Monday, September 21, 2009

The Straight Drive in Cricket

Batting in cricket is altogether different from batting in baseball in both objective and technique as well as the bat itself. In cricket the batter can hit or play at and miss as many of the balls bowled as he or she wants with a flat faced bat and scores by running between wickets or hitting the ball over the boundary. In baseball, it is 3 strikes and you are out and home runs or base hits, hit with a rounded bat, are the goal.

In both sport, professional bowlers or pitchers can deliver the ball at around 100 miles per hour and therefore timing and reaction are very important. In cricket though the batter can play a shot anywhere on the oval field, even behind him as long as he does not get caught or run out (I will not go into the rules of cricket but you can find them here). This means that in cricket there are a large variety of shots that can be played that require exceptional timing as well as perfect technique.

One of the classic and most eye catching shots in cricket is the straight drive. Most of the best cricket batters in the world such as Jacques Kallis and Ricky Ponting play this shot with ease and little effort.

Here is some video of Sachin Tendulkar, another cricket batting legend playing some straight drives off one of the fastest bowlers around, Brett Lee. The first shot is slightly mistimed and the ball angles off his bat, but the next 2 shots are perfect examples of a straight drive.

His timing and technique in the second shot is perfect and therefore requires little effort to transfer power and speed to the ball so that it races along the ground to the boundary and 4 more runs.

Let's analyze the video and break down his technique:
  • Tendulkar starts his movement by stepping with his front foot toward where the ball will bounce on the pitch and lifting his bat. As the ball is coming toward him at around 145 km/hr, he has very little time to react and therefore must move toward the ball and plan the shot he will play at the same time.
  • As bowling in cricket requires the ball to bounce, it can change direction and speed quite a bit after the bounce. Stepping forward to the area in which the ball will bounce allows the batter to get closer to the bounce and reduce the amount of movement that can occur after the bounce. This also allows the batter to get over the ball and prevent the shot from flying through the air and giving one of the fielders a chance to catch it.
  • Tendulkar brings his bat down straight with the flat face of the bat directed at the ball. Angling the bat will force the ball off in the direction toward which the bat is angled and also increases the chances of catching the edge of the bat or missing the ball completely. Although batters do sometimes play shots by changing the angle of the bat, you will not play a good straight drive with an angled bat.
  • Tendulkar connects with the ball around 1:21. By pausing the video you will see that his bat is alongside his front leg at the point of contact. His weight is also forward and over the front leg. He does this so that he can hit the ball directly toward the ground giving no chance for a catch. This timing also ensures that he has perfect balance and control over the shot.
  • He keeps his head down looking at the ball being hit off his bat and continues to keep his head down as he begins his follow through. Just as in other sports (golf, rugby place kicking) this helps him to maintain his balance through the shot and once again to keep the ball from lifting into the air.
  • Tendulkar then continues to follow through keeping the flat part of the bat facing in the direction he hit the ball and bringing his arms all the way above his head. This ensures that he hits straight and all the way through the ball.
The results of this perfect timing and technique are obvious as the ball flies off to the boundary and 4 more runs for Tendulkar.

The 2009 ICC Champions Trophy begins September 22 and the likes of Jacques Kallis and Ricky Ponting and Sachin Tendulkar will be showing off their batting prowess and often flawless technique from which we can learn.

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