Bats­men should be­gin spin train­ing at an early age

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Sport - Ian Chap­pell

AUS­TRALIA have been white­washed by Sri Lanka and in the process sur­ren­dered their num­ber one Test rank­ing. That may be just the be­gin­ning of their night­mare, with a chal­leng­ing 2017 tour of In­dia hang­ing over the play­ers’ heads like a hang­man’s noose.

It has been sug­gested Aus­tralia are do­ing every­thing pos­si­ble to ad­dress an on­go­ing weak­ness in spin­friendly con­di­tions. Pitches are specif­i­cally pre­pared at the Na­tional Academy to repli­cate spin­ning con­di­tions, and more youth tours are be­ing un­der­taken to Asian coun­tries. Both good ideas but they don’t be­gin to ad­dress the un­der­ly­ing prob­lem.

Learn­ing to play spin bowl­ing is not some­thing you do in your 20s. Cor­rect and de­ci­sive foot­work has to be learned from an early age so it’s in­grained by the late teens and you have the con­fi­dence to utilise these skills un­der any con­di­tions.

When I was 10, I was given some im­por­tant ad­vice by my old coach Lynn Fuller. He told me: “Ian, it doesn’t mat­ter how good I am as a coach. I can’t help you when you’re out in the mid­dle. The quicker you learn this game for your­self, the bet­ter off you’ll be.”

More specif­i­cally on play­ing spin bowl­ing, he ad­vised: “Bet­ter to be stumped by three yards than three inches. Don’t think about the wick­et­keeper when you leave your crease, oth­er­wise you’re think­ing about miss­ing the ball.”

I saw Aus­tralian play­ers in Sri Lanka stumped by what looked like mil­lime­tres. An ad­ven­tur­ous ad­vance dras­ti­cally changes the length of a de­liv­ery in favour of the bats­man; a ten­ta­tive, min­i­mal move for­ward only im­proves the bowler’s chance of suc­cess. A good player of spin al­ters the bowler’s length to his de­sire, and by do­ing so he can ma­nip­u­late the field plac­ings.

By achiev­ing these ob­jec­tives and putting the loose ball away, a good spin­ner can be frus­trated. A slogged six or a re­verse sweep doesn’t un­nerve a good spin­ner; the max­i­mum hit means he’s still bowl­ing to the same bats­man. What drives a spin­ner crazy is bats­men con­stantly ro­tat­ing the strike, us­ing quick, de­ci­sive foot­work to ma­noeu­vre the ball into gaps and take sin­gles. Once the spin­ner is tear­ing his hair out, then the loose de­liv­er­ies come, and that’s when a bats­man has to pick off the bound­aries.

The young Sri Lankan bats­man Kaushal Silva did this to per­fec­tion in the se­cond in­nings in Colombo.

To achieve this in a long in­nings un­der dif­fi­cult con­di­tions is ex­act­ing; by the end of a marathon in­nings a bats­man should be knack­ered both phys­i­cally and men­tally. One of the great chal­lenges of play­ing good spin­ners in dif­fi­cult con­di­tions is the bats­man pit­ting his brain against that of the bowler.

This is not easy to achieve but it’s im­pos­si­ble if you haven’t learned good foot­work at a young age. If you have the con­fi­dence that is only pro­vided by a solid foun­da­tion, you won’t be pan­icked into play­ing low­per­cent­age shots. And with a clear mind pro­vided by that con­fi­dence, there’s a re­al­i­sa­tion there are ac­tu­ally some ad­van­tages for the bats­man when the ball is spin­ning sharply. The bowler has to pitch fur­ther out­side the stumps to hit them, and with the ball com­ing at a sharper an­gle, it af­fords the bats­man an op­por­tu­nity to work it into a gap.

A coach hur­riedly pre­par­ing a young player for a lu­cra­tive T20 con­tract is in­com­pat­i­ble with the ed­u­ca­tion re­quired for a suc­cess­ful Test ca­reer. How­ever, a young bats­man who is given a com­plete ground­ing can ca­pa­bly han­dle any form of cricket.

Bats­men must have a plan, es­pe­cially when fac­ing good spin­ners, but it must be per­son­ally de­vised, not one pre­pared by a coach. Some of the Aus­tralian plans in Sri Lanka were based purely on survival. If a plan doesn’t re­volve around scor­ing runs in a rea­son­ably se­cure man­ner, then it might as well be a map of the London tube sys­tem.

Learn­ing to play good spin­ners in con­di­tions that suit them is not a 40-minute les­son, it’s a com­plete ed­u­ca­tion, univer­sity in­cluded. If Aus­tralia don’t al­ready have bats­men skilled in the art, then chances are the Test tour of In­dia will only add to their Asian night­mare.

Former Aus­tralia cap­tain Ian Chap­pell is a cricket com­men­ta­tor for Chan­nel Nine, and a colum­nist. — ESPNCricinfo

Be­ing stumped by a mat­ter of mil­lime­tres is a sign of ten­ta­tive­ness, and the Aus­tralians were guilty of that in Sri Lanka AFP

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