Friday, April 25, 2014

The Art of Cricket - Sir Donald Bradman

I learned much from a Rupa edition of Dennis Lillee's 'The Art of Fast Bowling' when I was a school kid. I learned the cutters and the slower ones straight out of that book and much else. Since then I have been a big fan of providing young cricketers written material which they can use while playing (one reason why I wrote 'The Men Within'. I was more than glad to see that Akshar's collection of books included 'The Art of Cricket' by Don Bradman - a gift from his uncle, and pounced on it.

The Don wrote with great clarity and simplicity and most stuff applies to  young cricketer as well as senior pros. For example when he starts talking about the equipment, he talks of how comfort must be a guiding factor. He talks of building the 'pride of ownership' early in young cricketers (so important) when they buy their equipment. They should have a say in the matter. While picking bats or any other equipment the Don emphasises the importance of 'feel' or 'balance'. Of paramount importance is 'comfort' and 'right size'. He points out that a good cricketer cares for his equipment and pays attention. An eye for detail denotes enthusiasm he says, and rightly so.

Paying attention to keep the straps of pads inside (all batsmen know the danger of being given out caught behind thanks to loose flaps), wearing a cap so the heat does not hamper concentration while batting or fielding, and wearing clothes and equipment so one looks like a cricketer.
'The player who is interested enough and takes care of minute details is the one who is likely to triumph at a critical moment.' 
A truer word has not been spoken of anything that can be done well and all professionals must pay attention to this line.

While dealing with the art of batting, he talks of timing and judgment, and the importance of standing still. If there are two things one must bear in mind they are to 1) concentrate and 2) watch the ball (from the bowler's hand as he is in the act of delivering the ball).

Once the ball leaves the hand, the ball must be the sole object of your attention. So closely do the best batsmen watch the ball that they see the seam on the ball, some even the stitches on the ball. If you watch closely enough, you see the ball turning in the air.

The Don emphasises practicing with the ball as much as one can. It is important to face one's fears and he advises batsmen to address all the areas of discomfort by practising against those fears. It is necessary he says that one has access to sound coaching where the coach only builds upon what he already has. Though there is an element of top and bottom handedness in every stroke a batsman plays it is not to become the be-and-end of all things. Play instinctive and attacking cricket after having practiced well. The Don feels that the game of cricket is a lot like chess, with moves and counter moves. You must think them out.

The stance is all about comfort. The head must be still as you face the ball. Concentrate on the ball and the rest is easy he says. He should know. Comfort and relaxation are the keys.

The back lift he feels is probably best coming from 2nd slip region though he says each finds his own way. But he does say this - if the batsman is in the correct position at the top of the backlift he cannot go wrong.

To coaches he says 'teach what to do and not how do to it' There are illustrations of defensive shots, attacking shots, off the back and front foot.

Backfoot defence requires a back and across movement. It is vital he says. Master it if you have ambitions. It is like this - weight on the right foot, head over the line and looking down at the ball. Practice it in front of the mirror he says, for hours if necessary.

Forward defence requires you to have the body and head to go forward together, to the pitch of the ball where the front leg is. The elbow-foot-head are in sync, head is well forward and down. Lean into the shot, hit it.

When you have to cut, he says cut hard, don't toy with it.

On drives he discusses the cover drive, off drive, straight drive and on drive. The technique is to lead with the left shoulder (for right handers) lean forward, play as close to the front leg as possible and  and follow through for control. The eyes must always be on the ball.

A positive mental approach says the Don is the only way to score at a reasonable speed. While covering the ways of getting out - bowled, caught, LBW, stumped, run out, hit wicket, handled the ball, obstructing the field, hitting the ball twice - he springs statistics. 59% times he was out caught and 27% times bowled or LBW.

Bowling he says is all about perseverance and enthusiasm. It requires practice and hard work. He talks of CB Turner who would get up at 430 am and practice for 60-90 minutes aiming at a single wicket!
The Don advocates having a target and of setting one's mind of being a great bowler. He says that the '..greatest satisfaction any cricketer can have is to achieve a sensational match-winning bowling performance.'
All champion sides have strong bowling attacks says the Don and attack a bowler must to get the batsmen out. The Don emphasises yet again on attention to detail, on planning a field.

As a bowler or a team member, he says loyalty to the captain is essential and he quotes a great as saying 'I don't care a damn for your loyalty when you think I am right. The time I want it is when you think I am wrong.'

A bowlers two great weapons are control over length and direction. he must be a master of deception. The Don says that the run up should be of the exact length for optimum effect. The left shoulder down the pitch for a side on position and at the moment of delivery as in the crack of a whip. He tells bowlers to keep it simple (something that MSD does too).

To practice line and length, he advocates net practice with no batsman. When you bowl make the batsman play every ball. Pitch up with the new ball rather than be short. Observe, watch and learn.

Fast bowlers must develop physique, stamina and be hostile and batter down defences. Again he says attack the stumps with the new ball, give plenty of air and over pitch fr swing. Work on legs and core muscles.

He dwells on off spin and leg spin too.

Running between wickets
The Don emphasises the famous three calls of - Yes, No, Wait. What wonderful communication techniques.
He dwells on backing up, on dragging your bat, on running the first run fast - stuff that most cricketers miss these days even.

He expects the captain to be a man of character, a fighter, who is firm and whose place is secure. He must play to win, be a planner. Much of his work must be done in the dressing room, at nets etc. He must certainly know the rules. One of his greatest strengths would be to anticipate the batsman's weak spot.

Don't alter natural skills. He tells cricketers to take practice sessions seriously and fielding practice even more so. Finally he says to the student that the best teacher is yourself - analyse things, work out what suits you, practice and observe.

He says that they must have cricket ability, understand psychology. He warms against picking too soon.

The Don speaks of responsibility and of keeping emotions under control.

There are chapters on the LBW rule and some others. Its such a wonderful book, so ahead of time, simple in its presentation but full of content and depth. I am glad I got to read it finally. Any cricketer, Akshar you lucky chap, who has this book, must keep referring to it every now and then. It will make new sense to you like all great books do. And like I always say, it applies so much to real life too.

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