England's batting problem is getting worse and has now become beyond a joke. It can be blamed on "joke", white ball cricket, if you like. But when the fundamentals of batting technique are so conspicuously ignored, that can only be part of the answer.
The latest fashion of standing with the feet far apart and the bat raised may have merit, but, if so, I am unable to identify what it is. The first problem is that you cannot move easily laterally. The second is that it destroys the natural rhythm of playing forward and back. Just as well that they wear helmets. Or is it the helmet that has caused these aberrations?
You would think that the new feeling of invulnerability should work to your advantage when facing bouncers etc but it hardly seems to be the case when you see the amount of clumsy ducking and diving, eyes not on the ball and any amount of blows on the helmet itself. If you cannot move laterally, i.e across the batting crease, what chance is there of getting your body out of the way, never mind getting close beside the offside ball? And if you are already straddled, any forward or backward movement of the body is evidently curtailed.
The most obvious tell tale sign of poor technique is the position of the feet. I have given up counting the times I say to my wife, an avid cricket watcher, " look at his feet" before the cut to the replay and then the slow motion version of the dismissal. Invariably both feet are facing up the pitch which means that the body has turned round which in turn means that the bat has not, indeed can not, come down straight.
There is a further fashion for turning the head unnaturally towards the bowler in the stance which means not only unnecessary tension but a built in inclination for the shoulders to follow it round. If someone told me that they simply HAD to face the bowler head on in the stance, I would advise them to stand more open and then turn the left shoulder into line as part of the stroke. All of which comes back to the old adage that cricket is a "sideways" game.
I will not go through the whole gamut of reasons for the "sideways" advantage. But one is mathematically and geometrically crystal clear. If you are sideways. then you have a number of feet in which to play the ball i.e. the width of your shoulders plus, let's say, six inches in front and six inches behind. Possibly 4-5 feet in total. If you turn square on your "range" becomes measured in inches. "Leaving the ball" becomes much more difficult. I could go on and on.
I just find it incomprehensible, now that every stroke and dismissal is available for video replay, that these basics are ignored. I am available for consultation any time. I don't want to be paid and I will not put in any expenses.
I would not normally defer to the opinion of Nasser Hussain for information on batting technique. I lost any faith in his judgement/knowledge when he suggested that facing fast bowling bore similarities to a tennis player receiving first serves, i.e. the advantage of jigging around the better to pick up the pace and flight of the ball!! To give him his due, when I taxed him on the subject, suggesting that a still head for a batsman was a “sine que non”, he graciously retracted.
More than that, he presented an excellent documentary piece on the major change made by the excellent Johnnie Bairstow which has had such spectacular results. The first video clip showed him stepping across his stumps before the bowler released the ball, head on the move at the critical moment. The second clip showed him standing stock still with two stumps showing. Case proven.
But there was more good sense to come. “Now he stays leg side of the ball which has opened up his array of off-side shots”. Meanwhile his command of leg-side play has improved to a degree. Now came the final accolade. Hussain mentioned him in the same breath as the legendary Indian batsman Verinder Sewag, still the holder of the record for the most triple hundreds in Test Cricket.
Hoorah! Hoorah! One of the “modern” generation seeing the benefit of my long held mantra i.e. don’t get behind the line of the ball - get alongside it. The great ball striker Arthur Wellard once said to me “ if you get behind it, how can you hit it”.
I sent an email a couple of weeks ago to Joe Root making exactly this point. Whether his consecutive hundreds owe anything to the Dexter opinion, we will probably never know. What is certain is that my obversations did him absolutely no harm.
As Charlie Smirke (jockey) said as he dismounted from Derby winner TULYAR. " What did I tull yer". See my earlier assessment of the Yorkshire batsman.
Oh! Geoffrey, Geoffrey. You were given a chance on a TV Masterclass to reveal the uppermost levels of batsmanship and all you did was emphasise the “foreward defensive”, which anyone can read in the most preliminary instruction books. What a missed opportunity for you, our Yorkshire legend, to demonstrate your all round skills; picking the length , moving forward and BACK! etc
I think it was Archie McClaren who memorably said “any fool can play forward” - witness the fact that tailenders invariably have that as their only move. Then there is the old adage “when in doubt, push out”. If every one of those one shot wonders were to practise playing BACK, oh! boy would they improve and, incidentally enjoy the experience.
Think about it. There are many more types of shot to be played off the back foot. There are all the cross batted strokes; the late cut , the square cut, , the leg side pull and the hook. Once you can score freely off these, then the bowlers are forced to pitch it up and get driven. The Boycott square cut was his “trademark” though he was never as good at the pulls and hooks because he had a rather low pick up of the bat.
As possibly the last of the text book sideways players he could have emphasised the huge advantages of so doing - and indeed the limitations of playing “square on”. You can get your front foot to the pitch of the ball on the off side. You have a better feel for where your off stump is. You have a much greater range playing the ball beside the body, perhaps as much as four feet whereas the the “square” men have about four inches. You can avoid bumpers with the smallest of steps across the crease and the fast bowlers have a much narrower target. The defensive shot can be expanded into a forcing shot from exactly the same body position. I could go on and on.
Geoffrey B knows all these things like the back of his hand. I know that there are always time limitations when on camera. But he should ask to be allowed a couple more slots to expand the subject. And how I would love to team up with him and explore the subject more fully.
I passed these comments to Joe Root when he was made Captain. I never received a reply or even an acknowledgement so there seems to be no harm in printing them now. Sadly Joe did not take my advice about the Australian Smith. He did have four on the leg side fairly early on, but one of them was in a semi catching position which failed on two counts. Smith does not hit in the air in that area. It still left open spaces for him to collect his one and twos. Now I'm afraid it would be a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.
Captaincy Notes from Ted Dexter for Joe Root
I admire your initiative to play Test Cricket with good fun in the equation. Putting it into practice has its pitfalls - but they are worth it.
Going back to 1959, my first overseas Tour to West Indies, Peter May told us that if the West Indians (with 3/4 fast bowlers) bowled their overs slowly, then so would we. Hence the unedifying process of throwing the ball from hand to hand to hand on its way back to the bowler to prolong a maiden over by a spinner. We won the Series but so what?
Fast forward to 1962 when I, aged 27, was made Captain for the Australian tour. At my first Press Conference on the SS Canberra before disembarking in Perth, I was asked “what about brighter cricket, Ted”. I demurred at the broad sweep of the question but gave an assurance that we would bowl 20 overs an hour for certain. WHAT? 20 eight ball overs? AH! Lets say 120 balls an hour - and we did. Overrate is a simple way of bringing some life into the game.
I also told the batsmen to go out and show how bloody good we all were - and when we made over 400 on the first day at Melbourne against an Australian XI before theTest Series - the media really picked up on us. That publicity really came to fruition when we had over 300, 000 come to the 2nd Test back at Melbourne. We bowled 119 balls per hour with Trueman, Statham Coldwell and Dexter + one spinner. And we won with some really positive batting and running between wickets on the afternoon of the 5th day
Now to tactics on the field. Up until that series, Bill Lawry had been a real thorn in the England side. Finally I twigged. He never cut the ball. He just stopped the shorter ball on the off-side and ran singles. And he seldom cover drove. Good straight driver, puller and off his legs. I didn’t have the temerity to tell Trueman and Statham where to bowl but first change Coldwell got the message. We had a close fielder on the off side and bowled short of a length just out side off.
It worked like a charm, drying up his runs and stopping him from rotating the strike. His partners became ever more restless and started making mistakes of their own,
Fast forward to the South Africans in England (year?) when they made a mammoth score in an early Test including a Smith hundred.
I e-mailed Andrew Strauss- starting thus: Don’t ask me how to bowl to AMLA. KALLIS and DE VILLIERS but as for that SMITH!! What a one trick pony he is!!
With a bottom hand grip like a gorilla, twisted right round under the handle, he shovelled anything remotely straight round to the leg-side, rotating the strike and picking up easy runs. The bowlers tended to bowl more and more off side
until he started to flat bat it square.
I urged Andrew to unsettle him. Wait till he got to the wicket and start moving fielders one by one to the leg-side - four, then five then six. Keep him waiting and then take one back to the off side. Now the bowlers could bowl straight to him and all his shovel shots were cut off. No rotating the strike and general dismay. Net result was that he never passed thirty for the rest of the series - and scoring those few runs much more slowly - with a bad effect on the guys the other end.
I cite the Smith story because I believe you may need something similar to deal with Mr Smith in Australia. I suggested similar tactics to Andrew, when they were last in England, who said he passed my message on to the England support team. That was before he scored his 200 at Lord’s. Back at Lord’s later in the season I was invited to the “highlights “ box with Mark Nicholas and Geoffrey Boycott. Discussing the same subject. I got them to replay an on-drive, wide of mid-on which went for four. It was a perfectly pitched ball hitting the top of the off! Frightening!
Later at the MCC Cowdrey lecture I met Alastair Cook for the first time. I asked whether he was aware of my suggestion. He replied that he was but added that “if you bowl straight, he never misses”. Wasn’t it worth a try, packing the leg-side for at least a few overs while he made 200? All I got was a parting shrug.
Wishing you all the very best - and don’t let the buggers get you down!!