Having been approached by Pro Coach Cricket Academy about putting a blog together about my tour in the West Indies with the England Lions, I thought that this could be a great opportunity for the young aspiring next generation of England cricketers to pick a few tips up from the things I do and think about on tour.
The first thing I would like to write about is preparation. Young cricketers often turn up for county/district/club nets and just run up and bowl, or pick up a bat and have a net, but what preparation goes into a long tour like this? What is the best way to improve and prepare you for that big game?
The first time I thought about preparation for this tour is when I first found out I was selected. My first thoughts are usually, what will the pitches be like? What will the opposition be like? How do I need to adapt my own game to the playing conditions in the West Indies?
After the first initial thoughts I then begin to write down some ideas of the things I have mentioned above. I know that the West Indian pitches are generally slow, tacky and spin, so begin to write down areas in which I may need to work on. How can I dominate the bowlers on this style of pitch?
Our preparation as a squad started at South borough where our first few days focus on physical fitness. Our bodies are put through their paces to find out if we have come back from Christmas in good shape, and haven’t eaten too many mince pies! We compete in the yo-yo test, sprint tests, vertical jump tests, body composition tests and weight conditioning tests.
It all sounds very complicated but physical fitness is a massive part of the modern day cricketer. We are given advice on diet and the best ways to train individually to get your body is the best possible shape for the tour. We then start to work on the cricket specific areas which we think we are going to need as a unit to be successful in the Caribbean.
As I mentioned earlier the pitches over here can be tacky and the abrasive so reverse swing will play a major part. I set the bowling machine up and work on the ball swinging both ways. Two main areas in batting are balance and alignment, and if these are not good against reverse swing then you will be found out fast.
As a young player how can you work on balance and alignment?
One simple thing to do to make sure your balance is good is to make sure your head is going back in to the ball, a lot of young players fall over their front leg and so cut across their front pad and end up playing with only half a bat against the swinging ball which can play a part in getting out LBW. Simple things to work on are drop feeding a tennis ball and hitting the ball straight and see if you are balanced after you hit the ball, if you move then this shows you aren’t balanced.
You must also try to move as late as possible against the swinging ball, if you commit to the line of the ball too early and the ball swings then you are also going to get into trouble. I would always recommend that you put swing on the ball when batting on the bowling machine, because this will constantly challenge your balance, alignment and overall technique.
Alignment means that your feet, hips and shoulders are facing side on towards the direction in which you want to hit the ball unless you are playing a cross bat shot. Again simple drop feed drills can help give you an indication of your alignment. Keeping your shoulders side on to where you want to hit the ball is key when driving so give yourself a rating every time you play a shot.
You can then progress on to under arm feeds and eventually on to a bowling machine. It can sometimes be tedious hitting loads of drop feed tennis balls but you must nail the basics, if you can’t get your alignment right when a ball is dropped in front of you, how are you going to get it right when it is coming down at 60/70/80 mph?