July 3, 2016

The cricket shots we actually play

Drives, pulls and cuts are for pros. In the real world, things are different

You must be familiar with the "don't look at the ball" shot © Fairfax Media via Getty Images

"You won't see that in any coaching manual" is one of those obliquely slippery phrases that manages to deliver its core message of admiration wrapped up in a cloth of mild distaste, and is rarely heard other than on TMS or one of its many simpering fan progs. Visit a village green on an April Sunday, however, when the long shadows cast by the pavilion can preserve the frost until tea (or in this wettest of Junes, visit a field so cut up by a winter's worth of football boots and a month's worth of spikes, it would be flatter if freshly ploughed), and you may witness res and verba in perfect metaphorical alignment. That is to say, batsman and commentator conspire to give the term "agricultural" a bad name.

In village cricket, of course, the commentator is a collective comprising the occupants of the "office", namely the close fielders arranged around the wicketkeeper. It is traditional for manager and staff to keep up a running commentary on the batsman's efforts to send the ball hither and thither in order to hasten his own journey back to the warmth of the pavilion, and to start each idiosyncratic snippet of song that subsequently travels around the outfield in a sort of Mexican karaoke.

"What the f*** was that shot meant to be?" is perhaps the village equivalent of the professional commentator's "coaching manual" barb. Invariably the response runs something along the lines of "four runs". After all, there's unorthodox and unorthodox, and in cricket, a shot's value is ultimately considered in direct proportion to its outcome. Even by Sir Geoffrey.

See ball, hit ball. Or, in my case, see ball, leave ball, discover the bowler has one that cuts back sharply

While the professional may deal in reverse lap cuts in between "proper cricket shots", these are merely those shots that do not yet feature in the manual, but for every effort to execute an elegant cover drive effected by your typical Sunday batsman, five portmanteau shots will be fashioned from the leftovers of other sports they may have played, watched or perhaps simply heard tell. I've seen forearm smashes, topspin lobs, 9 irons, heaves, hoicks, flails and mows, airy wafts (or "elegant leaves"), flat-bat smacks, and dozens of others as yet nameless. Just as there are shots not yet in the manual, there are shots that never will be, and it is these shots, these Sunday inventions, these unidentifiable mongrels, these techniques practised in the Dark Net, that place where intention is never undone by lack of talent, it is these shots that feature in a sort of anti-manual.

It is in this tome, this as-yet unwritten work of cricket lore (Wisn'tden, perhaps) carried in the hearts and minds of Sunday cricketers everywhere, that we gain access to the truths of this great game. And the truth is that cricket, real cricket, is not the game played by the professionals but the one played by us lot. In the professional game, orthodoxy is challenged by finely honed athletes seeking that extra fraction of a percentage of performance, as it is in these infinitesimal advantages that games are won and lost. In real cricket, in my cricket, our cricket, orthodoxy is simply challenged.

We know what we're meant to be doing, and while aiming to hit the top of off stump or bowling down the corridor of uncertainty is the theory, practice tells us that one of the most dangerous deliveries is the full toss. It's not simply the power of the unexpected so much as the raft of opportunities it offers the batsman. Confronted with an embarrassment of sure-fire scoring options the most common reaction is to gently lob it to the nearest fielder for catching practice. "Filthy", is the word you'll hear: perfect, is the truth.

As batsmen, we know we ought to play straight, through the line, foot to the pitch, elbow high, and all that gallimaufry, but more often than not we simply stand and deliver. See ball, hit ball. Or in my case, see ball, leave ball, discover the bowler has one that cuts back sharply.

"Not a good leave," opined the office manager. Au contraire, it was an excellent leave - confident, considered, comprehensive. If only I'd played my natural game, namely no foot movement, play very late, watch bowler begin celebrations, before, out of nowhere, jamming my bat down to meet the ball in desperation, then I would have lived to face the next ball. But no, I played "properly". Textbook, one might say. Unfortunately the bowler had been reading the same textbook, and he was a few pages ahead of me. If only I'd trusted the occult knowledge of the Dark Net.

Pete Langman is the author of The Country House Cricketer. All profits go to help fund research into Parkinson's disease. @elegantfowl

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • gladiator1976 on July 7, 2016, 13:57 GMT

    I must also say that here in capetown our clubcricket is quite good. You may come across players who would play the most beautiful cover drives and on drives so it depends on the level of coaching the lads got from their mentors and coaches.

  • gladiator1976 on July 6, 2016, 13:14 GMT

    This is beautiful. This is cricket. In the scorebook it is written as 60 runs. Not how it was scored. Couple of edges through the slips. 3 or for great shots and the rest attempted slogs falling in gaps. I love this game. Started playing it at aged 18. Played 3 years to make the first team. Even won best player in the club for a couple of seasons opening the batting. Scored first 100 aged 39 followed that up with another 100. Scored the most runs in the club aged 39. This is the best game this is the worst game. We love it we play it. We are hooked on it like a drug. We imitate our stars but we dont have the talent they have. I love this game. Thank you england for bringing this game to us. Ready for the next 20 years of this game. Still not out.

  • Cricinfouser on July 5, 2016, 11:20 GMT

    Thanks for this well written post, i'll follow up for more updates if you keep posting them.

  • cricfan41294304 on July 5, 2016, 8:46 GMT

    Really enjoyed reading this, for me it sums up what makes village cricket so accessible to all of us. De Villiers playing shots 360 degrees becomes a four year old with one shot in a 90 degree arc when that pesky reality intervenes. A typical 'day at the office' if I may slightly paraphrase the author is 'get up hopes, finally get our chance, then try and engineer a shot that's not there, then fail dismally, then still have to go out and umpire and round up fees afterwards'. I think cricinfo should start including the team contributions in their stats engine so us mortals could get on board!

  • Headbandenator on July 4, 2016, 12:30 GMT

    These exchanges sum up my batting. "

    (1) "It was great the way you waited for that slower ball before lofting it for a straight six." "Huh?" "Yeah, much slower ball. You handled it really well." "Nope, just twatted it".

    (2) "The way you step down the wicket and hit the ball straight for six is majestic, beautiful, even, but essentially you a just an expdel slogger." My mentor said this statement made the chap a very good judge of a bat.

  • Pete Langman on July 4, 2016, 6:33 GMT

    Ah, Witless Cricketers' Almanack. Thank you for alerting me to this. Technically, it isn't an anti-coaching manual, mind, so much as general cricketing satire which includes some of what I mention, but very funny nonetheless. It's a truth generally acknowleged, however, that we can't get everything right, all of the time. Luckily, its existence merely reinforces my point. But I am grateful for your pointer. Comments sections are a little like the fourth official, it seems to me: darkly anonymous. A chapter ought to be devoted to them, also.

  • witlessed on July 3, 2016, 8:18 GMT

    The "as-yet unwritten work of cricket lore" exists. It is called Witless Cricketers' Almanack and has been published in Cambridge for the last fifteen years. It is a catalogue of very bad cricket and is very funny. The library at Lord's has a complete set.

  • Jonathan_E on July 3, 2016, 3:14 GMT

    This describes my school cricket perfectly - my batting was described by the teacher as "erratic but violent". I think he got me about right. Didn't hit it often, but it would go a long way if I did.

    Bowling, on the other hand, was a different story - in the absence of any teacher who could help coach spin at all (they all had only one thing in their heads, line and length, obsession with the Corridor Of Uncertainty was the "in" thing), I taught myself to bowl leg-breaks and googlies.

    I had no great control over where on the pitch the ball was going to land, but I could make it really fizz both ways off a wet pitch, and the batsman never knew which way it was going.

    Still never got in the team: line and length were all. Played once... did not bowl, batted a derisory number 11, lasted two balls. One fearful slog across the line - straight through the open pavilion window, SIX. One near-perfect forward defensive, missed, OUT. I never played the forward defensive again...

  • yorkshire-86 on July 2, 2016, 23:45 GMT

    How to deal with 95% of balls, village style: Ball down leg side - have a swing, try and help it on its way. No harm shot unless you get a freakish edge. Ball outside off stump - Have a waft at it, depending on length you aim between long-on and backward point. Well wide outside off - only excuse to leave is when you think you can get a run via the umpires outstretched arms. Long hop - have a swipe across the line, half trackers dont swing so you are pretty safe unless you hole out. Half volley - no excuse, biff over the bowlers head for six. This should cover the majority of balls, but you might get the odd one in one of the categories below: Bouncer - if the bowler is really quick enough to bowl one of these he would be playing higher standard. He isnt, so treat as long hop. Have a wack. Beamer - Duck (and pray its not a slower ball) Straight ball on or just short of a length - Prod the bat down roughly in a line between wicket and wicket, and pray. Yorker - Ditto straight ball.

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