This is an excerpt from Cutting Edge Cricket.
Developing Anticipation Skills
One of the characteristics of great players is that they never appear hurried when executing skills. This is the case with top batters, even against fast bowlers, and with wicketkeepers and fielders who always seem to get into the correct position early. High-speed film of these players confirms that they move early into stable body and head positions, which is essential for skilful batting and catching.
How are they able to do this? Professor Bruce Abernethy from the University of Queensland, and a former first-grade cricketer himself, has led the way in Australia in studying anticipation in fast ball sports. Acknowledging that a batter has insufficient time to make a decision after the ball has been released from a fast bowler's hand, he looked for other answers. He found that batters acquire knowledge of a bowler's favoured line and length and sequence of deliveries in particular circumstances. For example, ball-by-ball statistics enable them to learn more about bowlers' preferred options and sequences. He also found that batters can observe elements of the bowler's approach and delivery action before the ball is released and learn to predict the type and length of the ball about to be bowled. This learning process requires the use of video technology. Abernethy explained:
One way involves filming the bowler from the batter's normal stance position and then editing the collected video so that the display goes blank (is occluded) at or before the ball is released. The batter's task, when viewing such video, is to either select the type and length of the delivery (from a limited range of options) or alternatively to shadow bat (as if he were actually facing the bowler shown on the video). An alternative, more technologically challenging method is to have batsmen wear special liquid crystal goggles that can be turned from transparent to opaque on command. With this method players attempt to bat as they would normally while facing bowlers delivering a softer than usual ball. Their vision is occluded at different times before the ball is actually released. The interest, in this case, is to see whether the batsmen can make contact with the ball or, at least, make the correct critical foot movement decisions in the absence of ball flight information.
Both methods demonstrate that the more highly skilled batters pick up movement pattern information earlier and predict the type and length of the delivery more accurately than those who are less skilled. The most critical information comes from the bowling hand and its relationship to the bowling arm after front foot contact has occurred. Abernethy is of the view that anticipatory skill develops slowly and requires extensive exposure to adult movement patterns.
Retrospective studies of successful batsmen frequently reveal that these players have experienced large amounts of unstructured practice during their developing years (especially informal activities such as backyard cricket) and have had early exposure to playing against adults. The latter may be important not only in providing early opportunities to start learning the features of adult bowling patterns but also in creating situations in which success depends on strategy development. This cannot be achieved, as it may be in junior competition, simply on the basis of physical strength and maturity. Abernethy provided the following list of implications of these findings for practice by batters, bowlers, wicketkeepers and fielders.
- At the adult level, the ability to anticipate is a significant predictor of success and needs to be systematically trained.
- Drills to enhance anticipation need to be introduced into routine practice from an early age.
- Many conventional practice drills for batting (especially those involving the use of bowling machines) do not train anticipation because the bowler's movement pattern is removed as a component of the drill.
- Accumulating knowledge about the opposing bowlers can aid successful anticipation.
- The inclusion of net-based or video-based training in which only prerelease information is available should be considered. This requires batters to make batting responses exclusively on the basis of information from the bowler's run-up and delivery action.
- It is important for bowlers to maximise the uncertainty they can create for batters and to develop disguise or deception within their delivery actions. This limits batters' early detection of changes in delivery types and delays the decision-making process.
- Bowlers should obtain objective statistics about their own bowling lines, lengths and sequences; be aware of any predictable patterns that exist; and be prepared to vary them to create uncertainty in batters.
- Bowlers should systematically practice and refine their skills in holding back critical cues as late as possible and presenting misleading ones. Practice in being able to do this is facilitated by the use of video technology.
- It is obviously advantageous, particularly with spin bowling, for the wicketkeeper to know as early as possible the type of delivery about to be bowled.
- Although much of the learning required to ‘pick' the bowler's delivery may be achieved through repetitive keeping to the bowler in practice sessions, benefits may also be derived from using training regimes similar to those suggested for batsmen.
- Bowlers can also give a signal to a wicketkeeper to pre-empt a change in delivery, without the batter being aware of it.
- Fielders in key positions such as cover and mid wicket are more likely to be able to intercept the batter's scoring strokes if they can commence their interceptive movements early. This requires being able to anticipate the shot based on the batter's preferred selection or preliminary movements prior to striking the ball.
- Systematically acquiring knowledge about each batter's preferred strokes plus contextual knowledge about the state of the wicket and the match can help develop accurate expectations about likely events, which will facilitate anticipation.
- Systematically training the ability to predict shot direction and force from the batter's pre-contact movement, using methods such as video-based practice, may also be beneficial.
- Conventional fielding drills that simply involve the coach hitting the ball to either side of the fielder do not train anticipation because the batter's precontact movements are removed as a component of the drill.
Abernethy advises that enhancing anticipatory skills effectively takes many years of practice. Anticipation skill training should therefore be built into the practice regimes within developmental programs and not left until adult training. Players and coaches need to be realistic about what improvements can be expected and attained from only short periods of training.
Being able to anticipate the speed and direction of the ball being bowled is critical for batters and wicketkeepers. Picking up cues from bowlers about to deliver the ball is essential in this process, but it takes time to learn and should be practiced from an early age.