Twenty20 cricket is often ridiculed by the purists as a jamboree of sorts. This very well researched piece argues against, showing us how profit motive in sport can also drive innovation and progress. Tim Wigmore uses case studies to show why, say even the incredible power hitting that we witness today has so much research and development behind it. The piece also focuses on how cricketers with their coaches spend a lot more time and energy on their bodies which are scientifically trained to execute skills hitherto considered impossible, whether a reverse slog sweep for six over cover, or jumping over the ropes to convert a six into a catch or timing your dive into the crease to perfection while running between the wickets at incredible speeds.
“A few years ago, the up-and-coming West Indies allrounder Fabian Allen was chatting to the reigning supremo, Andre Russell. As Jamaicans with a penchant for belligerent hitting and dyeing their hair, the two are easily compared. Allen learned of a batting drill that had helped Russell produce devastating T20 hitting with reliability. He began practising with cones placed either side of his feet – one between his back foot and the stumps, another just ahead of his front foot.”He taught me to keep my shape and keep my base – he explained how to do it,” Allen says. So I went ahead and tried it. And it worked. I try to keep my position as long as possible. My balance is good. You can’t move at all. You have a stable base.”The drill is an illustration of the training approaches embraced by contemporary players as they try to clear the ropes with ever-increasing regularity. T20 is often called a batter’s game. The description is not inaccurate, but it can overlook the demands that the game makes on them. Modern batters have primed their bodies to cope with the format’s demands: athleticism, explosive strength, stability, the ability to belt the ball from an array of body positions, and to hare back for twos, often in games played in extreme heat.”
Julian Wood who calls himself a “power hitting coach” has developed a training method derived from golf and baseball:
“Wood places great attention on a batter’s “swing plane”, a term long common in golf and baseball. “Proper swing plane, or bat path, through the hitting zone allows for various points of contact, which helps the batter impact the ball more consistently,” Wood says. “The longer it’s accelerating on that plane, the greater the bat speed – the longer you will hit the ball.”At the core of Wood’s approach is getting players to focus on hitting the ball as far as possible. “I don’t care about the outcome, I want to see them hit the ball as hard as he can.”During a typical training session, batters hit 20% of balls with heavier bats – and Wood has an array of them. The average weight of a bat is 2lb 8oz; he has three heavier versions – 20%, 40%, and over 60% heavier, with a peak of 4lb 3oz. Getting players to use such bats encourages them to “swing as fast as they can”, while also developing their strength.
This concept is known as overload training. Research into skill acquisition shows that people learn skills at a faster rate when they are stretched beyond their normal capabilities. In training, the best athletes tend to fall on their arses more – literally. A study of ice skaters showed that elite skaters actually fell down more in training than lesser skaters; their practice was more challenging relative to their capabilities, which helped them get better faster.As well as using heavier bats, Wood also gets players to practise hitting heavier balls, and hitting with weights attached to their forearms and hands. Occasionally he inverts things, throwing lighter balls at players – which travel quicker off the bat, and are easier to hit hard; this technique is known as underload training. Either way, the mantra remains the same: “Get them to swing that thing as quick as they possibly can.” Wood’s training devices include hurling sticks, which are very thin; flicking balls with them builds players’ hand speed through the ball and strengthens their wrists.”
It is not just the big hits, the level of competitive intensity has meant that stealing an extra run by refining your running between the wickets is as important:
“In recent years international sides and leading T20 teams have started to use GPS data to track the physical demands on their players. A study from Cricket Australia compared the demands on players of Big Bash and Sheffield Shield cricket, analysing the 2015-16 season. It showed that high-intensity sprints – defined as running at speeds of at least 24kph – were over twice as frequent in T20 than first-class.
…At the start of each IPL season, it is routine for batters to be timed on how long it takes them to run a two. A batter who can run two in under six seconds is considered “elite standard”, according to Chapman. Non-strikers, who start running as the ball is bowled – or, in many cases, before it – would be expected to run a two in just 5.5 seconds. In that half-second lies the explanation for why fielding teams generally throw the ball back towards the end that the on-strike batter is running to. For twos, the vast majority of run-outs are effected when the ball returns to the stumps within 6.2 seconds of it leaving the bat.Batters practise diving into the crease at full length, says Allen. For those without Allen’s agility, technical components can help them get closer to a six-second two. Chapman works with players on the optimal time to begin to slide their bats in, maintaining a low body position as they are grounding their bats, and decelerating as late as possible when turning for another run.
At Royals, Jos Buttler has been tracked running between the wickets at the equivalent of 33kph – the highest of anyone in the side, fractionally above Ben Stokes. To give a sense of how impressive this time is, it took Usain Bolt 9.58 seconds for his record 100-metre run. If Buttler could maintain his 33kph speed, he would run 100 metres in 10.91 seconds. The historic caricatures about batters’ fitness are long overdue a re-evaluation.”


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