Sanjay Manjrekar
Former India batsman; now a cricket commentator and presenter on TV

Go forward, not back

Why an initial back-foot trigger movement may not be a great idea

Sanjay Manjrekar

December 18, 2013

Comments: 35 | Text size: A | A

Alastair Cook: too late into position in Perth © Getty Images

A fireman once said, "We are crazy guys, you know. When a house is on fire, people are running out and we are running in." A batsman has to do something similar when a bowler like Mitchell Johnson is steaming in, hurling thunderbolts at 150kph.

Like for the firemen, it is like an inferno approaching a batsman from 22 yards away, and like the fireman, the batsman has a job to do, and it does not include running away. Watching some of the England batsmen in this Ashes series, I have been reminded of this analogy.

When Johnson runs in to bowl, they take a significant step backwards in the crease before the ball is delivered. That is fine when the ball is short, but when it is full - and Johnson bowls a lot of those along with bouncers - they become extremely vulnerable, as we have seen.

Look at Alastair Cook's dismissal in the first innings in Adelaide and in the second in Perth. Both times, the ball was pitched up, but he was just too late to get into position to defend it solidly, which would not have been the case if they were short deliveries. We talk about how great those deliveries from Johnson and Ryan Harris were, and they were good, especially the Harris one in the second innings in Perth, but if Cook had got forward to them quicker, they would have been just two other pitched-up balls that a batsman defended safely.

I am not a big fan of the big back-foot movement - the one batsmen make with their feet before the ball is delivered - unless it's made in order to propel another movement forward. Both the England openers have that initial back-foot movement and only when are set do they use it to spring forward - until then, they seem to hang back a bit and so become vulnerable to balls pitched up, and miss a few scoring opportunities to balls pitched up.

A short, quick delivery is best handled by a batsman when he is reacting instinctively to it - whether he is playing an attacking shot or defending

With a big initial back-foot movement, you are committing yourself completely to a delivery of a particular length, short. So when the ball is short you seem to have plenty of time to play it, but when it is full you are invariably late on it, and if your luck as a batsman has run out, as Cook found out, that full, seaming ball will come early in the innings, hit the right spot and get through your defence.

As a batsman you ideally want the smallest trigger movement, so that you are prepared for all kinds of lengths and lines. In this Ashes, Michael Clarke, Steve Smith, Joe Root, and also Ben Stokes, have shown that kind of technique, with no pronounced prior commitment to any length. Because of that they have looked much better positioned to balls that are pitched up. Batsmen make the initial move in the crease because that way they feel they are setting themselves up for the challenge. Very often it's just a matter of "mental preparedness". Some do it to be in a good position to face a particular kind of delivery that they feel they are susceptible to.

My view is that if you have to move your feet before the ball is released, it's better to have a front-foot movement instead of a back-foot one: looking to move forward before the ball is bowled rather than back. That way, you are better prepared to handle the ball that gets most batsmen out in this game - the one that is full in length.

What about the short ball then, you ask? Doesn't the front-foot movement make you a sitting duck against it? Well, there you need to trust the instincts that we have all been gifted with as human beings, born of our evolution over millions of years and our survival instincts against physical threats. That short ball from a fast bowler is a physical threat to a batsman. Look at how batsmen react to a short ball from a spinner as opposed to one from a fast bowler.

Hashim Amla plays a pull, South Africa v India, 2nd ODI, Durban, December 8, 2013
Batsmen like Hashim Amla have shown you can be successful with big initial back-foot movements, but they are the exception © AFP

As a batsman you will be amazed at how quickly you get on the back foot - though you are telling yourself to go forward - when the ball is short and quick. This back-foot movement happens automatically; it is a case of natural instinct taking over. My argument is, why deliberately try to do something that is going to happen automatically; instead, why not train yourself to do something that is against your instinct? Like getting forward to a fast bowler, because the ball that is pitched up is the one that's most likely to get you out.

The other great benefit in trying to get forward is, that way you also handle the short ball better. I believe that a short, quick delivery is best handled by a batsman when he is reacting instinctively to it - whether he is playing an attacking shot or defending.

During the course of my batting career I had two distinct phases, one when I handled the short ball well and the other when I didn't. It was quite obvious to me that when I was in good form and in a good frame of mind I would look to go towards the fast bowler, try to get on the front foot, and that was when I handled the short ball comfortably. When you are looking to get forward, the head tends to stay forward, and with it the body weight. That is the perfect kind of balance you want to have as a batsman, whether you are playing off front foot or back.

When you are out of form, with a big back-foot movement, the head tends to stay back that fraction of a second longer, and because you are expecting a short ball, the head also stays quite high, which means you are poorly prepared for the full delivery.

Having said all this, there are still many extremely successful contemporary batsmen, like Hashim Amla, Graeme Smith, and Cook himself, who have big back-foot movements. Their success can be attributed to all the other strengths they have brought into play to succeed, but you will see even they look vulnerable early in the innings to balls that are pitched up and seaming.

As a batsman you should have a technique you can fall back on when you are out of form and low on confidence. Your other strengths will have deserted you by then, and your technique will be the only thing you can count on. You need a technique that can get you back into form from a bad patch, and that's where I have a problem with the big back-foot trigger movement.

Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar is a cricket commentator and presenter on TV. His Twitter feed is here

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Posted by ansram on (December 19, 2013, 17:55 GMT)

Good article. But I think you can't generalize these kind of rules for all situations. The same technique has yielded 8000 runs to Cook and now he is suddenly faced with a technical glitch?

Posted by RaviNarla on (December 19, 2013, 17:00 GMT)

If you watch Carefully batsman from SA, AUS and ENG go tiny foot backward or across to counter the swing or bounce. Subcontinent batsman move forward because of the low bounce and spin friendly conditions. It is because of the nature of the wickets. No one technique is set in stone for a type of bowling. If you watch Hashim Amla and Kallis their foot moves backward and then forward or across depending on the pitch of the ball. Chanderpaul has scored more than 10000 runs with his technique of moving across. It is just a bad series for Cook.

Posted by android_user on (December 19, 2013, 14:24 GMT)

Watch rahul dravid goin forward

Posted by sathie.reddy on (December 19, 2013, 12:11 GMT)

If you watch Sachin Tendulkar face Shoib Aktar in the 2003 world cup, he had an initial front foot movement - one of the reasons he torn into Shoib. - Good point Sanjay

Posted by android_user on (December 19, 2013, 4:30 GMT)

One more important aspect of this technique is that it is much harder to push forward when you are on the back foot,whereas it is much easier to move back instinctively. Agree with Sanjay on this.

Posted by allapey on (December 19, 2013, 1:08 GMT)

Hi ,

If any of you guys have played serious cricket you will apprciate Sanjay's comment. Very True a big backfoot movement against the likes of Mitchell and Rayan is sucidal.

Posted by 2929paul on (December 18, 2013, 22:57 GMT)

Sunil Gavaskar had a noticeabale movement back and across pre-delivery. He did ok.

Posted by 2929paul on (December 18, 2013, 22:35 GMT)

When batsmen are scoring runs we rarely analyse the techniques and say how poor it is because it is succeeding. Yet when they are failing we see flaws in that very same technique.

Michael Clarke was interviewed by Sky for British tv after the 2nd innings of the 1st Test and asked about his technical changes to combat the short ball after yet another dismissal in the first innings to a Broad bouncer. He said he had made a slight change whereby his initial pre-delivery movement was a slight move of his back foot back and across, which resulted in him being better set to play the short ball from the fast bowlers. Previously his initial movement had been a slight forward press with the front foot. This completely contradicts what Sanjay is saying above and goes to show that there is no one size fits all.

Ponting was the best puller and hooker of his time with a front foot press but Lara was pretty good with a back and across movement, as was Vaughan. Go figure.

Posted by   on (December 18, 2013, 21:18 GMT)

what about Shane Watson? His frontfoot barely touches the ground before the delivery!

Posted by raulraj on (December 18, 2013, 21:04 GMT)

I agree with Mr. Sanjay Manjrekar/ Please reply to my question and suggestion, If a batsmen is not scared its easy to go on backfoot and play. May be it comes naturally to players who play spin more then fast bowling. I have been playing cricket for 16 yrs, I picked up few things watching Ricky Ponting and Sachin, I always play fadt bowlers from out side the crease taking outside leg stump guard. I move across to leg stump while bowler is running in and take my front foot out when bowler is in the air. I have sucessfuly managed to play all fast bowlers and score when they tired( i am a opener). I have been LBW only twice in my club and school career. mostly I was cuaght at slips cuz i had little time to come in the line of the bowl. I would liketo know your thought on this technique. Please reply. Thank you.

Posted by ricflairforlife on (December 18, 2013, 19:36 GMT)

Sanjay, I don't know if you can suddenly blame their failures on the initial back-foot movement. As pointed out by other commenters, several successful batsmen have made a living on both flat/dry and fast/seaming pitches with an initial step back (e.g. Kallis, Azharuddin, Lara)

Posted by   on (December 18, 2013, 19:02 GMT)

most people here are so disrespectful.according to you everybody needs to average over 60 to comment. have time to sanjay has retired,has been analysing players,and after retirement you notice so many things as you have time to contemplate.i would ask all these disrespectful guys to quit cricinfo because they have hardly played cricket,so why comment. then why do we need the likes of mark nicholas ,atherton,danny morrison ,harsha bhogle to comment on cricket is becauuse they are better observers than us...

Posted by   on (December 18, 2013, 19:01 GMT)

Although Sanjay Marjrekar may not have a long Test career, he was one of the finest players of fast bowling, during his peak. One just needs to look at the following link to test against WI in Barbados to have a sense of his pedigree. His century in this test came up against a bolwing attack comprised of Marshalls, Bishop, Ambrose and Walsh! If anybody here thinks, that any of the bowling attacks in the last 20 years have been better than that group then, I have nothing to say -- there would no point argoung with an ignorant bunch. After that century, I remember Viv Richards saying that India's batting future was in great hands even with Sunil Gavaskar's retirement. Too bad that there is no recording of that interview/article. Everything that Sanjay Marnjrekar says may not be right, but to say that he does not have the knowledge to make a batting analysis is incorrect. His avg. would have much higher against current bowlers.

Posted by   on (December 18, 2013, 18:35 GMT)

Sanjay is the best analyst of game ....How come Kirsten coach Sachin & what is the batting record of current indian coach: its so poor that no body even knows.....The fact is: No university professor has ever built a bicycle let alone a car however his disciples build space missions easily using the knowledge they acquired from him....In coaching or commenting it is the analytical ability along with wide experience of watching the game is all that is needed. When Sachin played face on with open bat face at stroke delivery point, he scored huge (I can even exactly tell that his avg with this technique was 80) & when he played otherwise his avg was 20. An analyst can see the video of many inns of a batsman & can exactly tell him what right he did when he scored & what wrong he did when he failed eg for Sachin it was a case of closing the bat face, not opening up front foot & not bringing front foot forward. Legends do make mistakes & an analyst can point out those to 100% precisio

Posted by Spin_rules on (December 18, 2013, 18:25 GMT)

It is ridiculous to question Sanjay, or any international cricketer. For the record, he may avg 37... But scored a century in Barbados against 80s windies pace battery and scored a century and a double century in Pak against arguably one of the best fast bowling attacks in cricket history (imran, wasim and waqar). So don't question him...either agree or bring up a valid disagreement.

Posted by espncricinfomobile on (December 18, 2013, 17:39 GMT)

i think people need to check stats.u had amazing series in WI and Pak in late 80's.some respect these days is a rarity. and some comments ate uncalled for.

Posted by satanswish on (December 18, 2013, 14:40 GMT)

Pommies are on backfoot right from Gabba test. I don't see any comeback or frontfoot thingy coming up in recent time.

Posted by   on (December 18, 2013, 12:17 GMT)

Brian Lara had a big initial back-foot movement and he didn't do too badly against fast bowling. If you look closely at Michael Clarke, he has a short back-foot move, more just a transfer of weight, but definitely not a forward press. If the forward move worked for Sanjay, it doesn't mean it's necessarily best for everyone. To each his own.

Posted by Thegimp on (December 18, 2013, 11:11 GMT)

Look, Cook has had two absolute jaffas, Pietersen as an attacking player is always going to get out playing shots, good bowlers will get him to make a mistake and the difference is either 15 runs or 150runs. The real difference between these tests and the English tests is that Bell can't rock onto the front foot playing impecable front foot defence and textbook drives to good length balls on Australian wickets. You will probably find that England has lost these matches by a similar amount of runs Bell made in England........That my friends is the diference and that my friends is why doctoring pitches is a false economy.

Posted by Thegimp on (December 18, 2013, 11:00 GMT)

I think some of the English have had the oposite problem Sanjay. Their back foot movement against Johnson has had them standing on the square leg umpire's toes!!!!

Posted by sivarajvetrivel on (December 18, 2013, 7:27 GMT)

yes its a good article sanjay! Joe root also have a trigger movement i think thats wat the australinas exploit! I feel Amla and smith are exeptional even they have backfoot movement why others cant do it!

Posted by Talalthegreat on (December 18, 2013, 7:24 GMT)

You should tell this to current Indian team. They were'nt too good against Jonny and look poor against Steyn and co.

Posted by InsideHedge on (December 18, 2013, 6:57 GMT)

@Kingman75: Do tell us about your record, we're interested in looking it up on CricInfo.

Posted by   on (December 18, 2013, 6:41 GMT)

@Kingman75: If that's the case, we shouldn't listen to Mike Gatting talk about playing spin. Because overall England have a horrible record in India esp against spin -- particularly when Gatting played. We shouldn't listen to Shane Warne talk about spin bowling in India because he averaged over 40 there. Except both of these people have given tutorials on that in the past, and nobody questioned them. What you are saying sounds utterly ridiculous. India in the last decade produced Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman, three batsmen who had great records overseas. Most good international batsmen are fully qualified to talk about how to face fast bowling.

Posted by   on (December 18, 2013, 6:35 GMT)

It is impossible to play away swing & in swing together. Similarly it is impossible to play full & short together against genuine pace. However u can manage all this stuff together against military medium pace as of Indian bowlers in general......... So u have to chose what u r gonna play & what to simply avoid. Sachin Tendulkar's inn of 143 in 3rd test vs SA in SA was a great example of that. as he took a decision he is gonna play only in swing no matter Stein ball 6 out of 6 outswingers. What happened was that he kept missing all the balls without nicking yet he would middle the occasional inswinger. I too do exactly the same & frustrate the bowlers terribly. Only drawback is bcz of your 90 % missing your scoring rate goes down which u have to cater for by being brutal on lesser bowlers if & when they do arrive. This theory extends & it is impossible to smash slow & fast together with same technique. U have to decide which one to defend & which one to attack

Posted by jimbond on (December 18, 2013, 6:12 GMT)

@Kingman75: Apparently Sanjay Manjrekar used to play well against bowlers who were much better than SA and Australia- he was one of the better players against Windies at their peak and against Pakistan (In Australia though, he was nothing great). Anyway it is much better to criticize the content than the person.

I used to think that Cook was predominantly a front foot batsman. Sanjay has now got me thinking otherwise.

Posted by   on (December 18, 2013, 6:09 GMT)

The problem is not the back foot or front foot, it is where the body weight is leaning towards.

Amla has a step back, but his body weight s leaning forward and thus makes up for the lateness. When you are out of form and kind of circumspect of bouncers, people who have the initial back foot are in trouble. The body weight gets stuck on the back foot. Cook does the same, but he has a wider stance and hence a bit ore harder to come forward.

Posted by mm71 on (December 18, 2013, 6:02 GMT)

@Kingman75, for the small matter of the country being also one which has produced some of the finest batsmen in cricketing history whose records span continents. In the last decade, while we had the Fab5, a couple of world class bowlers & things would have been very different. The record is no worse than any other subcontinent team. For a country line Australia or England or even SA playing for about 150 years, obviously you creamed us when we were learning the tricks of the game. Things will change.

Posted by spinkingKK on (December 18, 2013, 5:39 GMT)

One player I have seen doing what Manjrekar said is, my childhood batting hero, Chandrakanth Pandit. Another mumbaikar. I have learned my batting from him (but, I am not a big success by the way!). It was awesome to see him bat.

Posted by RichardstheGreatest on (December 18, 2013, 5:33 GMT)

the link to the cricinfo article where Andy describes Sanjay's defensive technique.

Posted by RichardstheGreatest on (December 18, 2013, 5:21 GMT)

Well said, Sanjay. Truer words have not been said. Yesterday only I read a cricinfo article where Andy Flower mentioned you as his early inspiration in International Cricket with your perfect defensive technique. Now I can appreciate that better.

Posted by InsideHedge on (December 18, 2013, 5:20 GMT)

Good stuff Sanjay, there's one other point you missed out on: Batsmen with those horrible trigger movements are not aesthetically pleasing. Amla's movements are shocking, he's all over the place, even his bat appears to be coming from gully. All credit to him for being successful but they are the exception to the rule.

Technique is also your last defence. Touch players such as Sehwag struggle when the hand/eye coordination deserts them thru age. It's painful to watch those players hanging on trying to extend their careers wondering why they're nicking, missing and getting dismissed by bowlers they used to eat for breakfast what seems only a summer ago.

Posted by SoyQuearns on (December 18, 2013, 5:05 GMT)

Great article.

Another tip for English batsmen - it also helps if your eyes aren't clouded by tears of fear as Mitchell 'England have no equivalent in pace or quality' Johnson steams in.

Cook has some serious technical issues, always has, but his current run of poor form hasn't allowed him to glaze over this fact.

He'll be back, but he'll always be susceptible to this style of bowling.

Posted by Cricket_theBestGame on (December 18, 2013, 4:02 GMT)

i somewhat agree. i'm also an opener and i've had problem with fuller deliveries. esp the one swinging to counter that i also tried back and across movement. it helped me to play cover drive very well.but i also got out lbw alot often then before ! so i went back to my old stands which was to stand still and then move accordingly. now i'm sort of taking small steps on the same spot on the ball of my feet just before the bowler balls. this helps me to be in that moving mindset. though i do fall in the habit of going back and needless to say i get out lbw.

Posted by GRVJPR on (December 18, 2013, 3:53 GMT)

Super Article! Read one from Martin Crowe yesterday and this today has made my day.

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