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Getting your net worth: how to ensure winter training makes a difference

Alex Stockton has some off-season training tips for cricketers…

For clubs throughout the county, winter nets will be starting up again soon. Personally, I’m back training again on January 17th, and I simply can’t wait. It’s only the second year that I’ve not started back up again at the end of October, and it’s been far too long. As always, though, it’s important to remember why we net: to perform better out in the middle. With that in mind, I’ve put together a short, 5-point plan that’ll help you get the most out of the next 3 or so months of indoor sessions.

Remember why you’re there

The first point on our list is an extremely important one. While the season is still a long way off, it’s the main reason we have these winter sessions. The whole point of training at this time of the year is to prepare for the start of the season.

That means it’s extremely important to bowl, bat, and field as if you were in a match situation. Batsmen, don’t smoke everything in the air off the front foot just because there are no fielders in a net; that’s a single-figure score outside. Bowlers, don’t get carried away with the bouncer. All too often do you see fast bowlers tearing in indoors, sending deliveries whizzing past the batsmen’s noses, only for those same deliveries to sit up perfectly for the opposing side outdoors. Fielders, we’ll come to you in a second.

Obviously the main purpose of playing cricket on a Saturday is to have fun, so let yourself enjoy these sessions, too! While co-workers and family members continue to moan about the January blues, we can quietly wait for that first net session, safe in the knowledge that Christmas was merely a prelude to something far bigger.

Don’t forget to field

So, fielders. I promised I wouldn’t forget you, and look; you’ve got a whole section just to yourselves. As this sub-heading indicates, forgetting fielding practice is one of the worst things you can do in any training session. It makes up a third (if not more) of the game, and you’ve got to practise it just like you do batting and bowling. While the restrictions of training indoors mean there’s no way for you to exactly replicate a match situation, you can still take catches, create run-out scenarios and run through a few drills. If you can’t use cricket balls, get the plastics out – either way, just practise. If you turn up in the middle of April for your first game and you haven’t, then you might miss that all important chance.

Now is the time

This point might sound a little bit like I’m going back on my opening section, but hear me out. If you’ve got a technical issue you’d like to experiment with, or a flaw that needs ironing out, then now is the time to address it. “But you just said we need to practise like we’re in a game, like we have to do exactly what we’d do outdoors”. Yes, I did, but that’s kind of the point. These sessions are all about getting you ready for that first competitive fixture. That means you’ve got to do whatever you can make yourself a better outdoor cricketer.

So, if you’ve got an issue with your head position at the crease, or your front arm at the point of delivery, start looking at it now. Such issues are not the kind of thing anyone should be worrying about in the middle of an innings, or at the start of a spell. Talk to your teammates (or, preferably, a coach) and get to work. It’s one of the biggest clichés in cricket, but nets are the place for technical adjustments. Get your technique sorted in there, and give yourself one less thing to worry about in the summer.

Striking that balance between practising like you’re outside and working on the technical side of things can be difficult. The important thing is that you focus on improving your outdoor cricket; that can mean tweaking your technique, bowling to a plan, or taking so many catches it hurts.

Remember the rules

At the end of last season, the majority of NCL leagues voted for a significant change in the way this season’s game would be played. Instead of retaining the established format of winning and losing draws in the higher divisions, every league (except division 2) has voted to move back to win/ lose cricket.

This obviously represents quite a dramatic shift in emphasis. Whereas last season sides could hang on for a draw, even if they were still 100 runs behind come the end of the game, that won’t get you very far this year. Teams will have no option but to chase down totals if they want to do well batting second, while those batting first can effectively bat the opposition out of the game if they get it right.

There are plenty of arguments for and against this change in ruling, but it’s been decided now. The only thing we can do as cricketers is prepare properly. With that in mind, it might be worth practising your death bowling and power hitting a little bit more. If you’re a blocker, you might need to find some new scoring options. That’s not to say we’ll be seeing reckless cricket from now on in, it just won’t be enough anymore to dig in for the losing draw.

Talk it through

This is a bit of a different one, but it’s very important. If there was anything last season that you weren’t quite happy with, be it your batting number, your fielding position, or the team you were being selected in, then now’s the time to chat about it. Chat to team captains, cricket managers, and your teammates. There’s obviously no need to go in all guns blazing, but if you don’t share your thoughts with anyone, the nothing is going to change. I found last season that I bowled much better with the old ball than I did when I opened. As a result, I’d probably rather bowl first change this season a bit more; it’s that kind of thing that’s worth mentioning.

Looking ahead

That about wraps it up for this month, but we’re really getting into the swing of things now. It won’t be long until we’re all out in the middle on a cold April afternoon, standing at slip with our hands in our pockets. For now, though, let’s brush off those cobwebs and enjoy the first few weeks of the return of cricket.

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