The new trick in the book September 12, 2004

The blind run on the toilet seat

One of the most exciting spectacles in cricket is that of a fast bowler charging in with fire in his eyes, ready to dominate the batsman

Brett Lee: visualisation helped him shorten his run-up © Getty Images
One of the most exciting spectacles in cricket is that of a fast bowler charging in with fire in his eyes, ready to dominate the batsman. Be that as it may, the two fastest men on the planet, Brett Lee and Shoaib Akhtar, were recently advised to cut down on their run-ups to improve their bowling.

For Lee, the way to go about doing this turned out to be the intriguing practice of "running in blind". After intensive rehab to recover from ankle surgery in March, Lee asked Dennis Lillee for some advice. The former Australian great made Lee run with his eyes shut, holding an imaginary ball, around the Brisbane oval.

This, it turns out, is a method that always works at shortening a bowler's run-up and helping him attain more accuracy. Lillee has written about a similar technique in his book The Art of Fast Bowling, and uses it from time to time to correct many a bowler. Lee's new run-up was about 19.2 metres, over four metres shorter than his previous 23.8m. And he was landing the ball at roughly the same spot with it.

Like many good ideas in cricket, running in blind too originally came from an Australian - former quick bowler Laurie Mayne, who was instrumental in helping Lillee when he was a youngster struggling with his run-up back in the late seventies.

For a fast bowler, balance and rhythm are critical. Until those aspects are mastered, he will continually struggle to keep his body in unison with his mind and the task he wants it to perform. Mayne, who played six Tests for Australia in the sixties bowling right-arm fast-medium, says the advice he passed on to the young Lillee was fundamental: "[It] involved sitting on the toilet - where supposedly one has peace and quiet - closing your eyes and imagining yourself coming in to bowl.

"The whole essence of the exercise was to focus your mind and body to do what was required to project the ball on its way towards the batsman. The essential ingredient in this imagery is to make a mark on the ground and start with a slow build-up of speed to the point where your body cries out, 'Let the ball go'." The run-up thus has no pre-determined length; its length is fixed by your body telling you that it is time to let the ball go.

Remember, this is all happening in your head, while you are sitting, focusing, imagining, willing this physical activity to unfold. When you get to the ground for training, you put the whole exercise, which should by now be stored in your mind, into practice, with your eyes shut.

Dennis Lillee: teaching fast bowlers the mental side of things © The Cricketer
Obviously, you have a partner to help you with your mark. You start off on your left or right foot (depending on whether you are rightor left-handed), and set off running in any direction. You start slowly, gather speed, and when the body says "now", that is the end of the run-up. Another mark is then made, and the process repeated - about a hundred times a day.

"In our days it was all done with partners and a lot of blood, sweat and tears," Mayne says, adding that with the video equipment that is available today, the exercise could become much easier.

An important advantage of such visualisation, Mayne feels, is that it helps the bowler cut out the no-ball. "This was why I never was no-balled for overstepping the crease, whether back-foot or front-foot rule. It is foolproof ... and you would be a fool not to employ it, particularly as one-day games are so competitive and a win or loss can come down to one run or two. If you have caused that loss unnecessarily, by no-balling, you won't earn too many credits from the coach or crowd."

The philosophy of the exercise is that your body tells you when to release the ball. You don't adopt a certain length of run-up merely because you have a 'fast bowler' tag against your name. This ideal run-up gives you better balance at the point of delivery because you are not stretching to fit a run-up into a specified length. Your body is not under physical stress, which is likely to cause it injury, and as you deliver the ball you can look at the spot on the wicket where you want to land it.

"In today's terms, if a fast bowler can minimise the injury factor, then it corresponds to an extra two or three years of active duty on the playing field," Mayne says. "Any blind Freddy can tell you that equates to an excess of $2m in the bank."

Nagraj Gollapudi is sub editor of Wisden Asia Cricket magazine.

This article was first published in the September issue of Wisden Asia Cricket.
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