I guarantee if you’re a batsman then at some point in your career you’ve worried about a bowler being too quick for you. You’ve probably worried that he’ll fire a delivery through your defences, or at your body before you’ve had chance to properly react to the ball! So I guess the question is…how long does a batsman really have to react to the ball? Here is a rough breakdown…
Approximate Reaction times when facing:
- The average professional fast bowler (137kph or 85mph) = 0.53 seconds
- The average professional spinner (80kph or 50mph) = 0.91 seconds
- The fastest ball ever recorded (161.3kph or 100.2mph) = 0.45 seconds
- Average club cricket fast bowler (113kph or 70mph) = 0.64 seconds
NOTE: The calculations above were based on a cricket pitch 20.12m (22 yards) in length. What these calculations do not tell us are the effects of the ball hitting the pitch, which slows down the delivery somewhat before it reaches the batsman. So you may have slightly longer to react than these numbers suggest!
The reason I didn’t include the effects of the pitch in the analysis is that the degree to which the ball slows down after hitting the pitch depends on a couple of factors. The factors are:
- Where the ball pitches
- The position on the crease that it was bowled from (higher arm or lower arm).
Imagine for a second a bowler running in and bowling a 145kph (90mph) delivery, but pitching it 3-4 metres in front of his own feet, basically bowling the ball straight into the ground. In this scenario, the ball only travels a few metres at its highest velocity when it leaves the hand, before hitting the pitch and slowing down. The ball then has to travel a longer distance towards the batsman at a slower pace, giving them more time to react.
Now consider the alternative…in this scenario a bowler bowls a delivery that pitches on an incredibly full length, roughly a metre from the batsman’s feet. Here the ball has travelled a lot further at its higher original speed, only being slowed down by air resistance. It hits the pitch and slows down to a higher degree just before it reaches the batsman, travelling at this slower speed for a much shorter period of time than the first ball. This gives the batsman less time to react. This is one of the reasons that yorkers and deliveries that pitch close to the batsman are so deadly!
The height of the arm makes an impact because a higher arm generally will cause the ball to impact the pitch at a smaller ‘angle of incidence’. The angle of incidence refers to the angle between the flight path of the delivery and an imaginary vertical line. The angle of incidence is represented by ‘x’ in the photo below! The smaller the angle, the more the ball is slowed down by its impact with the ground. The bigger the angle is, the less the delivery will be slowed down when it strikes the pitch due to the flight path of the ball not being as steep.
What is ‘Reaction Time’ in Cricket?
Reaction time is defined as the length of time from the detection of a ‘primary stimulus’ to the moment where you can begin a bodily response. In the batting scenario the primary stimulus would be the bowler releasing the ball and it beginning to travel towards us. The bodily response is you beginning to move the bat towards the ball.
There are a lot of internal processes that have to happen before you can generate a response to a stimulus:
- After the ball is bowled (stimulus), the eyes must detect this before relaying the relevant information to the brain. Relevant information in this case includes interpretations of what line and length the ball is going to pitch on, as well as the speed of the ball.
- The brain then proceeds to interpret the information to see if it can formulate an appropriate response. If the brain has encountered this type of stimulus before then it is often able to respond quicker, as it has a large base of prior reactions from which to pick. The more times you see the same stimulus, the more confidently you will be able to react to it! This is why practice in cricket is so important!
- The brain relays the chosen bodily response to the motor cortex.
- The motor cortex relays a signal through the spinal cord to the appropriate parts of the body which will cause them to move and enact the response that the brain has specified.
These processes that occur in our brain are unconscious, we do not know that they’re occurring. Conscious thoughts take a lot longer! If we were to think through all of these different things when batting and try to make a conscious decision, then there would be no way we would ever be able to consistently make contact with the ball as it would have already passed us!
How Do Batsmen React To The Elite Fast Bowlers
So how do batsmen react effectively when the pace really begins to crank up? When they’re facing a brutal 150kmh (93mph) spell of bowling from one of the worlds quickest bowlers? This is a speed we’ve seen regularly from bowlers like Brett Lee over the years, and it requires a batsman’s reaction time to be even sharper. At that speed, a batsman would have approximately 0.48 seconds to react to the ball (not considering the air resistance or effects of the pitch on the ball). So how do they make it look so easy?
Most professional players have been practicing for 15+ years of their life to face the fastest bowlers. It’s a daily thing for them. They have faced the fastest bowlers in every age group on their way to the top of the game and honed their skills in that area. The jump to the professional level is a big one, but with the right amount of practice and dedication to your craft, it is a jump that can be made successfully. The same is true with any level of cricket. Practice is the most important thing. The more you can expose yourself to higher and faster levels of bowling, the better equipped you will be to face them. As I said in the section above, the brain relies on your experience of situations in the past, to know how to react to similar situations in the future.
A sporting principle I hugely appreciate is that you should try to make your practice sessions more difficult than your real match situations. I think this is largely true for all sports. To get better at something you have to challenge yourself daily and face the problem head on, and the batsmen who are the best at taking on fast bowlers have done that behind the scenes in net sessions for years.
A trigger move is a movement that a batsman will make in the very short period of time before the bowler releases the ball. Batsmen use them in order to get the feet moving in a positive manner before having to adjust to the line and length of the delivery. It is much easier to react to an incredibly fast-moving ball if we are already on the move ourselves, rather than starting from a stationary position. Trigger moves look different for every player, and are designed to be repeated on every delivery, so that the batsman can ensure he is getting into the same positions. Some players barely make any movement at all, take Sachin Tendulkar for example. He remained very still until the last second when he would make a small movement back towards the stumps and slightly to the offside. Players like Steve Smith have much larger trigger moves, and this is entirely down to personal preference!
Throughout a trigger movement it is incredibly important to keep your head and eyes level and ensure that you are balanced when the ball is released. Focus on getting into a good position from which you can easily push forwards towards the ball or rock onto the back foot.
Watching the Ball
You always see professional players reminding themselves to watch the ball as the bowler is approaching the crease. This is incredibly important when facing the quickest bowlers. Batsmen pick up hugely important cues by watching the ball as it leaves the hand. From there they are able to judge the approximate line and length of the ball. The players that are the best at playing fast bowling are able to make these judgements incredibly quickly and get in good positions to hit the ball.
Scientific studies show that no matter how hard we try it is technically impossible to watch the ball all the way on to the bat when it is moving at high speed. Instead, professionals take in all of the most important visual information. Their eyes read the initial movement of the ball after it leaves the hand and move instinctively to the area where they think it will pitch. Once they have an area where they think the ball will pitch, their brain can initiate a response based on previous batting experiences.
Incredible Hand-Eye Co-ordination
It takes an insane amount of skill to consistently hit the ball accurately when facing fast bowlers, a skill that is cultivated through years of practice. The average cricket bat is about 4 inches wide, and you’re trying to make contact with a ball that is approximately 3 inches in diameter. Now consider that the ball will travel through the zone where it can be hit by the batsman in a fraction of a second and you can exactly what a tough task batting actually is!
Some cricketers use thinner bats during practice sessions to work on their hand-eye co-ordination. If you can become better at striking a moving cricket ball with a much thinner bat than usual, then batting with your regular bat will feel like a walk in the park! This comes back to the principle I mentioned earlier; Try to make your practice sessions more difficult than your real match situations.
Ways To Improve Your Reaction Time Against Fast Bowlers
Establish a Trigger Move
If you’re still in junior cricket and you haven’t begun to face the truly elite fast bowlers yet then I wouldn’t worry too much about trigger moves unless you really feel the need to. In my opinion younger players shouldn’t fill their minds with these fine technical details, and instead just focus on getting plenty of minutes at the crease under their belt.
As for more senior players who face faster bowling, a trigger move is always a good thing to develop. I won’t go into the advantages again here because I already mentioned them earlier in this post. But why not try working with your coaches to add something like this to your technique? As I said earlier, it doesn’t have to be a big movement…just something to get your feet moving before you launch into a shot!
Remember that a trigger move must be practiced for a long time during net sessions and games before it becomes second nature to you!
Practice Against A Bowling Machine
One of the best ways to improve your reaction time and get used to facing faster bowling is to use a bowling machine. If you or the club that you play for have access to one of these then make sure you use it! Bowling machines allow you to set the speeds of bowling that you want to face, as well as the line and length. Practicing in a controlled environment like this is the best way to get a good feel for a certain type of bowling. The more you can face fast bowling in the nets, the better equipped you will be to face it in a game situation!
The best part about a bowling machine is that you don’t even need a partner to bowl at you for hours on end. All you need is someone that is willing to feed cricket balls into the machine! Plus, you don’t have to just use these while practicing with your cricket team. If you have the funds and the space available bowling machines are the best way to get some batting practice at home! If you really want to improve your batting skills, then this would be one of my very first recommendations.
Use Shorter Pitch Lengths During Practice
Another good way to condition yourself to react to the ball a bit quicker is to have some of your teammates bowl at you from a bit closer than they usually would. A cricket pitch is usually about 20 metres in length, so why not move the stumps a bit closer and have them bowl from 17-18 metres instead? This makes the bowling feel much quicker than it actually I, and as such it forces us to be able to react quicker. Alternatively, you could get someone to stand halfway down the pitch and give you rapid throw downs. Both of these are good methods for trying to get used to pacier bowlers.
I remember reading a story about legendary England opening batsman Geoff Boycott somewhere. He explained that the only way he could replicate facing bowlers like Geoff Thompson or Michael Holding was to reduce the pitch length by 2-3 yards and ask net bowlers to bowl bouncers at him. This is an extreme method of practice, but one that can be effective if done correctly.
Alternatively, modern methods will see coaches giving batsmen throw downs with a ‘dog stick’ from halfway down the pitch. The dog stick is a flexible rod which is usually used for throwing tennis balls to dogs! In a cricket sense, they can be used to propel a ball at high speed towards a batsman.
Lower Your Back Lift
I’ve listened to a lot of professional batsmen talk about their experiences playing over the years, and I’ve also read many cricketing autobiographies. I remember Michael Atherton and others saying that when facing truly fast bowlers (especially ones who could reverse swing the ball) you should consider altering your back lift and making it a lot lower. If you don’t know what the back lift is, it’s the amount of height the bat will rise up behind you before you play a shot. Different players raise the bat by different amounts – someone that had a very high back lift was the legendary Brian Lara. When you lift the bat up so high, it obviously takes a bit longer to bring it back down and strike the ball! When you only have approximately half a second to react to a fast delivery, the extra tenth of a second it could take you to bring your bat down from a high back lift could cost you your wicket! This is one of the reasons that many bowlers targeted Lara with quick and straight yorkers.
If you think a high back lift something that might be holding you back, why not try getting one of your coaches to record you batting in the nets? Look at the height of your back lift and if you or your coach thinks that you could benefit by making a change to your technique, try to concentrate on lowering your bat for the remainder of your practice session.
Try To Anticipate
Believe it or not, some batsmen rely a lot on anticipation when it comes to facing very quick bowlers. They will do their best to study opposition bowlers and notice subtle changes in their run up, wrist position, and general demeanour that could give them a clue as to where the bowler is going to bowl.
Bowlers are also often prone to ‘over corrections’. What do I mean by this? Imagine a bowler has just bowled a very full ball to you and you easily smacked it to the boundary. There is a good chance that this bowler will not want to give you another ball on that same length, and may choose to drop the next ball much shorter. If you can anticipate little things like this it can get you a few extra runs here and there!
Obviously, you can never say for certain what a bowler is going to do and therefore this definitely isn’t something you want to rely on too heavily. But if you learn to use a bit of anticipation in certain situations then it can give you an extra advantage.
Other Things That Can Affect Reaction Time In Cricket
A newer ball will generally come on to the bat faster than an older ball, giving the batsman ever so slightly less time to react. This is because a newer ball is a lot harder, and will bounce off the pitch more readily. An older ball is softer, and will stick in the pitch a little bit more, meaning that it will get to the bat a tad slower.
The ball hitting a crack or an imperfection on the pitch can dramatically alter the amount of time we have to react to a stimulus. As I mentioned earlier, the ball leaving the bowlers hand is the main stimulus a batsman has to react to, and they have a set amount of time in which to do that! When the ball hits a crack on the pitch, this presents the batsman with a secondary stimulus to react to. This secondary stimulus leaves a batsman with even less time to react than the original one due to the fact that it occurs when the ball is a lot closer to them. This is the reason why you’ll never see a batsman be able to react to a ball that deviates after hitting a crack on the pitch, there just isn’t enough time!
The hardness of the pitch also plays a small factor in the amount of time you have to react to the ball. If the pitch is harder, then the ball is more likely to ping off the surface at a higher speed. The softer the pitch is, the more pace it will take out of the deliveries, giving the batsman more time to react.
Slower deliveries are designed to mess with your reaction time. By making you think you’ve got less time to play the ball than you actually do, bowlers can cause all sorts of confusion. When facing fast bowlers we as batsmen are conditioned to think that we’re going to receive a really quick delivery, and as such we train ourselves to react very fast. So what happens when we react very fast against a ball that is bowled much slower? Well…this means that unless we detect the slower moving delivery, we will play our shot too early and mistime the ball. This simple surprise alteration of a batsman’s reaction time can often lead to wickets, and that’s especially true in one day cricket formats!
I hope you found this article useful and have taken away some information as to how you can improve your reaction time in the game of cricket! Like I say in a lot of my batting related posts, there really is no substitute for practice! If you’re serious about improving your game, try to maximise the time that you spend in the nets or practicing at home. And if you’re not in the nets or at home…why not read some of my other batting content? I think this guide on how to play the short ball follows on nicely from this post!