspect this is the one you might go for.

Regardless of the target set, today is the day that will decide the game, and batting through to lunch would leave two sessions for the four man attack to operate in, with the possibility of overnight rest if the game goes into Day Five.

On that basis it's going to be up to Pattinson, Siddle and Hilfenhaus to stick to the established bowling plan and see where it takes us.

Above all, the whole Australian side must ignore the niggle that will come as sure as the blood follows a punch on the nose.

If I had to identify a possible source for that, it'll be the suggestion of movement around the sight screen as the bowler is running in. There'll be others, of course. Catches will be disputed, we'll have some argy bargy about bowlers' follow throughs, and I expect there'll be something very close to an ugly incident some time between lunch and tea, with another between tea and stumps.

But those, incidents when they come, and I'm sure they will, must be recognized for the gamesmanship they almost certainly will be. India are here to win the series, and you wouldn't be expecting them to remove any weapons from the arsenal, would you?

Oh, and if I was in charge of the MCG I'd be barricading off the seats twenty metres on either side of the sight screens and ensuring absolutely no one can get in there.

And I'd have had those barriers in place before the Indian side arrived at the ground.

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