December 27, 2015

What's the next generation of batsmen learning?

What's the priority of young batsmen today? Power-hitting or solid defence? And are they being over-coached?

Young players need to be given a solid foundation in the game, which will allow them to adjust to different formats and conditions © Getty Images

It's now eight years since Misbah-ul-Haq's ill-conceived attempted scoop shot ballooned to short fine leg at the Wanderers Stadium and India were crowned inaugural World T20 champions.

Much has happened in cricket since that exciting five-run victory and the bulk of it revolves around the evolution of T20. Leagues have sprung up like daisies in summer, with the IPL being the most affluent and gaudy, whilst the other two versions of the game - Test and 50-over cricket - have receded into the shadows.

Now that kids from all over the world who watched that Wanderers final are at an age where they could make their own name in the game, it's time to look at how young players are being developed.

The dilemma involving the development of young cricketers is simple. For batsmen, it's: do you concentrate on a method that provides hitting power and the capability of scoring at ten runs per over, or do you develop a solid foundation that allows for adjustment to any form of the game?

For a bowler it's even more straightforward: do you implant in his mind a metronomic desire to produce a string of dot balls, or a mentality that stresses the priority of wickets?

Having just witnessed a 40-year-old Michael Hussey shred a Big Bash League attack with a mixture of scorching off-drives, gentle taps to initiate a scampered single and four power-laden shots that cleared the boundary, I'd opt for the solid foundation method.

It would be a good start for a budding young batsman to emulate the style and development process of a Tendulkar, a Hussey or an AB de Villiers. As Bill O'Reilly once stated: "If you see a coach coming, son, run and hide behind a tree"

Hussey, along with a number of other fine batsmen from an era when players were brought up with success in the longer forms of the game as a measuring stick, is proof a solid all-round technique is easily adaptable to T20 cricket. The best T20 teams have a combination of batsmen who can survive and prosper against good bowling and those who regularly clear the boundary rope.

The ideal fast bowling blueprint is Dale Steyn, a bowler who combines an excellent strike rate with a relatively low economy rate. For spinners, R Ashwin is a good role model; he takes wickets at both ends of the batting order and keeps the long balls to a minimum.

The secret to good bowling is to keep believing you can dismiss a batsman. Once that thought turns to purely containment, the batsman is winning the battle.

Given reasonable pitches, the bowlers adapt well, but many batsmen struggle in anything other than serene conditions. On the evidence of the eye test and the average length of a Test, it's obvious that solid foundations are crumbling and most batsmen are ill-equipped to survive a searching test by a good bowler. This has been a recent trend but I don't see any attempt to alter the way batsmen are being developed.

I suspect batsmen are being over-coached and bombarded with theories in structured net sessions that often involve the dreaded bowling machine. There's a lot to be said for the old-fashioned method of simply advocating a solid defence and then encouraging a youngster to spend hours playing in match situations - either in the backyard or at the local park - in order to learn how his own game works best.

This method worked extremely well for batsmen as successful and diverse in style as Sir Garfield Sobers, Sachin Tendulkar and Greg Chappell. As Sobers says in his excellent coaching book: "One of the tragedies of cricket coaching is the greatness of the game's best players is revered but never followed."

It would be a good start for a budding young batsman to emulate the style and development process of a Tendulkar, a Hussey or an AB de Villiers. It would also help if the youngster avoided listening to coaches with theories on batting that haven't been proven in the middle. As former great Australian legspinner Bill O'Reilly once stated: "If you see a coach coming, son, run and hide behind a tree."

I'd modify that for a young batsman and say: "Seek good coaching or else avoid it at all costs and learn the game for yourself."

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator for Channel 9, and a columnist