Opening the batting in cricket is one of the toughest tasks in sport, and only certain batsmen will be suited to performing the role. In longer forms of cricket, opening batsmen must be patient, disciplined and gritty. Their main role is to survive the dangerous period at the start of the innings when the opposition bowlers are bowling with the brand new ball! In shorter formats of cricket, opening batsmen are asked to play in a more attacking way and make best use of the fielding restrictions early in the innings to score plenty of runs! This helps to establish a good scoring rate and lays a platform from which the rest of the batsmen in the team can build.
In this post I’m going to give you some tips that will help you become a better opening batsman! These tips should help you out from a defensive point of view, as well as giving you a better idea of how to attack against the new ball. We’ll also talk about the sort of mentality you should be trying to get yourself into! If you follow these tips and add them to your game I guarantee you’ll become a more effective opener!
Here are 13 tips that will help you become a better opening batsman:
- Prepare Yourself Mentally Before You Begin Your Innings
- Develop Habits That Will Help You To Stay Focused During An Innings
- Watch The Ball Carefully
- Identify Your Strong Areas & Play The Right Shots
- Don’t Get Caught On The Crease
- Practice Batting Against The Swinging Ball
- Evaluate & Assess The Game Situation
- Try To Play The Ball Late And Under Your Eyes
- Take A Guard That Helps You Assess The Line Of The Ball Early
- Don’t Forget To Leave The Ball!
- Run Quick Singles And Rotate The Strike
- Try To Play The Ball With Soft Hands
- Consider Changing Your Position On The Crease To Affect The Length Of The Bowler
Now let me take you through each of these tips in more detail! Here we go…
Prepare Yourself Mentally Before You Begin Your Innings
This tip applies to all batsmen in all forms of cricket! Getting yourself in the right frame of mind before you go out to bat, and remaining in that same mental state throughout your innings is really important.
In my view, opening batsmen should be trying to achieve two main goals mentally before they bat:
- Keep yourself calm, think positively and limit nervousness
- Develop a mental game plan of how you are going to play once you get out in the middle
Keeping calm and trying to limit the amount of nerves you feel before your innings is vital. Nerves make our body tense up, which can affect our decision making and ability to play our shots correctly. For batting we want our body to be nice and relaxed so that we can make nice fluid movements.
There are a number of techniques that I like to use to calm my nerves before I go out to bat, and a lot of them have proven to be very effective. If you’d like to read about the techniques that I use, click here to have a look at the post I put together on them! It should definitely give you some new ideas!
As for the mental game plan side of things, I think all opening batsmen should engage in a period of visualisation the night before or the morning of the game. During this period of visualisation, you should really think about which types of deliveries you are going to play at, and whereabouts you are going to try to hit them. What are the areas that you are going to try to score in? You should also really try to imagine the sort of delivery that you are going to leave alone and not play a shot at. All of this visualisation helps you put together a little plan in your head before you go out to bat, and having an organised mind can never be a bad thing! Visualisation works even better if you can stand at the crease, or stand with the bat in your hand while you do it. Try to imagine the bowler running towards you, delivering the ball, and think about how you will react to that delivery. It really helps me get in a good frame of mind before I bat!
Ricky Ponting would make these kinds of game plans every night before he batted. He would write down where bowlers were likely to bowl to him and how they would try to stop him from scoring runs. If this kind of mental preparation worked for Ricky Ponting, it might be a good thing for you to start doing too!
Develop Habits That Will Help You To Stay Focused During An Innings
Certain batsmen have little routines and habits that help them to stay focused during their time at the crease. It’s important to not let the pressure of the game, or the bowler, get on top of you!
As an opening batsman, you’re going to receive good deliveries. You should accept that fact before you walk out to bat! The bowler is going to bowl some balls that will make you look foolish! But it’s what we do in the aftermath of those deliveries that could determine whether we succeed or fail during an innings.
In my opinion, the best thing to do in between deliveries is to walk away from the crease a little bit and take your mind off the last ball, especially if you have just played and missed! Removing yourself from the situation like this can help you get your mind back in order. Just remind yourself to watch the ball and focus on the next delivery! If you play a shot and the ball beats the outside edge of your bat, don’t see this as a win for the bowler, see it as a win for yourself! It’s another ball that you’ve survived, and it gives you the chance to continue your innings. The best batsmen are able to quickly put their own mistakes behind them and concentrate on the next delivery. This is what we refer to as ‘having a short memory’ when batting!
Many professional batsmen have their own specific routines which they will perform in between deliveries without even thinking. Jonathan Trott would relentlessly scratch out his guard with his boot, whereas Steve Smith will obsessively check all of his equipment before the bowler starts his run up. These little habits help them to get into a zone when they bat.
If you find something you like to do out in the middle that helps you to concentrate, then do it! No matter how annoying it might be to other players! Anything extra that you can do to focus your mind can never be a bad thing!
Watch The Ball Carefully
I feel like I mention this in all of my batting tips but it’s the most important aspect of batting by far. You have no chance of making the right judgements and playing shots accurately if you don’t watch the ball incredibly closely. Getting your head towards the line of the ball and watching it all the way on to the face of the bat gives you the best chance of hitting the ball out of the middle of the bat.
Even though it sounds very simple, a lot of players struggle to watch the ball on to the face of the bat. You need to get into the habit of doing it!
Here are a couple of simple tips that should help you watch the ball closely and more regularly:
- As the bowler is running in to bowl, tell yourself to watch the ball. You see a lot of professional batsmen doing this! They will often say it out loud several times to themselves as the bowler is approaching. This kind of repetition is a great way of reminding yourself what you should be doing as the ball is delivered. Get yourself in the nets and start to get used to doing this in practice.
- Professional batsmen like Kevin Pietersen said they watched the ball a lot better if they tried to ‘kiss’ it, rather than just watch it! Obviously, they didn’t mean literally kiss it! ‘Kissing the ball’ means getting your head as close to the ball as possible. Pietersen said that if he tried to move his head towards the line of the ball, this improved his ability to watch it closely, and also helped to improve his footwork! Head position is so important when batting. Wherever your head goes, your feet will follow! So practice trying to ‘kiss’ the ball in practice and you should help yourself out a lot!
I’ve also written a separate more detailed post that includes plenty of tips that should help you to stay focused and watch the ball better. Click here if you’d like to read it!
Identify Your Strong Areas & Play The Right Shots
All batsmen have their strong areas where they score a lot of runs. When the ball is moving around at the start of an innings, it’s incredibly important for opening batsmen to stick to playing shots that they are skilled at playing.
I like to use Alastair Cook as an example for this point! The main shots he would be looking to score from early in the innings were the square cut, the hook and pull and the leg glance (click here if you’re not sure what these shots are). Cook would look to leave deliveries that were outside the line of off stump, unless they were very short and wide where he could play a cross-batted shot and cut them away to the boundary square of the wicket. Anything on the line of off stump he would primarily look to defend!
If you’re an opening batsman, you should really sit down and have a think about what your strong areas are. If you’re not a player who is comfortable playing the short ball, maybe you should think about ducking or weaving out of the way until you get yourself in. If you’re a player who is much better playing through the leg side rather than the off side, then you should wait for the bowler to bowl a ball that is on the line of the stumps or your body. When the ball gets closer to your body, it’s much easier for you to hit it into the leg side!
Don’t let the bowler force you into playing shots that you don’t want to play! Be patient, leave the ball and only look to play your strong shots until you get used to the pace and bounce of the pitch!
Don’t Get Caught On The Crease
When opening the batting you should always try to be decisive with your footwork. For each shot you play, you should try to be either fully committed on the front foot, or fully committed on the back foot.
Getting ‘caught on the crease’ refers to the times when batsmen will play a shot without really moving their feet forwards or backwards. Instead they just stay rooted to the spot! This leads to them throwing their hands out towards the ball, which can lead to a lot more inside and outside edges!
For balls that are shorter in length, batsmen should be looking to play primarily back foot shots. Balls of a fuller length will force the batsman to play front foot shots. Therefore, it’s necessary that we can pick up the length of the ball early so that we know where to move our feet. If you’d like to see my post that lists all of the different front foot and back foot shots, as well as how to play them, click here!
A lot of professional batsmen like to have a small movement forwards with their front foot just before the bowler delivers the ball. Once the front foot has been moved forward slightly, they can continue this movement if the ball is on a full length, or they can push off the front foot and move backwards to play a back foot shot if the ball is short!
Practice Batting Against The Swinging Ball
As an opening batsman you’ll regularly have to face bowlers that can swing the ball, so it’s vital that you’re prepared to deal with this. The only way to get better at batting against a swinging cricket ball is to have plenty of practice against bowlers who can swing it!
If you have teammates or friends that can swing the ball, make sure you’re facing them in the nets regularly. If you don’t know anyone that can swing the ball, or even if you’re just wanting to get some practice at home, you can buy specific training balls that will swing due to the materials that they’re made out of! These types of balls are great because you can get someone who isn’t a fast bowler to give you some throw downs, and the ball will still swing! They’re also great because they’re really cheap! You can usually pick them up for less than £10! If you’d like to see the current price of a good one on amazon then click here! That ball I just linked to is adult sized, but there are plenty of junior options available for similar (if not cheaper) prices too!
The main principles for batting against the swinging ball are as follows:
- Play the ball as late as possible. (This will be covered later in this post)
- Don’t follow the ball wide of your body with your bat. This is how outside edges happen!
- Try to pick up cues from the bowler as to which way they’re going to swing the ball. Try to look for how the seam is positioned in their hand!
- Consider batting slightly outside your crease. Reducing the distance between you and the bowler may allow you to get to the ball before it swings too dramatically!
Evaluate & Assess The Game Situation
Before you walk out to bat as an opener you should always be asking yourself ‘What sort of innings do I need to play?’ The answer to this question can change depending on the circumstances of the match. For example, if your team is batting second in a one day game when the other team has already got a big score, you may want to play in a bit more of an attacking manner to get your team off to a flying start and ensure that you keep up with the required run rate. If you’re playing on a pitch that is causing the ball to seam around a lot, and the bowlers are swinging the ball in the air, you may have to be a lot more watchful during your innings.
You may also have to change your approach to batting while you’re out in the middle. If your opening partner gets out early and you lose another couple of wickets straight after that, you may want to play slightly more defensively and just look to accumulate runs slowly for a little while. Whereas, if you’re batting with the tail-enders, you may want to play in a more attacking way whilst trying to keep them off strike.
Before you go out to bat, have a think about exactly what sort of innings the game requires from you. What sort of innings are you going to play that will contribute to your teams’ success? Answering this question before you begin your innings can help you to feel a lot more relaxed while you’re at the crease!
Try To Play The Ball Late And Under Your Eyes
Playing the ball late can often be very important for an opening batsman, especially in bowler friendly conditions. When the ball is swinging around, the last thing you want to be doing is playing the ball early and going at the ball with hard hands. More often than not this will lead to you edging the ball to the wicket keeper/slips! Instead, we want to watch the ball carefully and play it as late as possible, preferably making contact with the ball as it is level with our body. This gives us the maximum amount of time to read how the ball is behaving in the air/off the pitch. Think of it like playing spin. The more time we give ourselves, the easier it is to read the ball off the pitch! The same applies to fast bowling!
Practicing indoors can lead to batsmen always going hard at the ball. They can get away with this indoors because the surface is unlikely to cause the ball to seam. However, in proper matches movement off the pitch happens more regularly and the best batsmen are the ones that can deal with this effectively.
This is something that has to be practiced in the nets. I’d also recommend watching batsmen like Kane Williamson if you want to see this in action. He is an expert at playing the ball late! When you’re in the nets and playing defensively, focus on letting the ball come to you and letting it hit your bat rather than forcibly moving your hands and your bat towards the ball. This also ties in to the playing with soft hands tip that you can read a bit further down!
Take A Guard That Helps You Assess The Line Of The Ball Early
Batting at the start of the innings requires us to be extra precise about what deliveries we play, and which ones we leave alone! This is especially true for batsmen in longer forms of the game, but on certain occasions you will have to be very selective in 20/50 over matches too.
Before we start, ask yourself this…how do batsmen know whether to leave or play the ball? What is their final decision based on? Well, the answer is quite simple! First, the batsman will usually try to get their head and eyes in line with their off stump. Getting your head in this position makes it easier to read the line of the ball quickly once it leaves the bowlers hand. From this position, if the ball is in line with their eyes, they know that the ball is probably going to be on the line of the stumps and their body. Therefore, they will probably have to play a shot at the ball. Whereas, if the ball is outside the line of their left or right eye, the ball will probably be travelling down the leg side or wide of the off stump. In this situation the batsman knows that they have the option to leave the ball alone.
Taking a certain guard helps batsmen to get their head and eyes into this position over the off stump. If you’re not sure what a ‘guard’ is, it’s basically the position that we place our feet in as we get into our batting stance. Batsmen who take a middle stump guard should have the front of their feet aligned with the middle stump. Off stump guards require the batsmen to place the front of their feet in line with the off stump and so on and so forth!
Some players stick with a middle stump guard as they think that this is the best way to get their head over the off stump. However, some players like Steve Smith prefer to take a leg stump guard and walk across to the off stump before the bowler releases the ball!
You should take whatever guard you feel comfortable with, but I would always recommend aiming to end up in the position where your head and eyes are over the off stump. That should be your key takeaway from this section! Still, make sure you remember that all batsmen are different and you need to find something that works for you! If you need any further guidance about what guard you should be taking, feel free to ask your coaches who I’m sure would be more than willing to help out!
Don’t Forget To Leave The Ball!
Leaving the ball is always a great option for opening batsmen, especially early in their innings! You will see batsmen leaving the ball a lot more in longer forms of the game, however, it definitely has its place in shorter forms of the game like 20 or 50 overs per side too! Even the most attacking batsmen in the world like Chris Gayle may choose to leave some deliveries early in their innings. You definitely don’t have to play a shot at every single ball! If the delivery is in a dangerous area outside the off stump, or is a bouncer that is coming towards you at an awkward height, you may want to just let it go past you and let the wicket keeper deal with it instead.
One of the great things about leaving the ball is that it can be incredibly frustrating for the bowler. If a bowler bowls 6 deliveries that are wide of the off stump and every one of them gets left, they will be more likely to bowl one towards your body in the next over. Therefore, if we leave the ball well, we can force the bowler to bowl deliveries that are easier and safer to score from.
As you would with any normal shot, remember to watch the ball all the way from the bowlers hand until it reaches you. This is the only way that you can execute a leave properly, and it also allows you some opportunity to adjust your body position at the last second if the delivery does not behave like you thought it would. For example, if the ball begins to swing late, the only chance you have of reacting to it is if you have watched the ball all the way. Watching the ball as you leave it also helps you to get used to the pace and bounce of the pitch even when you’re not playing a shot!
One thing I want to say to end this section is that you should never pre-meditate leaving the ball. This defeats the point entirely! If you’re already thinking about leaving the ball before the bowler has delivered it, then this can lead to you making very bad decisions. You should decide to leave the ball based on whether it is outside your eye line or not, as I mentioned in the previous section.
Run Quick Singles And Rotate The Strike
A good way to frustrate the fielding side and reduce their chances of getting you out is by looking for opportunities to take quick singles continually looking to rotate the strike with your opening partner.
You’ll often hear fast bowlers like Jimmy Anderson or Pat Cummins talk about ‘executing their plans’ when they’re bowling. Bowlers will go into games with specific plans of how to get a batsman out, and each plan may take 3-4 overs to execute properly! In order to do this, they need to build pressure by starving one batsman of runs and keeping them on strike for a while. Opening bowlers love nothing more than being able to bowl a lot of consecutive deliveries at one batsman!
As openers, we can take this opportunity away from them by making sure that we are always looking for the quick run when we knock the ball into a gap. If we can rotate the strike regularly, we can frustrate the bowler by forcing them to adjust their plans and bowl to a different batsman every few deliveries.
Taking quick singles comes with it’s own risks, and you’ll need to be fast between the wickets if you’re going to do it regularly! A few other things to remember if you’re going to try and take plenty of quick singles are as follows:
- The best opening batting partnerships know each-others tendencies inside and out. Try to get plenty of experience with the same opening partner so you know when they are likely to run, and when they aren’t! If you can be on the same page as one another, it gives you a huge advantage!
- Make clear calls to your partner as you make a decision on whether to run or not. I always like to use a simple ‘Yes’, ‘No’ or ‘Wait’ call. Make sure you shout one of these words loudly when you have made your decision so that you partner knows what is expected of them.
- Don’t be afraid to dive to make your ground! Taking quick singles allows the fielders close to the bat to have opportunities to run you out. As a result, you may have to dive and stretch the bat out in order to make your ground before the ball hits the stumps! Don’t be afraid of doing this! Getting run out is one of the worst ways to get out, so you should try to avoid it at all costs!
Try To Play The Ball With Soft Hands
Sometimes it is necessary for opening batsmen to play with softer hands rather than going very hard at the ball. Playing with softer hands simply means that you don’t push the bat towards the ball with as much force! If you don’t push the bat out as forcefully, there is less chance that the ball will carry to a fielder or the wicket keeper if it hits the edge of your bat. Opening batsmen can use this method during tough periods in their innings when batting is difficult. It will lead to you playing a little more conservatively but can help you get through dangerous parts of the match without getting out.
Here are some scenarios where opening batsmen may look to play with softer hands:
- Batsmen opening the innings in longer forms of cricket like test matches should look to play with soft hands. The red cricket ball tends to swing and move around a lot, which means there is a huge potential for edges! Play with soft hands until you get yourself in!
- In limited overs cricket (50 overs, T20’s) the ball tends to move around in the first couple of overs and batsmen may have to play defensively. It may be wise to play these defensive shots with soft hands
- Opposition captains will often have very aggressive field placings at the start of the innings when the openers come out to bat. This happens in all forms of cricket! It may not be wise to go hard at the ball outside the off stump if the fielding side has a lot of slip fielders in place as there is a high chance you could get an outside edge and get out quickly.
If you want to get used to playing in this way, give it a try in the nets. Go bat for half an hour and try to bat in a more conservative/defensive way! If I’m playing with soft hands, I try to act as if I’m almost pulling the bat away from the ball while playing defensive shots. Pulling the bat away ever so slightly can be the difference between the ball carrying to a slip fielder or bouncing a couple of feet in front of them. If you’re playing a defensive shot and thrusting your hands out aggressively in the direction of the ball, any edge that you get will travel a lot further and faster in the air!
Consider Changing Your Position The Crease To Affect The Length Of The Bowler
This tip is more suited to opening batsmen in shorter forms of the game such as 20 over and 50 over cricket, but batsmen in the longer versions of cricket can put it to good use too!
At the start of the innings, most fast bowlers will be looking to bowl good length deliveries on a difficult line. To put it simply, they will be trying to hit the top of our off stump! This line and length is one of the most difficult for batsmen to deal with. That’s why bowlers like Glenn McGrath and Shaun Pollock were so successful…they could hit this length at will. Modern one day players need ways to knock these kinds of bowlers off their lengths, ways to disrupt their rhythm! One of the ways you can do this is by changing your position on the crease.
By moving yourself closer to the bowler, you can turn a good length delivery into a full length delivery! This occurs because when we move forwards, you are decreasing the distance between yourself and the area where the ball bounces. As a result, the ball will not bounce as high by the time it reaches you. Once you have moved yourself down the pitch like this, the ball becomes much simpler to play! Full length deliveries are significantly easier to hit for boundaries if you get yourself into a good position whilst executing the shot.
If you think that moving down the wicket is a good option for you, you can do this in one of two ways:
- Wait for the bowler to get into their delivery stride, then take a couple of steps down the pitch towards them as they are about to release the ball. They key things to remember here are to stay balanced, keep your head and eyes level, and to watch the ball very carefully as you make your move.
- Stand outside your crease before the bowler begins their run up. Using this option means you don’t have to make a dramatic movement as the bowler is about to deliver the ball.
This is just one method that you can use to play in an attacking manner against the good length delivery. If you want to know more ways that you can attack that kind of bowling, click here to read my detailed guide that all batsmen should be reading!
I hope these tips have given you some new things to think about when it comes to opening the batting. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it! If you get selected as an opener by your team, you should see it as a huge compliment. Your coaches obviously think that you have a good technique and have the ability to really influence a game. If you’re happy with how you’re playing, then don’t feel like you have to make any of the changes I’ve listed in this post. However, if you are looking for a bit of inspiration and new things to add to your game, these tips will be a good start!