From Bola to Bowler
‘Set it to about 65; half volleys outside off please..’
The machine is set, the bucket of balls is full and you have a willing helper to drop them into the hole. You can proceed to stand and feel good as the ball flies straight as an arrow into a nice area where, if the bat comes down in a vaguely straight line you can feel like Ian Bell for as long as your friend will put the balls in for you.
What are you getting from this experience? Some would argue that using the bowling machine allows a batter to build some confidence, to feel that they are striking the ball nicely. Some might even get video or verbal feedback as to the efficiency of their foot movement and head positon. Great, all worthwhile, but is practice against the bowling machine indoors preparing you for the first time you head out to bat for your team this summer?
Whilst there is a place for the machine in our indoor training, do not leave yourself under the illusion that just because you can hit a floaty half volley that comes on to the bat with even pace and bounce all along the floor indoors, you will do the same in the middle. When you walk out to try to locate what will undoubtedly be a green wicket on 20th April you can’t expect to be fed the same barrage of gentle half volleys all waiting to be put away along the floor with your newly crafted cover drive. The bowlers will be bowling different lengths, the wicket, still cold and damp from the winter will encourage lateral movement off the seam, there will be a little bit of swing in there too and as for expecting the ball to come nicely onto the bat from short of a length, think again.
'Cricket - A Leading Edge' by Patrick Latham & Wesley Durston
So how best to prepare for your first game? Absolutely use the machine to get back into your batting. Focus on head position, feet movement, alignment, bat swing, etc.. to ensure that all is working correctly again after the break. Don’t rely solely on the machine for your hitting though, as without doubt the first one you see on a length that you have been busy blazing through the cover area indoors all winter will be hit very nicely at chest height to cover or mid-off.
When you are happy that your technique is working as you would like, throw downs are probably going to be a much better representation of what you might find outdoors. Yes, the ball will still come on evenly, but at least you will now need to think. The machine will be repetitive in terms of pace, line and length allowing you to switch off and repeat whatever it is you have set it to do. Throws will all vary in line, length and pace making sure, even if you have briefed your partner on what you want to work on.
Try placing thin rubber or material mats (easily sourced at low cost in DIY or high street shops) on the floor to change the pace and bounce of the ball. This makes the batter think even more about assessing the delivery before committing to a shot. Thick string, or tent cord on the floor snaking up and down the wicket to help alter how the ball reacts on a normally true indoor surface is also a great way to sharpen the reactions. A thin bat will also to help focus attention on the ball and help keep the batter sharp. Anything you can do to help create an environment that reflects more what a batter will find outdoors early season rather than the dry even ‘roads’ we find in mid-august, will help to make the batter think more about shot selection and making life a bit more challenging, giving you a bit of a chance of success in the early season games.
© Cricket World & Patrick Latham & Wesley Durston