Alex Stockton looks forward to the cricket season…
(pictures by Max Miller and Jack Pinnock)
It’s almost here, folks. Yep, that’s right – Saturday afternoons filled with rain-interrupted, distinctly mild cricket matches are almost upon us. Perhaps that’s slightly unfair. The weather may yet improve, and … well, that’s just about all we need, isn’t it? The sun really can make all the difference.
The first game of the season, for the higher divisions, takes place on April 21st. For the rest, they’ve got to wait a week or two longer. With a few changes to the NCL rulebook, the 2018 season promises much. Surprises and healthy competition are a given, as is that one weekend where no results are possible (apart from in the game where a side gets skittled for 25). How, though, can we best prepare for that first ball, or ensure that we limit the number of half-trackers we serve up? The key, as always, is in our preparation.
I’ve spoken before about the best ways to prepare for those green, early season wickets. Bowl full, and play the ball late when you’re batting. Here, though, I’m focusing more on mentality. It can be difficult to go straight from indoor nets to your first game of the season in the space of a couple of weeks, which is likely what the majority of clubs are having to do.
Batting and bowling indoors is completely different to doing so outside, in a game situation; that much is a given. For starters, you’ve got no real pressure on you. There’s no scoreboard telling you that you need 6 an over, and nothing quite like sending down the first ball of the game. It’s extremely difficult to create that pressure in a training environment. You won’t have the butterflies, and you’ll know that if you’re out, you can put the stumps back up and go again. Herein lies the first option: the practice match. If you’ve got the opportunity for a preseason friendly, be it against another side or an inter-squad affair, take it. Get some overs under your belt, and get back out in the middle with the bat, as it’s the best possible way to practice.
Chances are, though, you might not have that chance. What with the recent weather, few groundsmen are willing to let anyone churn up their square, especially only for a practice game. The alternative is largely a mentality shift. When you practise in the build up to those first few games, treat it like a game. If you bowl a poor delivery, try to acknowledge it, and if you’re out, maybe swap with someone at the other end. Small tweaks like that can give you a bit of an edge, getting you used to doing everything properly again. If you’re up for being really harsh on yourself, leave the net when you’re out. That way, you’ve almost perfectly created a game situation. Perhaps have two bowlers per net, each bowling 6 balls, and then swap out. Essentially, whatever you can do to better replicate what you’ll have on a Saturday, the better.
There’s also the tactical side of things to consider. All too often do bowlers simply run up and let the ball go in nets, without any real desire to execute any plans. Talk to the other bowlers in the nett and work out how you’re going to get the guy with a bat in his hand out. Three of you bowl outside off stump, and then one of you slip an in-swinger in, that kind of thing. Remember the new NCL rules mean there are no losing draws anymore, either. With that in mind, it might be a good idea to practice some Yorkers, and look to limit the scoring a little more than you previously had. For the batsmen, try to run. Rather than simply smoking the ball, chest-high, into the net, talk to the bowlers and work out what field they’ve set. That way, you can try to judge runs as you would in a game situation, and you might even start to feel the pressure of dot balls.
Finally, when it comes to pressure there’s honestly no real way of truly replicating those pre-game jitters. The best thing you can do is try to work out in your own head how you’re going to approach any given innings. Provided you’re clear, you’re able to control pretty much everything you can. If the bowler bowls you an unplayable delivery, so be it – hopefully you’ll get lucky. As pessimistic as it sounds, there’s nothing you can do if you get yorked first up, or glove one that rears off a length. The same can be said for bowlers, too. Know what you’re trying to do with every ball you bowl, and there’s little else you can control. If the batsman launches one but you’ve done what you were trying to do, then bad luck – go again. Seeing things in this way can help you quit worrying so much about what might go wrong. Sure, it can be frustrating if you’re making mistakes, but knowing that you’ve got your own objectives that no-one else can affect can certainly help. It puts everything in your hands, meaning you’re not sweating on something you can’t control.
Trying to remember these few pointers could make a big difference. If you simply go through the motions during your first few games, you could be struggling a little by week 4. Keeping all of these guidelines in mind will, hopefully, have you slightly better equipped for what lies ahead. Good luck, and enjoy those cold afternoons in the field!