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Post by Stella on Fri 07 Mar 2014, 1:20 pm

Reading this lovely story, got me wondering if any poster on here had played against a test or even good county player in their career.

http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/724077.html

I haven't but wish I had, although not Curtly at Perth  Very Happy 
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Post by JDizzle on Fri 07 Mar 2014, 1:41 pm

That's a great story, not sure I'd fancy my chances against Tino...

Best I've played against is some Minor Counties players and some of the England Under 19 lads. That's more than a high enough standard for me thank you very much!

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Post by kingraf on Fri 07 Mar 2014, 1:48 pm

Faced Morne a few times during my school years. Proteas normally get a few club games in pre-season, and played against Quinton de Kock a lot until he quit school, or whatever happened. Would be a longer list but injuries and loss of form have conspired to keep me out of the last two national club weeks. Hopefully my reasonable form towards the end of this season sees me selected.

Morkel was pretty fast, but I don't think outrageously so.... probably just tuning up for the real grind. The real issue was his seam and bounce. Gets it about rib high, leaving the bat. Natural instinct is damage limitation, so I nicked a few but my soft hands/ribs cushioned the ball, and I saw him off. Scored a handy 50 that day. Last time I opened as well if I'm not mistaken... Always have a laugh they thiking about these old men, some of whom played amateurs, sending a 16-year old out to face 90mph... bastards
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Post by Stella on Fri 07 Mar 2014, 1:50 pm

Nice one Kingraf.

What I like about the Tino story is that he came in full pelt, as he was being paid, and gave it his all.
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Post by kingraf on Fri 07 Mar 2014, 1:57 pm

Yeah that is quite nice. Not sure how I'd reacted if Morne came in at full tilt against me... Doubtless would have sent him to the cleaners. As it was he was a tad predictable, and only really gave me trouble because it pitched in line with middle and seamed away... Funny enough there's a great story he shared afterwards about his time in English Village Cricket - Had apparently just finished school and was playing in one of the villages... then against a team whose name escapes me, he hit a batsman who wasn't wearing a helmet on the noggin... Claims he was quite literally chased off the ground by the opposition!!
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Post by Stella on Fri 07 Mar 2014, 2:00 pm

Ha, that's the batsman's problem, unless it was a beamer of course.

A friend of mine faced Joel Garner years ago, in some charity match. His main talk was at the size of Big Bird's hands. Said he was quick, but not sure Garner was steaming in.
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Post by Hoggy_Bear on Fri 07 Mar 2014, 2:18 pm

Stella wrote:Ha, that's the batsman's problem, unless it was a beamer of course.

A friend of mine faced Joel Garner years ago, in some charity match. His main talk was at the size of Big Bird's hands. Said he was quick, but not sure Garner was steaming in.

Your mention of the size of Garner's hands reminds me of a funny story about Big Bird. Apparently he was once in a night club with Botham and Richards when a local lady sidled up to him, looked at how tall he was and asked "Tell me, is everything about you in proportion?", Garner looked at her and then casually replied, "No ma'am. Some things are bigger than they should be"  Very Happy 

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Post by kingraf on Fri 07 Mar 2014, 2:19 pm

fancy you're right, Stella... But Morkel wisely decided running was a better option than convincing an angry mob it's not his fault the guy decided against wearing a helmet
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Post by Stella on Fri 07 Mar 2014, 2:20 pm

Big bird and the dirty bird  Smile
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Post by Pal Joey on Sat 08 Mar 2014, 11:25 am

I've never faced anyone of repute... but my older brother has faced Anil Kumble in the nets at some corporate bash in Mumbai* a couple of years ago as well as doing a bobsleigh run with Devon Harris (one of the Jamaican blokes who competed in Calgary '88) in Canada last year. They went down about 3.8 secs slower than his Olympic time. Said it was a real buzz.

*Kumble conceded a 1 and a 4... beat him of couple of times and also bowled him. Not bad for a guy who hasn't picked up a bat for over 25 years.
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Post by PaulHv2 on Sat 08 Mar 2014, 11:59 am

Never faced him, but former West Indies bowler Reon King was the pro at one my local clubs, Northop Hall, a few years ago. Never seen a keeper stand so far back at that standard before.

Not quite the same but I played against Pat Cummins brother a two years ago. He hit a 150 not out against us, our keeper missed a stumping when he was on 30 odd as well!
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Post by Good Golly I'm Olly on Sat 08 Mar 2014, 12:24 pm

I'm fairly sure I've played against someone who'll be a county player in Matt Plater. He's in Northants seconds at the minute, he bats, bowls and keeps ridiculously well.

Once scored 230 not out in a 30 over game for his school!

When we played them, I dropped him when he was on 0, and he went on to score 127  Doh 
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Post by Stella on Sat 08 Mar 2014, 5:41 pm

230 in a 30 over game? That's some effort  OK 
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Post by PaulHv2 on Sat 08 Mar 2014, 5:55 pm

Collis King used to play for my club, Pontblyddyn, in North Wales. Passed on some top tips to the youngsters at the club.
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Post by Guest on Sat 08 Mar 2014, 6:21 pm

Mervyn Westfield played for Wanstead faced him a few times, has got some some proper pace...also played against David Masters, a real tough ask to face him, with a new ball!

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Post by ShahenshahG on Sun 09 Mar 2014, 9:15 am

I bowled out Michael Slater in the nets during the break in the odi Caddick got caught off the last ball of saqlains bowling with 3 runs required to win. 12 years ago now.

And Hoggy, you butchered that anecdote!

A woman comes up to garner and says, yous a big big man joel, is everything in proportion?

JG: Womaaaaaaan, if everything was in proportion i'd be twenty feet tall

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Post by kwinigolfer on Sun 09 Mar 2014, 1:40 pm

I missed out but many club cricketers in the East Surrey area in the early eighties might have found themselves playing with or against an incognito Sunil Gavaskar who'd do a friend a favour by turning out, anonymously until he batted!, on occasion.

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Post by king_carlos on Sun 09 Mar 2014, 8:51 pm

Played alongside Joe Root and his brother Billy a few times for club (Sheffield collegiate), and against Billy for school sides. Billy was younger than myself but played more games for age groups alongside him than Joe given that both were playing for older sides than their age should dictate!

Also at Sheffield Collegiate I once bowled and batted against Michael Vaughan in a net session. Given he played for the club growing up he came back to take a practice session I think.

Finally had the misfortune of playing against Jonny Bairstow at school when he was both infuriatingly good and could be agonisingly arrogant when he wanted to be! Played against him three times and pretty sure he got 2 centuries and a quickfire 50. Nice to see that time in the Yorkshire set up seems to have really grounded him though. You wouldn't recognise the bloke you see in interviews for England now compared to the one you had to put up with on the field back then.

Final one that's a bit more distant and less connected - I had the pleasure of being 12th man for a club game against MCC when I was much younger which Grant Flower played in whilst returning from injury. Needless to say he knocked off a very casual 50 before retiring then taking a couple of smart wickets with his spin. Left a really good impression with everyone at the club from just that one friendly match though!

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Post by Stella on Sun 09 Mar 2014, 10:18 pm

Nice one Carlos.

From this, I take it you're a decent Cricketer yourself?

Back to Bairstow. Muse say, I've always thought he looked a little smug.
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Post by guildfordbat on Sun 09 Mar 2014, 10:35 pm

king_carlos wrote:Played alongside Joe Root and his brother Billy a few times for club (Sheffield collegiate), and against Billy for school sides. Billy was younger than myself but played more games for age groups alongside him than Joe given that both were playing for older sides than their age should dictate!


Hi King - don't know if you're aware but Billy Root played the odd game on a trial basis for Surrey seconds a year or so ago. Unfortunately for all, nothing seems to have come of it.

Whilst many of us may get our fifteen minutes of fame against the near bests of the game, nearly all come to accept that the gulf with those good enough to play professional cricket on a regular basis is very considerable. Never better illustrated than the story below as told to me by an old and (even for me!) elderly mate.

My friend had ambitions to be a professional cricketer and believed the opportunity had presented itself when he was selected to open the batting in a match for Somerset under 18s. He and his partner batted undefeated to lunch. My friend knew that was the best he had ever played and that there was no way he could have done any more. As he headed off for his ham sandwiches and looked up at the scoreboard, it was then that reality kicked in. The scoreboard read something like 110/0. My mate was on about 17 whilst his fellow opener was on 90 odd. His batting partner that day was Roy Virgin. That name won't mean much or anything to younger posters but older ones will immediately recognise it. Roy Virgin went on to have a successful county career for over 20 years from the late 1950s to the late '70s with Somerset and Northants and only narrowed missed an England Test cap. My friend? He spent a lifetime in insurance.  Crying or Very sad

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Post by king_carlos on Mon 10 Mar 2014, 9:46 pm

Stella wrote:Nice one Carlos.

From this, I take it you're a decent Cricketer yourself?

Back to Bairstow. Muse say, I've always thought he looked a little smug.

Stella - Reasonable but never anything near the level of those mentioned quite obviously. In honesty some of the decent sides I played in around the age of 16 as a wicket keeper flattered me massively due to a lack of other keepers on offer! Should probably write a book alongside Geriant Jones Laugh 

Yep one connection I forgot there is that I got coached briefly by David Byas when he left Yorkshire as head coach/director of cricket (can't remember which he was). Whilst some of the things he said of Jonny from when he first arrived at the Yorkshire academy would shock the press it certainly didn't shock those who had played against him! As said I can only compliment the guy for leveling himself out and reaching the level he has now though.

Guildford - Yes I was aware of that, shame nothing came of it. He's spent time with several CC second teams as well as the MCC young cricketers without anything coming from it just yet. Hard to say what's missing when I haven't seen him play for a few years. A shame if nothing comes of it though as he's a top bloke who works incredibly hard to better his ability all the time.

Must say I've heard Roy Virgins name but couldn't tell you too much about him! Story's such as those are always fun to hear and do highlight the gulf between the high amateur and pro levels though.

I remember a game for my school where Piet Rinke a bloke who played for Zimbabwe around 2006 was playing against us in a charity game - he was playing for Scarborough in Yorkshire leagues at the time. Renowned as a big hitter from his time for Zimbabwe he was taking things very easy to start with when on around 40 one of our bowlers started getting chirpy between balls about how he was meant to be a big hitter. Sure enough the last two perfectly good deliveries of the over disappeared into the adjacent field whilst our slip cordon tried to withhold their laughter!  Laugh

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Post by Dorothy_Mantooth on Tue 11 Mar 2014, 11:47 am

Played in the same team as Ed Cowan the Aussie Test batsman when he was pro for my club side in Scotland a few years back.

Played against a number of International players, inlcluding Matt Horne (Kiwi) and George Bailey (Oz), but the most famous I played aganist was Gordon Greenidge, when he was playing as a Professional in the Scottish leagues.  Was in his late 30s at the time but still pure class.

We are lucky or should I say unlucky in Scotland to come up against alot of players with First Class or List A experience during a summer.

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Post by Stella on Tue 11 Mar 2014, 12:19 pm

Greenidge couldn't have long been retired from test cricket. Bet he was a handful to contain?
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Post by Dorothy_Mantooth on Tue 11 Mar 2014, 1:12 pm

Stella wrote:Greenidge couldn't have long been retired from test cricket. Bet he was a handful to contain?

He was still playing Test cricket if my memory serves, I am sure it was 1990. I was only a teenager and never got the chance to bowl to him. Greenock, who he was playing for were a good side at the time and beat us the couple of times we met. Greenidge never made massive scores against us, but I dont think he went short of runs that season.

In terms of handful to contain, Ed Cowan was the hardest that I have seen in a game I was involved with. At club level (all be it Scottish Club level) he was also a very good spinner.

I have played against and with a number of Scottish internationals who obviously not in the class of the names above, but some of who, could have made decent First Class cricketers, South of the Border.

Probably the most famous player that I played with and against, certainly to the Scottish public was Andy Goram the Scotland and Rangers goalkeeper, who played Cricket before and after his stint with Rangers. He was actually a very good cricketer.

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Post by KP_fan on Thu 13 Mar 2014, 12:48 pm

--I found time now to comment on this interesting subject.....I played Hirwani the leggie who picked 16-fer on debut and current Indian selector.

He was about 5 years my senior in age and in the Indian team....I playing for a university side and he was showing up for Tata-Steel in the East zone circuit. Tata, Air India, Mahindras, Mafatlaal were corporate who employed the then Indian stars.

we were thrashed badly.....in a 30 over game......tata's with their international stars scored about 250 and we barely touched 100.

I did OK with a 33 as an opener whose job always was to hold one end....and was about the last man out.

--Hirwani didn't appear the threat that single handedly crashed the still strong WI side.
To our advantage we all at the club and university level were so proficient in facing any kind of spin bowling...the key was to be sure footed...if you went down the track......you had to reach the pitch of the ball or else play from the crease...and NEVER use pads to play the spinner.....always aim to strike with the middle of bat....even when in defense.

In Hirwani's defense.....he was a star...relaxed playing for his employers, against university kids.....so perhaps not so motivated and the game...like so many games in those times was played on a green Jute matting....which offered zip/ nip of the pitch but limited the spin.

--in that period of 1990-95...I faced a number of India internationals and Ranji players on the Eastern zone university / club circuit like Gyanendra Pandey ( 1ODI), Subroto banerjee( 4-fer in debut test vs Aus in Aus), Prashant Vaidya ( a few ODIs) , Randheer Singh ( 12th man for a few games) , Ranjib Biswal ( Orissa Ranji captain)

I mentioned Hirwani because he was by far the biggest star that I played against.....

--My own experience ...what separates the best vs those who also played against them like me....are two factors:

1) Drive /hunger...i was already studying engineering and didn't think of cricket as a career.........to make it to the top...fairly early you have to give up any other aspirations and go for broke...a career in sport or nothing if you didn't cut it.

2) reflexes.......it all comes down to whether you are gifted enough to handle pace as  a batsman.
Facing Hirwani wasn't a problem.......while Subroto Banerjee who was at his peak perhaps never faster than mid 130s...and bowling against us at perhaps 80% pace was a problem.

and the problem is the amount of time available to negotiate the faster bowling. I could keep out the likes of Vaidya, Banerjee, Randheer...with straight bat defense...but found myself short of time to play strokes...i.e reflexes.

--as you go from club/ university to First class to international games.....you see  progressively better reflexes.....and the ones with even marginally slower reflexes keep dropping out.

I was fortunate enough to see a few innings from Saba Karim live and close... who had the most amazing reflexes as a WK and batsman in the late-80s early 90s which was his peak period....
When a gifted batsman like him "got in the zone"...he would be able to go a few paces down the track to a 135kph bowler, reach the pitch of the ball and tonk him over cover....when someone like me could barely get in position behind the line of ball and offer a straight bat defense in the same amount of reaction time available against the same bowler.

Unfortunately opportunities for Saba Karim were limited in those days with More and Mongia keeping him out in his peak...and by the time he broke into the national squad....he was past his prime reflexes.

a batsman's life at the top is also dependent on how long his top reflexes hold-up.


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Post by Stella on Thu 13 Mar 2014, 12:50 pm

Nice post  OK 

Hirwani was like a one hit wonder, wasn't he. One great debut then mediocrity.
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Post by KP_fan on Thu 13 Mar 2014, 12:59 pm

Stella wrote:Nice post  OK 

Hirwani was like a one hit wonder, wasn't he. One great debut then mediocrity.

Hirwani had about 40+ wickets in his first 4 tests if i recall right.......after his famous WI debut his next 3 tests were vs. NZ at home....where he marched on.

Hiwani was made of same stuff as is Ashwin for example.....picked up loads of wickets in home tests...and got badly exposed when playing overseas........Hirwani played the Gooch triple century series in Eng....his ineffectiveness with the ball coupled with atrocious fielding and genuine "rabbitness" with the bat finished him thereafter.
he did play a few ODIs here and there...but could never reclaim his test spot after that tour to Eng in 1990-91
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Post by seanmichaels on Thu 13 Mar 2014, 1:29 pm

Played againsnt Nilesh Kulkarni in league cricket. Only played 3 tests but I think is the only player to take a wicket with his first ball in test cricket. Likewise Ali Naqvi who scored a ton against SA on his debut

Funny story occured a few years ago when a team a couple of leagues below us had Shaun Tait's brother as their overseas. During the summer, Shaun Tait also played a game. Would not have appreciated that one bit

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Post by kingraf on Fri 14 Mar 2014, 6:49 am

It's not reflexes KP. Studies have found that the reflexes of a skilled tennis player/ baseballer, or even cricketer are not much better than the average persons... Think a baseballer who smashes 100mph pitches, but can't deal with 75mph soft ball throws. The real secret is a vastly superior - "minds eye" - the great ones have an ability to read what's going to happen from the hand, and prepare that little bit earlier.that's why Barry Richards looked like he had so much more time... Is it a learned ability, or congenital? Bit of both I suspect.
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Post by KP_fan on Fri 14 Mar 2014, 11:39 am

kingraf wrote:It's not reflexes KP.  Studies have found that the reflexes of a skilled tennis player/ baseballer,  or even cricketer are not much better than the average persons... Think a baseballer who smashes 100mph pitches, but can't deal with 75mph soft ball throws. The real secret is a vastly superior - "minds eye" - the great ones have an ability to read what's going to happen from the hand, and prepare that little bit earlier.that's why Barry Richards looked like he had so much more time... Is it a learned ability, or congenital? Bit of both I suspect.  

well raf...I don't think it's mental only.
Mind is a very strong component of the overall success.

but there is a distinct raw physical part.....reflex...reaction time....

Look at Sehwag, Richards, tendulkar...all in their end years had the same mind but their reflexes had deteriorated....and they visibly struggled.

On the other hand remember Pitersen's awesome drive back over Steyn's head in Headingley test.... that nearly took Steyn's head off.....that was sheer physical gift of having time at hand.

and my first hand experience....These days occasionally when I turn up for club games in Germany....my mind's still the same......tells me what to do...just the body ( hand and eyes coordinated) fail to implement the mind's instructions timely.
so by the time the bat tries to thump an over pitched ball through covers......the ball is already gone past to the WK
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Post by kingraf on Fri 14 Mar 2014, 2:00 pm

You misunderstood - I'm not talking about mental strength, I'm talking about their ability to read out of hand what is to come. Players reflexes slow, everyone's does... that's neither here nor there. Look at reverse swing, had the reflexes theory been right, it wouldn't be an issue. But a players mind is conditioned to face conventional swing, and by the time it's left the hand, he is relying on auto pilot to do the rest. Same with the slower ball, had it been purely a case of reflexes, even the greatest slower ball in history would be no good, but the simple truth is athletes are more like us than we realise (reflexes) but more different than we'll ever understand (the advanced cognitive ability)
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Post by kingraf on Fri 14 Mar 2014, 2:01 pm

www.sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1188950/index.htm?eref=sisf
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Post by KP_fan on Fri 14 Mar 2014, 6:12 pm

kingraf wrote:You misunderstood - I'm not talking about mental strength, I'm talking about their ability to read out of hand what is to come.

I see now.
That ability to read the ball earlier out of the hand of the bowler...compared to average batsmen.....is directly linked to the reflexes.

and this ability in itself can be broken down into 2 parts:

1) you might have noticed for all of us batsmen.....as we play longer in an inning...our abilities to pick the ball out of the hand improves.
as we get longer into a season.......this ability gets better and carried into the next inning

2) the peak ability to pick the ball out of the hand diminishes with age.......it's linked with reflexes.....b.t.w that cnn link is broken
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Post by kingraf on Fri 14 Mar 2014, 6:49 pm

Apologies - let me copy and paste it.

Barry Bonds went down on three pitches, didn't
even swing. Albert Pujols and Mike Piazza couldn't
make contact. Paul Lo Duca, Larry Walker, Richie
Sexson, Dmitri Young: K, K, K, K. A-Rod took the
wise course and decided not to even step into the
box. The best any big leaguer fared against Jennie
Finch, the 6'1" former softball ace who took on
baseball players in 2005 on Fox's This Week in
Baseball, was Sean Casey's dink to the right side.
Coming from 43 feet away in the upper-60-mph
range, Finch's heater takes about the same time to
get to the plate as a mid-90s major league fastball.
Nothing unusual for the world's greatest hitters in
terms of speed. And yet big league players have a
history of feckless whiffing, against underhand
pitchers.
Beginning in the 1940s, softball pitcher Eddie
Feigner and his three position players, known as
The King and His Court, barnstormed the country
and showed up baseball players by winning four
against nine. In a 1964 exhibition at Dodger Stadium,
Feigner—the Meadowlark Lemon of the team, hiding
the ball and joking with the audience—struck out
Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Brooks Robinson,
Maury Wills, Harmon Killebrew and Roberto
Clemente ... in a row.
Besides throwing between his legs or blindfolded,
both of which he did with surgical accuracy, Feigner
had another gambit: He usually steered clear of
softball players. In fact he'd sooner face a Hall of
Fame--bound baseball player than the local beer
league boys. "There were other softball pitchers as
good as Feigner," says Jerry Thomas, dean of the
University of North Texas College of Education, who
has studied expert athletes and played against
Feigner in a game in 1958. "But he knew baseball
players couldn't hit the softball. People assume it's
easier to hit because it's bigger. But it comes from
a different distance with a different motion. He
would strike out professional baseball players from
second base, but he usually avoided playing softball
teams."
The reason baseball players can hit 100-mph
fastballs but whiff at 70-mph softballs gets to the
heart of what it takes to intercept a speeding
projectile with a wooden stick. If hitting relied
simply on human reaction speed, it would not be
possible.
For the last three decades sports psychologists
have been assembling a picture of how elite athletes
hit 95-mph fastballs or return 150-mph tennis
serves. The intuitive explanation is that the Ryan
Howards and Rafael Nadals of the world simply
have faster nervous systems—quicker reflexes,
which give them more time to react to the ball. But it
turns out that when elite hitters, from baseball and
tennis to badminton to cricket, are hauled into the
lab, their reaction speeds are no better than those
of people chosen off the street.
In tests involving pressing a button in response to a
flashing light, most subjects—athletes and
nonathletes alike—take about 200 milliseconds, or a
fifth of a second. (You can test yourself online at
humanbenchmark.com) So, researchers conclude,
a fifth of a second is about the bare minimum
needed for the eye to take in information and
convey it by electrical impulse to the brain, and for
the brain to relay a message to the hands. "Once
that pitch reaches the last 200 milliseconds,"
Thomas says, "you can't change your decision
anymore. You're already swinging where you're
swinging—and a lot can happen in the last 200
milliseconds of a pitch."
Two hundred milliseconds is almost half the entire
flight time of a big league heater; the batter must
start his swing before the ball is halfway to home
plate. And given that the window for actually making
solid contact with a fastball is about five
milliseconds, or 1/200th of a second, it's a wonder
that anyone ever hits it. In fact, the only way to
accomplish it—the technique that separates the
expert from the amateur—is to see the future.
Bruce Abernethy was an undergraduate at the
University of Queensland in Australia and an avid
cricket player in the late 1970s when he started
wondering about the visual information employed by
top batters. He began shooting cricket bowlers on
Super 8 film and would then show test subjects the
film but cut it off before the throw and have them
try to predict where the ball was going. In the
decades since, Abernethy, a professor in the School
of Human Movement Studies at the University of
Queensland, has become exceedingly sophisticated
in his methods for so called "occlusion studies"—
tests that block part of the thrower's or server's
body, or that stop the motion before it's finished.
Abernethy has put special goggles on tennis players
that black out their vision just before an opponent
serves the ball. He has shown cricket batters video
of bowlers with various parts of their bodies
deleted, and he has had batters wear special
contact lenses that blur their vision. The idea is to
determine how expert athletes intercept projectiles
and what information they need to do so.


Because top hitters react no faster, on average,
than the general population, the only way they can
hit the ball better is to anticipate where it's going
long before it gets there. Compared with lower-level
players, Abernethy found, pros can tell where the
ball is going much more accurately, much earlier
and with much less information. For instance, top
tennis players can tell from the pre-serve
movement of their opponent's body—sometimes
just tiny shifts of the torso—whether a serve will be
on their forehand or backhand. Average players, in
contrast, must wait to see the motion of the racket,
losing valuable time.
Abernethy has also found that when he deletes
everything but the hand, wrist and elbow of a
cricket bowler from a video, elite players in some
cases still see enough to determine where the ball
is headed. "There's significant information between
the hand and arm, where they get cues for making
judgments," Abernethy says. In badminton, if he
edits out the forearm and the racket, top players
are reduced nearly to novice level, an indication that
seeing the lower arm is critical to decision making
in that sport. And it doesn't even matter if the arm
doesn't look like an arm. Top players still exhibited
anticipatory prowess when Abernethy replaced
human joints with points of light in digital
simulations.
And yet, professional baseball players were unable
to touch Finch or Feigner even without any
perceptual impediments. That's because they
simply have not developed the mental data to allow
them to anticipate such unfamiliar movements—a
skill that comes only with years of exposure and
practice.
Before occlusion studies shed light on perceptual
expertise in sports (the first significant tests were
performed by Canadian researcher Janet Starkes
on volleyball players in 1975), studies of chess
masters were beginning to illuminate the underlying
processes. In famous experiments starting in the
1940s, Dutch psychologist and chess master
Adriaan de Groot gave grandmasters and club
chess players five seconds to look at chessboards
with the pieces arranged in game scenarios. Then
the arrangement was taken away, and De Groot
had the players reconstruct the board they had just
seen. Grandmasters could remember the position of
nearly every piece, while decent club players could
reconstruct only about half the board. De Groot and
subsequent researchers determined that the
masters were "chunking" information—rather than
remember the position of every piece separately,
the grandmasters grasped small chunks of
meaningful information, which allowed them to place
the pieces. We all use this strategy to an extent in
daily life. For example, while it would be difficult to
remember 15 random words, it's much less difficult
to remember a coherent 15-word sentence
because one need only recall bits of meaning and
grammar, which coordinate the order of words in
your head.
Moreover, to test whether the grandmasters' skill is
the result of game experience or prodigious
memory, psychologists have presented master and
club players with chess boards containing pieces
randomly arranged in a way that did not make
sense in the context of a game. In that
circumstance the experts' memories are no better
than the club players'.
What major league players and pro tennis and
cricket athletes seem to do is to synthesize and
group information about the human body based on
their playing experience. Give them unfamiliar data,
such as Jennie Finch's underhand pitching motion,
and the years they've spent taking mental pictures
of a pitcher's motion and the rotation of the ball are
less useful. The human chessboard becomes
suddenly more random, and the players are left to
react rather than to anticipate.
The same goes for quarterbacks. Peyton Manning
would probably have trouble recalling the exact
position of randomly distributed players in the Colts'
locker room, but show him those players positioned
on a football field, and he would be better at
recalling the arrangement because each segment—
the positioning of the defensive backs relative to his
receivers, for example—has an underlying, unifying
meaning for him. That's why crafty defensive
coordinators attempt to disguise a defense: They try
to forestall Manning's ability to predict the future
using cues from patterns he's seen before.
Additionally, a quarterback, like a baseball batter,
does not have time to consciously analyze
everything he sees. Despite the fact that Manning
has spent thousands of hours breaking down film,
it's impossible for him to recall everything he's
seen in the video room. Instead, just as Ryan
Howard unconsciously marshals a lifetime of data
on pitchers' body movements, Manning processes
all that he knows about how defensive schemes
react to various offensive formations. If Howard or
Manning had to sort through what they had
previously seen in order to make a decision, he
would take too long and certainly fail. It has to be
automatic.
Brain-imaging studies have shown that when
people are first learning a skill such as driving a
car, they engage the higher-conscious areas of the
brain such as the cerebral cortex. But with practice,
the skill becomes automated and moves to more
primitive brain areas like the cerebellum. Thus
experienced drivers can maneuver a car with far
less active attention, at least until faced with
unanticipated obstacles. And quarterbacks can
choose where to throw while under pressure
without consciously thinking back on every
defensive arrangement they've ever seen.
Phillip L. Ackerman, a professor of psychology at
Georgia Tech who studies skill acquisition, uses a
military analogy to describe a quarterback's
decision-making process: "It's an if-then task. If
you recognize a certain pattern, you react to it. And
you have to do it without thinking about it. It's like a
soldier taking apart a weapon when it jams. You
learn it to the level where you can do it without
thinking, because people are shooting at you."

This science contradicts some of sports' hoariest
beliefs. The exhortation of every Little League coach
to "keep your eye on the ball"? Impossible. "If you
monitor the eyes of batters, the gaze stops tracking
the ball before they hit," Abernethy says. "You don't
have a visual system fast enough to track the
angular changes that occur over the last few
meters of the flight." Nonetheless, he says, keep
your eye on the ball is probably sound advice,
because it keeps your head still and pointed in the
right direction to gather the necessary information
from the pitcher's body.
"The real advice would be, 'Watch the shoulder,'"
Abernethy says, "but [even] that doesn't help. It
actually makes [players] worse." That's because
forcing an athlete to think consciously about an
automated task destroys his ability to anticipate and
puts him back in the realm of reaction.
Coaches who call timeouts to ice free throw
shooters and field goal kickers are trying to exploit
what researchers have codified: Break up the
routine; get the player thinking. University of
Chicago psychologist Sian Beilock, author of the
book Choke, has demonstrated that, in golf,
pressure-induced poor putting can sometimes be
overcome with simple remedies such as singing to
yourself or counting backward by threes. For
automated tasks like putting or placekicking, mild
distraction, rather than intense concentration, may
be the best approach because it keeps the process
out of the higher-conscious areas of the brain,
where what Beilock calls "paralysis by analysis"
takes root.
Another implication of studies of expert athletes is
that pitching machines are probably rather useless
for developing the most important skills involved in
hitting. While they might be good for practicing
mechanics or developing strength, they fall short in
terms of sharpening the anticipation skills that are
needed to hit live pitching. "The machine is
completely predictable," Abernethy says, "which is
the antithesis of the natural task."
This may also explain why a pitcher with a strange
windup, like Hideo Nomo, could thrive in his rookie
season (2.54 ERA) but never touch that
performance in the years that followed. Hitters had
gathered sufficient visual data on his motion. The
importance of visual clues also explains why
Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is nearly impossible
to hit when he's on his game. Perry Husband, a
longtime hitting coach in California who has studied
millions of major league pitches, says videos show
that Rivera's motion for his cutter and four-seam
fastball are identical—as is the flight of the ball
three quarters of the way to the plate (beyond the
200-millisecond line) before it breaks to one side or
the other of the strike zone. "Everything he throws
is lying to the hitter's eyes," Husband says.
And sometimes what the pitcher throws might lie to
more than the hitter. Among Eddie Feigner's tricks
was a pitch in which he would whirl his arm in
several directions before throwing from behind his
back. Or so it seemed. Feigner would actually throw
the ball into his own glove. The catcher would then
stand up as if having caught the ball and throw it to
first as if there had been a strikeout.
Often an umpire would call the strike, perhaps not
wanting to admit the embarrassment of losing sight
of the ball. Then Feigner usually let the ump in on
the joke, so the count could be corrected. But during
a game in Canada once, Feigner didn't let on—
because after the umpire called a strike, the batter
argued vociferously that the pitch had been high.
Based on the cues he picked up to anticipate
Feigner's pitch, he may well have been right.
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