Training Principles: Julian Wyatt

Up and down the country all ages of cricketer will be turning up for training sessions ahead of their weekend cricket matches. The premise being to ‘be prepared’, although each environment, each level will focus in their own special way.

As a cricket player and coach I have been party to all manner of training sessions over the years. Some excellent, some distracted and some downright hopeless. The bottom line is, what is the point of cricket training? If it’s a social occasion ahead of weekend sport with mates, then training doesn’t have to be rigid or disciplined. It simply has to be fun. If there are shared goals to win leagues or earn promotion, then maybe the attention to training needs to be slightly more detailed and focused.

There are four things that I have noticed over the years that players often overlook in training.

  1. Batters practice getting out
  2. Fielding practice doesn’t involve taking enough catches
  3. Bowlers practice no balls
  4. Core strengths aren’t practiced enough

Batters practicing getting out:

Why? That’s about the only question I can ask. Batters practice once a week and try to play like Jos Buttler who practices almost daily. Batters practice in a manner to copy elite performers who are rare beasts and yet, all and sundry rock up to training thinking they can play like an exceptional professional sportsman. Odd.

“I want to enjoy my game”, is the general response and yet the bat invariably reaches the dressing room before the player on Saturday, following yet another reckless dismissal. I fail to see how that is enjoyable and with a fraction more accuracy in training the results can be so different.

The modern game employs all manner of new and inventive stroke play. Professionals spend hours honing these skills working on the premise that ‘practice makes perfect’, or The Talent Codes view that 10,000 repetitions equal expertise. And yet, three or four reverse sweeps in a net and it’s taken into the game Saturday. It may work, yet generally doesn’t.

Batters, do yourselves a favour. Ask the coach or whoever is organising the net, how long you will bat for and spend the first portion of the net staying in. The hardest part of all batting is the first part of an innings. Everyone starts on nought, so spend time learning to play through that initial phase. I had a coach who used to say, “everyone would be fine if they could start on twenty”. So learn to get to twenty and then learn to do something with it.

The last portion can be allotted to looking at a range of scoring options and an expansive focus. The first portion will give you the confidence to know that you are capable of controlling your innings if you need to. The latter portion can be drilled towards the business end of the game or your innings.

If you want to work on specific options, grab a mate and hit some extra balls elsewhere and practice the same shot over and over again. Hone the skill, deepen your understanding of how you play the stroke and what you are looking for in the delivery. If you train twenty times a season and practice the revere sweep fifty times each session, in ten years’ time you will have hit your 10,000 repetitions. It really is that hard and can take that long to be excellent.

Fielding practice doesn’t involve taking enough catches:

“Catches win matches”. Yes, I know, what a boring statement. Dermot Reeve made sure that the 1998-2001 Somerset players paired up daily to take 100 catches between them. Back and forth simple catches. No diving, nothing elaborate, just catching. Yet, at training, catching is geared to diving full length looking for the worldie. Without realising it, players take two or three worldies and drop the other twenty. The catching strike rate is minimal.

Take as many simple catches as you can. Back and forth. Trust your hands. It works. It really does.

Take high catches. They don’t have to be absolute skyscrapers, but they do have to go up in the air some distance. When I played for Keynsham CC I would hit high catches. One evening, one of the lads complained that they were too high – I was never that big a hitter to be fair! He wandered off and did something else. A few weeks later we played in the final of the ‘Classic Bat’ sixty over club competition. Martin Roberts hit an absolute skier to the very same lad and guess what? Not only did he drop it, he broke his thumb, we were down to ten men and Martin hit a match winning 170. Take some high catches.

Bowlers practice no balls:

There is so much wrong with this, but, hah, what do I know, I was a batter. I loved no balls as a batter, that’s all I know. I’ve been bowled off a few no balls too – lovely.

It makes no sense. It makes the bowler faster, in training, but not in matches. It means the lengths trained are different. This makes no sense. Bowlers bowl a full range of options. 10,000 repetitions?

“I’m enjoying myself”.

“How did you get on Saturday”?

“Captain took me off after three overs”.

“What were your figures”?

“Oh, I didn’t look but I wasn’t even into my rhythm yet”.

Same as the batter. Practice your best ball for the first twenty plus deliveries and make sure you feel the control and the ability / confidence to bowl it at will. Once you have that in place, try one or two variations, not ten. Practice one or two options and spend some time developing the feel and understanding of those deliveries.  

It isn’t necessarily about the content of training or the set up. It really is about each individual taking ownership of their game for Saturday. I don’t regard this as unenjoyable, I regard it as essential to a) enjoying myself with a performance on Saturday and b) helping the team win.  

I like bowlers bowling in pairs for one over so they can a) build a rhythm rather than waiting in a queue of twelve players and b) they can commit to thirty to forty minutes and then rest, or field, or have a bat themselves. The problem is there isn’t always enough facility room, or enough time. If there is enough time, its good practice.

I’m not a huge fan of if you’re out you’re out. If you train daily, yes, definitely. If you train once a week, it serves no purpose.

Train your core skills first:

As I have mentioned above, train the first portion of each innings. Bowl your best ball as often as you can. Learn to bowl a consistent line that makes it easier to understand your field settings. Take catches – easy catches.

Practice your ‘glory’ skills of course. That’s fun and fun has to be a core part of your involvement. Just try and see them for what they are though – additions, not core strengths. The swimming pool, not the house. 

In fairness it’s a huge subject matter. For me the key is training principles and each individual learning to do what they know works for them.

I was asked to help Heathcoat CC in the Devon league two years ago. It was the midpoint of the season and they were bottom of the league with many good players. Before our first session, I studied their seasons performances. When we met, the first thing I asked was how many times they had batted their allotted overs so far that season. A few fingers were counted and put down again. I stopped them and said, “you haven’t yet and that’s why you are bottom of the league”. It isn’t rocket science. It was how they trained though. They practiced a pro game at club cricket level. They practiced failure and didn’t like it. And whilst I am on the subject, in 2018 in the premier division of the Devon League, only one match was won by a team bowled out that didn’t bowl their opponents out. Don’t get bowled out and you have a chance. You may not be bowled out and you may still lose, but if you are bowled out there is a very high chance that you will lose.

Statistics are a massive part of the game. They have to be used factually though, not as an opinion. For example, a few years ago James Hildreth wasn’t selected in the T20 competition. One of the reasons being he doesn’t hit enough sixes. Hildy is an intelligent run scorer though and every team needs intelligent run scorers. The stats? That season Somerset averaged two sixes per game and no doubt many attempted six hits resulted in boundary catches, although that’s an opinion not a fact! There is one remarkable cricket statistic that is almost unanimously and universally ignored. It is 100% fact that no one has ever been out caught, hitting the ball along the ground – boring, but a fact. The point being use stats as close to fact as possible.

I always encourage reflection. As a coach of teams I would email match reports the day after a game. Did people read them? I’m sure some didn’t, but I’m also sure enough did. The email is based around picking out good points and reinforcing them, whether that’s the team I work with, or the opposition. Its all information. Its an opportunity to ask questions of where we could have been better, or pinpoint key areas to be aware of next time. In essence it’s simply picking up information. Its not a finger pointing exercise and never should be. There is no blame when you lose, but there is praise when you win. Its club cricket, not pro cricket. Be supportive.

Having said all of the above its your game, it’s your season and you owe it to yourself to play the way you want to. If you really want to do well though, go that little bit further in training. There may be more in you than you realised. You all pay your subscriptions and match fees so go that little bit deeper in training. Reward yourself, reward your team-mates and put your hand in your pocket and buy your jug!

Jules

Julian Wyatt played over 100 first-class and List A games for Somerset between 1983 and 1989, and alongside some of the true greats of the cider county.

He now manages his own Perfect Moments Master Coaching, and coaches at highly-esteemed education establishments like Wellington School and Blundell’s School in Tiverton.

For one-to-one or distance learning programmes then contact Julian: