Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Putting a myth to bed

Hi everyone,

Sorry for the lack of posts, I've spent the last I-don't-know-how-long revising for exams that I finished yesterday! Whoop whoop!

So, to celebrate I'm doing a double post: one is going to be about fitness (see above) and this one will be about cricket.

First of all I'm going to discuss something that's really REALLY been bugging me for a while. A lot of people are going to disagree with me about this. In fact, what I suggest goes against everything I was taught as a youngster. It goes against everything everyone was taught when they were learning to play cricket.

Fortunately, I have a wealth of video evidence and modern biomechanics on my side :-D

As a child, one phrase was drummed into my head: 'cricket is a side on game'. It was in reference to all three aspects of the game: batting, bowling and fielding. The techniques that make up these components of the game have largely remained unchanged since cricket technique was formulated, approximately 100 years ago. It is rare that a technique goes largely unchanged for so long in sport. However, it made sense: you start side on, so why change that position? So, for years I practised driving with my hips perpendicular to the direction I wanted the ball to go. Still today you hear cricket commentators saying a player 'got squared up' when he got out, referring to the batsman presenting his chest to bowler.

Cricketers were side on, and it was good.

Unfortunately, it came to my attention that something was seriously wrong. For starters, there's not a single technique in any other sport which matches the principles of the 'side on' game.

Take a look at the first javelin throw here:

He runs up front on, turns side on just before executing the throw, and rotates his torso 90 degrees so that his chest faces the direction he wants the javelin to go. As a youngster, I was told to throw with my chest perpendicular to were I wanted the ball to go. In other words, if i had a big arrow sticking out my chest, it would make a 90 degree angle with the path of the ball.

It is absolutely physically impossible to throw a ball more than 10 metres like this.

Try it now: try to throw completely and utterly side on. It's impossible to generate any power like this. Baseball players have known this for years, yet cricket coaches are still teaching you to throw side on!

So how are we able to throw further? We rotate our torso. It's not particularly obvious, but throwing is a whole body movement, just like punching or kicking. Every muscle group contributes, whether producing force or just stabilising the body.

The exact same logic applies to bowling: you may start side on (and I would suggest it's beneficial for your speed to be a side-on bowler), but when you release that ball, your chest is facing the batsman. Whether you're a side on bowler or a chest on bowler, you release the ball with your boobs facing the bloke you're bowling to. It doesn't make sense to do anything else. I have plenty to say about bowling, but I'll leave that till another day

And now, onto the biggie: batting.

As motivation for this section, we'll have a look at batsmen getting caught behind. Bowlers are always searching for that perfect line and length, where the batsman doesn't know whether to go forward or backwards, defend or drive. It is my belief that the only reason such an area exists is due the fundamental flaws of the side on technique. There is nothing particularly 'magical' about this 'corridor of doubt'; the only magic is that it's the line and length that exposes the weakness of modern batting technique most predominantly.

However, I would like to say one thing first: you can bat side on. There's no doubt of that: it's just an incomplete technique. If you bat side on, you rule out using the most powerful part of your body: your hips, and you relegate your top hand to the job of 'control'- completely ruling out the contribution it can make to power!

Here's a useful example and a cute little story :-D. When I was younger, I bought a cricket magazine. In it, there was an article about Damien Martyn, the ex Australian batsman. One bit of the article stuck in my mind: Martyn was noted as one of the only batsman in the world who could play the back foot straight drive. How could he do this? I now realise it's because he wasn't playing the shot side on.

Just like throwing, it's impossible to play a back foot drive side on: your arms just can't get the range of motion. However, if you become chest on, it's easy! It's a simple result of our anatomy: we're not built to do things side on. Side on is an uneven position: much more emphasis is put on the top hand on the bat than over the other, simply because it's hard to get your bottom hand around your body. This is the true reason why the check drive exists: it is the furthest position the bottom hand can reach whilst remaining side on. As soon as you start going for a full drive, your torso must rotate. Try it, it's just simply anatomy.

I think I could persuade most people that you throw and bowl front on at the point of delivery, but many, nay most would stick to batting being predominantly side on technique.

So, I decided to gather some evidence to demonstrate otherwise. Just through some simple examples of videos on YouTube, I'll show you why international batsman get out, and I guarantee you'll never have heard anyone saying this before.

Batsmen get caught behind when they're defending or driving on the back foot because their arms are trying to hit the ball one way when their body wants to hit it in another.

Let me explain this: in every single sport, your chest (actually your hips) tell you what to do: wherever the hips are facing, that's where the ball, the stick, the shot put, the whatever wants to go. Go look for yourself: it's everywhere in every sport. Usually, to get to this position, the hips have rotated 90 degrees from side on to front on (just like the javelin example above). This has occur ed naturally in general sporting techniques because a rotational element (torque) allows for greater force generation than without. Simples!

Now in cricket, because we have been taught to bat side on, our hips have been made redundant.

Here is what we have been taught: we see a short ball just outside off stump and we try to hit it just to the left of mid off or extra cover. Because we only move slightly back and across, our hips are pointing towards point or cover. What happens? Our arms cannot achieve full range of motion, we are in a biomechanically inefficient position, and so we snick it off. See you later! The slightly short ball just outside off stump is the line and length which exaggerates the ineffectiveness of the side on technique.

This is the reason for the 'corridor of doubt'. It's ironic that the bloke who coined this phrase, Geoffrey Boycott, is also one of the greatest proponents of 'the side on game'.

Now that I've explained the theory, here is my evidence.

Just to highlight my point, I've taken some stills and have put a red arrow to show where the hips are pointing, and a yellow arrow to show you were the batsman is trying to hit it. Apologies for the poor quality. Also, I would note that these pictures are not conclusive: the angle of the camera plays a big part in the appearance of the shot. However, I hope the full motion videos and a consideration of the bio mechanics complete the evidence.

Conversely, there is an instance where batsman are taught to get it right. The back foot cover drive is a perfect example of the biomechanical contradictions of batting technique. Below is a Alistair Cook demonstrating the shot.

As you can see, the ball is going to go where his hips want it to go. Biomechanically speaking, he is in the best position.

This is by no means the full picture. Deviation off the pitch, extra bounce and conditions will always play a role in batting. However, correct technique will always reduce the risk of these variables drawing your innings to a close sooner than you would have liked.

These principles can be applied to every straight bat shot.

My solution to these flaws is thus:

-Move your back foot ACROSS and not back to the line of the ball when back foot driving. Moving back gets you in a better position to cut. By moving across you allow yourself to hit the ball through the covers (check this now by playing the shot and look at the direction of your hips). The idea that this allows you more time to judge the ball is overplayed: the time gained is tiny, and a small sacrifice for better technique.
- Get your bat to come through in the same direction as your hips. If this feels difficult, your head is too close OR you're too far away from the ball. Everyone is different, but if you're making contact with the ball when your elbow is level with the front of your body then you'll be in the right place.
If you make these changes, you'll hit the middle of the bat more and you'll hit the ball harder. Isn't that what we all want?

To conclude, I believe that cricket hasn't embraced biomechanics as of yet due to it's history. It is a sport stuck in the past, unwilling to embrace change. Sports science could revolutionise the way cricket is taught, but the progression of cricket is being hindered by retired players stuck in the past. Modern sports are changing every year: change is important for progress, yet cricket is not improving at the same rate as other sports, and it is due to the closed mindedness of the few in the highest positions of power.

I hope you have enjoyed this article. If you have, you can contribute to the website too. All you have to do is have a look at the ads. Maybe you'll see something you like. Maybe you'll buy something. Either way, you'll be helping to make the site better. I'm currently saving up for a video camera so I can demonstrate what I'm talking about. I'm about halfway there, but every time you make a contribution, I'll be a little step closer :-D

Later today: a simple, effective and specialised weight training program for cricketers that will get you strong and looking good as well!

Train Hard, and let's take those slips out of action :-D


1 comment:

  1. Very interesting article. Have you considered looking at the difference in the way Bradman batted wrt his backlift to that of most cricketers. I think this may provide further evidence to support your case. I had a look at a cpl of shots of him batting and how his body finishes up as he plays the ball looks to be what you are suggesting.