Our cricket writer Alex Stockton on what is going through every cricketer’s mind during the early season
Last weekend, the cricket clubs of Northamptonshire began their 2017 seasons. While some of the NCL’s lower leagues don’t get underway for a couple of weeks, there were fixtures for a large number of sides. The weather was dry (although far from warm), and there will undoubtedly still be a sense of optimism among the vast majority of clubs and playing XIs that this could be their year. Having already taken a look at some of the frontrunners for this year’s Premier Division title, it’s time to check that everything is in order.
What with the smell of freshly cut grass and new cricket balls wafting around grounds at the moment, it’d be very easy to forget about a number of important points. Every cricketer should perform a number of checks before the start of a new campaign. On the one hand, it’s important to ensure that all of your kit works, but, crucially, there is undeniably a ritualistic aspect to it all. Just as some batsmen suffer from withdrawal symptoms if they don’t bump fists at the end of the over, it is considered good practice to give your kit a proper clean before the start of a new campaign. That doesn’t just mean your bat, either; your pads, helmet, spikes, and gloves should all be tended to if possible. The shining of the box is optional, but certainly wouldn’t harm anyone.
There is an argument that cricketers are among the most superstitious of sportspeople. Those in the pavilion are under a strict obligation to lift their feet off the floor when nelson (three consecutive numbers) graces the scoreboard with its presence. Bowlers seem to take issue with even the flattest of run-ups if it doesn’t “feel right”, while I’ve known fielders to wear multiple pairs of socks because they believe it attracts (or repels, depending on their ability) the ball. I’m completely in favour of it too. Superstition is one of cricket’s most defining attributes, after all.
Now for the checklist. Let’s start with the bat: the most universally recognised item of a cricketer’s bag. If you haven’t already, consider stripping the face off your favourite bat. Granted, with the season now underway this one’s perhaps a little late. Take this as a pre-season warning for next winter, though. Bats should be refreshed every so often. They need sanding down, oiling, and cleaning. For now, wiping the face down will suffice. A clean blade is always preferable entering a new season; fresh cherries can be a good indicator of your season’s form, and can be interesting to look back on a few weeks in.
Just as importantly, the maintenance of your protective equipment is crucial. Your helmet, pads, and gloves all need to be functioning perfectly, and it would be great if they looked smart too. Give them all a wipe down, and check that they’re not going to fall apart. Your helmet is the most crucial part of this; check that it’s solid and still fits you well. You need to be able to run in it without it moving, and, obviously, you need to be able to see the ball through the grill. If, for whatever reason, neither of these things apply, make the necessary adjustments.
Away from the equipment side of the game, let’s talk tactics. Early season ways of playing will differ from those later on in the year. For example, ensuring that you bowl full, and that you move your feet when batting, are excellent ways to combat the early season moisture. Starting off with bowling, getting the ball full is crucial to reaping the rewards of early season conditions. Regardless of whether you’re playing in Division 13 or the Prem, getting the ball right up there will allow you to take full advantage of the helpful early season pitches. Generally, the grassy, moist nature of April and May pitches will make the ball more likely to deviate sideways. Bowling short is, therefore, a waste of that opportunity.
Likewise, when you’re batting it’s important to get your feet moving early. In order to counteract that sideways movement, getting a good stride in down the pitch will help prevent being trapped on the crease. If you’re struggling to move your feet, rely on your head. It might sound like a strange piece of advice, but it’s your head that leads the rest of your body when you’re batting. If you can get your head as close to the ball as possible, the rest of your body (and feet!) will follow. Aside from that, ensure that you wait for the ball and take your time. These might all be very basic technical points, but they’re also very important. Regardless of your level, getting these things right will allow you to compete at your level. While they probably won’t help you make the jump from Division 11 to Div 1, they will put you won the right tracks towards performing better in your division.
All the best for game number two, and for the coming weekends. Here’s to a dry season, and to many more competitive fixtures.