Get the basics right

IT is imperative that one gets the basics right in any sport in order to achieve success. Quite often, I come across players who choose to ignore the basics and they end up stunting their progress. I will dwell on the basic aspects of batting in this article. The conventional methods are suggested for the beginners, as those methods have passed the test time and again. The grip, stance, backlift and downswing are the basic aspects that need a lot of attention. Foremost of all, it is important that one grips the bat in the proper manner. Once the proper grip is achieved then it becomes essential to develop the right stance. These two aspects trigger and dictate the backlift and the downswing, which in turn facilitate the batsman to achieve his prime objective, that of playing the ball in the manner it has to be played.

Let's start off with the grip (Pic.1), as the importance of a right grip can never be over emphasised. Someone like Vengsarkar, the former Indian captain, kept a check on it even as he was ready to face the bowler right through his career. The bat is held halfway down the handle and the hands are close together (Pic. 2). If the bat is gripped in the right manner, you should be able to see the fingertips of the middle, ring and little fingers of the bottom hand, (i.e. the right hand for a right-hander and vice versa for the left-hander). The thumb and the index finger will form a loop around the handle. Similarly the tip of the middle, ring and little fingers of the top hand will be seen (when the gloves are not worn). The back of the hand will be facing the cover region with the side of the top hand facing the bowler. Make sure that the grip on the handle is firm and not too tight.

Once the right grip is achieved, you are ready to take stance. The stance comprises three vital components — balance, right alignment and posture. The side-on stance (Pic. 3) is commonly recommended, as it enables the batsman to play shots on either side of the wicket. There have been exceptions but we will follow the tried and proven methods. Like most aspects in cricket, good balance is the essence of batting. The right balance is achieved when the weight is distributed evenly (on the heel and the ball of the foot) as you stand. The width at which the feet are positioned and the extent of the flex in the knees are crucial to distribute the weight evenly. The feet should be positioned only as wide as the shoulders and the knees must be flexed just a little. Too much of width between the feet and flex in the knees will result in the weight being distributed in excess either on the heels or on the toes. As a result co-ordination between the lower half and upper half of the body suffers which in turn will make the batsman produce a poor stroke.

In as much as it is important to have the right grip and a good stance, perfect alignment of the body is equally important. The shoulders, hips, knees and feet (circled areas in Pic. 3) have to be absolutely side-on facing the bowler. The head should be still and face the bowler with the chin just above the leading shoulder. If the front foot is placed ahead of the back foot, it will make the batsman go past the side-on position and if it is the other way around, then the batsman will have an open stance. In the former instance, it will force the batsman to play around his front leg, while in the latter it will curb stroke play on the off side. The alignment is right if the bowler cannot get even a glimpse of your right side of the body — by that I mean the right shoulder, right hip or the right knee. It is the reverse in the case of a left-hander.

Now we come to the backlift or unweighting as it is called. If the grip, stance and alignment are right, then the bat will be in the right position to follow the right path on the back swing. Normally the path of the backlift will decide the path of the downswing as well. The ideal path of the backlift and downswing is similar to a pendulum; the bat goes back straight towards the wicket-keeper and comes back down in the same line (Pics. 4, 5 & 6) The backlift has to be effected by the wrists and the arms in unison, in the same manner as that of rocking a baby. Normally youngsters are advised to ensure that the face of the bat is visible to the point fielder (Pic. 7) while taking a backlift. This can be achieved only when the top hand initiates the backlift with the wrist set. Careful attention must be paid that the bottom hand does not initiate the backlift. Otherwise the wrists will come into excessive play, which will result in the backlift and downswing going haywire. In a nutshell, the grip, stance, alignment, backlift and downswing form a chain reaction and it is important to pay a lot of attention to each of the links that constitute the chain.

(The author is a left-hander). W. V. Raman will answer

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