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All Out Cricket's Discussion of the Week - Do today's batsmen have the technique for Test cricket?

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Post by All Out Cricket Mon Dec 12, 2011 4:49 pm

Today on All Out Cricket, Rohan Kallicharan says that modern-day batsmen are ill-equipped to cope with the rigours of Test cricket:

http://www.alloutcricket.com/blogs/comment/when-the-going-gets-tough-the-batsmen-start-going

Do you agree?


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Post by Fists of Fury Mon Dec 12, 2011 5:03 pm

It is an interesting one, this.

Firstly, there can be no doubt that the introduction of T20 cricket and competitions such as the IPL have had an effect on Test cricket to some extent. This can be seen in the kind of run rates that we are seeing on an increasingly regular basis in Test cricket, with 3.50 an over not being uncommon, and 4 an over on occasion.

I would note, though, that we had seen a gentle increase in scoring rates before T20 really kicked off big, and it would appear that it is partly due to the evolution of the game. Bigger and better bats, along with better pitches are probably part of the reason.

It is true that we do see a fair number of batting collapses, but if pushed I would probably put that down to psychological effects more than a lack of technique per se.

Let's take Australia as an example in the fourth innings of the second Test against New Zealand yesterday. That batting lineup possesses stacks of experience and quality in Michael Clarke, Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey. Each of those three have the technique to succeed against any type of bowling and in any conditions, and they have proven this on numerous occasions in the past. However, we have seen them collapse in both Hobart and in South Africa now, which is why I think that pressure and mental doubts must play as big a part as any.

There are of course some players that struggle for the correct technique and temperament to play Test cricket. Suresh Raina struggled horribly against the short ball - something he is very much protected from in limited overs cricket, as did Phil Hughes. Hughes appears to have improved in that area now, with the consequence being that he is now snicking every full ball that comes his way straight to the slips! Clearly in such instances technique does play more of a part, and limited overs cricket may have had some role in that.

I won't mention the likes of Rahul Dravid, as he is very much from the old school of batsmen, and such a statement clearly can't be levelled at him, but an example of a younger batsman playing properly and with the required technique/temperament is Rohit Sharma. He hasn't had a chance in Test cricket as yet, but you can tell from watching him that he will likely succeed, such is his compact style.

Limited overs cricket does tempt players in to playing at slightly wider balls than they perhaps would have had it not existed, I'd say, which inevitably leads to wickets on occasion, but overall if you take a quick glance around the batting lineups of the worlds finest Test sides, I'd say they're full of batsmen that do have the required technique and temperament, and have the records to prove that they are more than adept at playing Test cricket.

It's for that reason that I put more stock in the mental aspect when it comes to wholesale batting collapses.

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Post by JDizzle Mon Dec 12, 2011 5:07 pm

I think that batsmen still definitely have the technique for Test Match cricket. For every innings that the author mentions in that blog, there would have been and equal number of other innings where sides would have subsided like Australia have down numerous times on recent occasions.

Just look at Alastair Cook in recent times, he has been a model of concentration and discipline and anyone who tells me he doesn't have at least the mental aspect of the game in equal or greater abundance than the players mentioned is a liar.

Pitches are definitely getting flatter, but players like Ian Bell still have picture perfect techniques and could have played in any era and succeeded in some shape of form. In fact, I would back Cook, KP, Trott and Bell at this current moment to succeed if they are transported back in time to the 1980's. So in conclusion, no still think modern batsmen have the technique to play Tests.

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Post by Mike Selig Mon Dec 12, 2011 5:20 pm

In parts.

The problem is less one of technique than concentration and judgement. Leaving aside somebody like Hughes.

Technique is vastly overrated by pundits and commentators alike. Many of the world's best ever players have had what some people would say was "poor" "technique". What they mean by that is that the technique doesn't correspond to that exhibitted by the MCC coaching manual. Examples include Lara, Ponting, Bradman, Viv Richards, etc.

No as I say, the issue collectively is very rarely a technical one (Hughes this summer, Clarke last summer, Cook against Pakistan are all individual examples). The problem is a mental one: players nowadays find it hard to adapt to the longer form of the game in general, and in particular the Australians seem prone to lapses of concentration and gifting their wickets away. There is also a lack of confidence in some of their strokeplay, so when they do go for their shots they don't commit fully which of course compounds the problem.

With regards to Australia specifically (and India in England), there seems to be panic when they lose a wicket. The new batsman doesn't know whether to play his natural game, or guts it out. In short, the gameplan isn't well enough defined, or not trusted, or not acted upon (know your plan, trust it, put it in action and you're most of the way there).

In short:
- Some players have technical issues, but they always have.
- When teams collapse the problem is usually mental rather than technical.
- Shorter formats have had a negative effect on player's concentration and adaptation skills.
- Lack of confidence can happen very quickly and once it does is hard to get rid of.

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Post by rohan.kallicharan Mon Dec 12, 2011 7:07 pm

Very valid points all - a couple of short responses.

I think someone like Alistair Cook deserves the highest credit for actually working out the technical flaws in his game and successfully overcoming them to become the very good player that he is today. That said, it is easy to forget, through all of their exceptional performances of late, that this is the same England who folded twice at Perth on a pitch with a little bit of bounce and lateral movement. Certainly though, Bell, Trott and Cook consistently display the right temperament to make big scores.

The most valid point here is the mental approach to the game. Someone like Dravid has constantly shown himself able to mentally prepare himself for all situations and for long innings. The mental side is by far the most important part of a successful batsman's make up, but there is only so much that I could get across in a weekly comment column.

In many respects, the mental flaws are shown up by so many with the lack of patience and this tendency to try and drive any width on the up, so I absolutely agree with the comment about lack of adaptation to the longer format.

I am certainly not advocating a technique straight out of the handbook - the word technique could mislead. However, all of the players named above, when in form, had something in common ... good footwork, ability to leave the ball, and head still and in line upon contact. You don't have to bat like Boycs to do that!

Cheers for the comments, agree greatly ... as I said, we could write chapter and verse on this, but the guys at AOC might refuse to edit it!!

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Post by rich1uk Mon Dec 12, 2011 7:29 pm

gotta agree with the consensus here that mindset, approach to the innings, concentration and good decision making are more important than technique.

never thought i would see myself agreeing with nasser but alot of batsmen now seem to have forgotten how to just leave a delivery. if you continually play at deliveries outside the off-stump, even if you are playing defensively then its only a matter of time before one of them will find the edge rather than the middle of your bat.

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Post by Fists of Fury Mon Dec 12, 2011 7:52 pm

Rohan, firstly - welcome to the forum. Great to see you join up, and hopefully you'll become a regular poster. There's plenty of debate around here to stimulate us cricket buffs!

I think you're right in that we could write pages and pages on this subject, given that there is such a fine line between success and failure for a batsman. Clearly, the most successful batsmen manage to combine all of the required facets on a regular basis i.e. Mentally, technically and even physically - fit in body, fit in mind, as they say, which can only aid concentration - a vital part of a good Test innings.

Your article is a very good one, by the way, and it is a subject that I do believe is worthy of discussion. I'd say that the factors brought in by the proliferation of T20 cricket nowadays probably do impact upon the way many players set about their Test innings, and the choices they make during these innings, but at the same time it is probably a bit broad brush to suggest that it may be the solitary cause of such collapses on difficult pitches or in challenging conditions.

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Post by Fists of Fury Mon Dec 12, 2011 7:53 pm

By the way, good to see a fellow Brummie in these parts thumbsup

Warks fan?

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Post by Mike Selig Mon Dec 12, 2011 7:59 pm

rohan.kallicharan wrote:

I am certainly not advocating a technique straight out of the handbook - the word technique could mislead. However, all of the players named above, when in form, had something in common ... good footwork, ability to leave the ball, and head still and in line upon contact. You don't have to bat like Boycs to do that!


I agree entirely. Sorry if my last post was unclear. I wasn't saying you could play in any fashion you saw fit, but sometimes too much stall is set out by what I would call orthodox technique (a la Ian Bell): if your particular technique works for you then it's a good technique. I would suggest (as you do) that all good techniques include the following:
- Decisive and precise footwork (which doesn't have to be "orthodox" - nothing wrong with Ponting's forward lunge and swivel pull for example)
- Stable base
- Head in line and over the left-shoulder
- bat coming down straight (that is, the bat must finish its arc in a straight line down the line of the wicket)


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Post by guildfordbat Mon Dec 12, 2011 8:09 pm

Very interesting subject and article.

I'm going out now - still feebly trying to have a life despite 606 v2! Wink However, I'll try to post later tonight.

Rohan - much appreciated that you've joined the thread, thank you. Most predictable of all predictable questions but what's your connection to Alvin? Assume there must be some sort. An extremely fine batsman. I grew up in the Midlands and followed Warks through the 1970s for whom he excelled as well as the Windies.

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Post by rohan.kallicharan Mon Dec 12, 2011 8:32 pm

Mike, great points in both posts. What we probably both overlooked was the ability of the really good batsmen to play the ball late. That has been true in any era.

I remember bowling to my old man (answer for guildford.bat!) and Dennis Amiss in an MCC game after they'd both retired. I was moving it about at brisk medium but they both, dad in particular, played the ball so late ... and left it late as a result, real class batting.

The modern trend, and I agree with fists that it is not simply a result of 1-Day cricket, is to push at the ball which allows no room to manoeuvre or for 'soft hands'. Belly is a really good player because he plays the ball so late. Trotty does push at it but his eye seems to be so good that he judges line perfectly.

I'd just like, especially on sporting wickets, of which we need more, to see top order batsmen go out and just set out their stall to bat all day, a throwback to when 230-4 was a good 1st day effort as opposed to 300-9.

There will never be universal agreement, but there is an art to true Test Match batsmanship, and it seems to be a lost one bar a few very good players in the game today.

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Post by Fists of Fury Mon Dec 12, 2011 9:06 pm

Ah makes sense now, that is some claim to fame, Rohan! Better than my 'once spoke to Paul Nixon on the phone' claim, although it was entertaining!

I guess a lot of it is down to evolution of the game as well. Would today's crowd accept 230-4 in a days play? We are going to see crowds increasingly brought up on a cocktail of Test, ODI and T20 cricket (possibly more so on the shorter format), and as such they're going to want to see runs and wickets and get good value for money on what are incredibly expensive tickets in this day and age.

It could also be argued that the game needs these 300-9 in one day scenarios in order for Test cricket to remain favourable to fans. Long time fans of the game wouldn't mind a solid day of attrition too much, but I can't imagine it being the same for the next generation of fans, the youngsters growing up in the age of huge bats and shorter boundaries.

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Post by skyeman Mon Dec 12, 2011 9:25 pm

rohan.kallicharan wrote:
I remember bowling to my old man (answer for guildford.bat!) and Dennis Amiss in an MCC game after they'd both retired. I was moving it about at brisk medium but they both, dad in particular, played the ball so late ... and left it late as a result, real class batting.
[quote]

Welcome to the section RK, as FoF says, I hope you can make regular contributions to the section because obviously you would bring a valuable inside knowledge of cricket to the forum.
Sounds like you would have also met many more esteemed players of the game. Cool

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Post by Mike Selig Mon Dec 12, 2011 10:14 pm

Just have to say I get terribly star-struck around anyone remotely famous, or (as in this case) related to famous people. Quite an honor to have yourself amongst us here.

You mention the modern trend to go hard at the ball, this is no doubt in part a product of one-dayers and of course heavy bats which means you can go hard and clear the slips. On the other hand there are some very successful batsmen who do go hard at the ball, you mention Trott, but Ponting and of course Shewag do the same.

As a coach I advise my players to let the ball come to them but then also that if they go go for a shot they have to fully commit. I think what we see with teams when they have to play on spicy wickets is they get uncertain about how to go about it (certainly Ponting's dismissal yesterday looked a bit like that, and Clarke as well to a lesser extent). This is in part because they don't play a lot on difficult pitches (so they are litterally uncertain about the best way to go about things on such pitches) but also I would think because their brain is telling them to guts it out, but they've been taught all their careers to go hard.

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Post by guildfordbat Tue Dec 13, 2011 1:36 am

Rohan - first of all, I have to cover the hero worship bit. Your ''old man'' (your words) was a tremendous cricketer who gave immense pleasure throughout his career for, in particular, the West Indies and Warks. I feel entitled to say that as I was brought up in the Midlands and saw him excel at county cricket at not just Edgbaston but also Nuneaton! I bet not many on here can say that! Unlike the previous poster Wink I've also always maintained that the Windies team(s) of the late 1970s and throughout the '80s featuring your father was the greatest of all time. Ok, embarrassment over. Apologies for that but sincerely meant.

I think a lot of very good points have already been made and discussed; in particular, by and with Mike. I won't go over those but will instead raise one further point or, more accurately, one question.

That is - Has the nature of Test cricket changed requiring a different technique from today's batsmen than in the past?

I suspect the immediate reaction would be along the lines of ''No, Test Cricket will always be Test Cricket''.

However, I do believe that in particular coaches and captains nowadays have a far more positive approach to Test Matches than in the past. I appreciate this is a simple generalisation but when I was growing up and first following Test cricket in the 1960s the first objective seemed to be ''not to lose it'' and the second ''to win it''. I think today there is often a far more positive and attacking philosophy adopted in Tests with those objectives now the other way.

I suspect far more Tests were drawn in earlier eras than the current one. You may well claim that is because batsmen now don't possess sufficiently the ''art to true Test Match batsmanship'' and could be right. However, it could also be down - at least in part - to both sides seeking a positive result from outset. It would be interesting to see some stats on the number of drawn Test Matches over the decades.

Like you, Rohan, I am of the old school and tend to think that 230 -4 is a par score and satisfactory position at the end of day one of a Test rather than 300 - 9. However, it should be noted this won't have been too thrilling for the paying public and vast tv audience who (rightly or wrongly) increasingly demand not only value but also action for their money.

More importantly as regards the Match itself, a day one score of 230 -4 can still lead to a score of 300 - 9 by lunchtime on day two.

I'm a Surrey member these days and spoke to Chris Adams about a slightly similar situation in the County Champonship last season. [Apologies if that sounds like name dropping - it's certainly not intentional. If I was going to try and name drop to the son of a West Indian great I would have come up with a better name than Adams! Very Happy ]

Surrey were regularly opening their CC innings with a couple of aggressive, free scoring batsmen (two of Hamilton-Brown, Davies and the magnificent Roy). I asked Adams if it was a deliberate tactic to try and hit quick runs up front (there was a lot of concern about wickets waiting to happen due to the Tiflex ball) and demoralise the opposition. Adams replied along the lines of ''No, it's not a planned tactic. However, each batsman is encouraged to play his own natural game. It certainly helps that we can score runs quickly as that gives our bowlers more time to take twenty wickets and win the game.''

I think Adams' response was both sensible and realistic in Surrey's circumstances. It also reflects a considerable change in the typical perceived role of opening batsmen in county cricket.

I know county cricket far better than Test cricket these days but do wonder if the latter is now also undergoing a change of thinking and approach.

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Post by Fists of Fury Tue Dec 13, 2011 9:40 am

I think that's what it is, Guildford. As I've said above, I really do think it is just down to evolution of the game. Different values are being instilled in youngsters from the moment they pick up a bat. Whereas in the past they probably wouldn't move on until the forward defensive was mastered, they're now probably teaching the switch hit in their second coaching class. I jest, of course, but you get my meaning.

I think that, coupled with the demands from fans of the game i.e. that they want to be entertained, means that we are likely to see more and more instances of Test matches being wrapped up within four days. Not always ideal for the purists, which are a dying breed almost, but it provides compelling viewing and may be what is needed to take the game on to the next level and keep its prominence in the mind of youngsters.

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Post by Mike Selig Tue Dec 13, 2011 2:15 pm

Fists of Fury wrote:I think that's what it is, Guildford. As I've said above, I really do think it is just down to evolution of the game. Different values are being instilled in youngsters from the moment they pick up a bat. Whereas in the past they probably wouldn't move on until the forward defensive was mastered, they're now probably teaching the switch hit in their second coaching class. I jest, of course, but you get my meaning.

This is an interesting point. The thing is, as both yourselves and guilford have alluded to, I think cricket faces more competition from other sports so has to make itself entertaining/appealing (sorry for the pun!) to survive. In the past (correct me if I'm wrong) cricket was essentially the only summer sport and played at most/all schools, so everyone more or less played cricket. Nowadays of course the schools part is no more relevant, football and other sports are more or less played all year, not to mention the fact that other sports (especially say martial arts) are exponentially more popular than they were maybe 20 or 30 years ago.

the effect this has had on coaching is you now have to make the game enjoyable to beginners from the off, or you won't encourage them to carry on the sport. Of course in non-cricket tradition countries (like France) we have had this problem from the outset. So no, the first thing you teach a youngster to do isn't the forward defensive or the long-barrier (of course the latter is essentially useless anyway - don't get me started on long barriers) but probably the straight drive (or even the sweep which may be more natural).

In parallel to this (which I would say are the changes from the bottom-up) are the changes from the top-down, with the arrival of ODI and T20, changing tactics and a change in emphasis (as underlined by Guilford) for which we have much to thank S. Waugh's Australians. This has made cricket trendy again, but trendy as it is, not as it was. Thus the beginners are not only wanting to learn how to play reverse sweeps etc. as it is fun, but also they see how successful they can be, because the guys they see on TV do this.

In short: cricket has had to make itself trendy both from the top-down and the bottom-up. It is probably being successful at this, but at what cost? The cost at the moment seems to be that the "guts it out" innings is becoming a rarity.

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Post by Mike Selig Tue Dec 13, 2011 2:17 pm

As a PS: at the level I coach at we certainly coach the reverse sweep, clearing your front leg to hit over the off-side, the paddle shot against the quicker bowlers etc. From a bowling perspective we've got a 17 year-old who can bowl a slow bouncer, all our quicks have to learn slower balls, bouncers, yorkers, our fielders learn "modern" techniques. The game is certainly changing (and I find it extremely challenging and enjoyable as a coach).

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Post by kiakahaaotearoa Tue Dec 13, 2011 3:08 pm

I think it´s a double edged sword. Certainly Kiwi batsmen lack the technique for test cricket. We overperform at the shortened version of the game so it´s no suprise we produce the typical big-hitting all-rounder and place no emphasis on producing steady as you go players like Mark Richardson, John Wright or Andrew Jones. But as well as not having the technique I often think it´s the temperament as well. Too often NZ batsmen try to force the play because they think if you´re not scoring at a great clip you´re going to lose.

That said, I think the shortened version of the game has increased the likelihood of results. Strike rate has a big influence on the way batting sides get their runs and that I think has impacted on how test cricket is played to some extent. Those batsmen who rely on more agricultural shots, however, are more likely to get out in the long version of the game. Those who hide their weaknesses more and play more conventional strokes invariably prosper.

The technology of bats has also vastly improved. But video analysis and technology available to bowling shouldn´t be underestimated either. Players couldn´t previously pore through video analysis to hunt out a player´s weakness in the past. That makes batting a lot more complicated nowadays.

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Post by guildfordbat Tue Dec 13, 2011 4:55 pm

Mike - just to quickly express appreciation of your posts today together with a sneaking admiration for the way you also managed to fit in ''for which we have much to thank S. Waugh's Australians''! Very Happy

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