We all know a batsman that can play a simple, defensive push shot and still watch the ball rocket past the bowler for 4 runs. Even though it didn’t look like an aggressive shot, the ball accelerates to the boundary and no fielder can get anywhere near it! Meanwhile, other batsmen who aren’t as skilled will be trying to hit the ball as hard as they can every single delivery they face, and they won’t even be able to get the ball half way to the boundary! This can be a confusing sight for people who are new to cricket. One player is throwing all of their effort and strength behind their shot and achieving nothing, while the other player is seemingly putting no effort in and receiving the maximum reward. Why does this happen? The answer often comes down to how well they time the ball!
The perfect way to illustrate the importance of timing the ball is by considering why slower balls are so effective. Let’s say a fast bowler usually bowls around 85mph. A batsman will be expecting a bowler to deliver the ball at their usual pace, and will become comfortable with timing their shots to strike the ball at the moment that it reaches them. Now, the bowler decides to bowl a slower ball that travels at 75mph. This delivery takes longer to get to the batsman. If the batsman is still expecting the quicker delivery, they will mistime their shot and play it too early. Because they have swung their bat too early and completed the motion of the shot, all they can do is either hold their bat there and let the ball hit it (which can offer catches for fielders), or miss the ball completely.
Good timing is all about making contact with the ball at the correct moment. Doing this means you’re more likely to strike the ball with the middle of the bat, which will allow you to get more power behind the ball without swinging the bat as hard. The more regularly you can time the ball in this way, the more runs you will be able to score, and you’ll also give the fielding side less opportunities to get you out! In this post I’m going to share my favourite tips and drills that will help you to improve this side of your game, so let’s get going!
My 11 tips for improving your batting timing in cricket are as follows:
- Make sure your technique allows you to time the ball well
- Stay calm while you’re at the crease
- Teach yourself to watch the ball carefully
- Transfer your weight into your shots
- Try to play the ball late
- Get comfortable with the pace of the bowlers and the pitch
- Use the ‘drop ball’ drill
- Take part in throw down sessions
- Practice batting with a stump or a thinner cricket bat
- Use the ‘No foot movement’ drill
- Make sure you’re practicing enough – especially against real bowlers!
I’ll now take you through each of these tips individually – explaining what exactly it is that you need to do and how each one will benefit your ability to time a cricket shot!
Make Sure Your Technique Allows You To Time The Ball Well
Batting in certain ways will help you to time the ball better. A strong batting technique will help you to get yourself in good positions from which you can play good shots, whereas a poor batting technique will harm your ability to react to the ball.
All batting techniques are different and there’s really no ‘right or wrong’ way to do things, but I do think there are a few things you should try to incorporate into your technique if you want to play quality shots and improve your chances of timing the ball perfectly. These are as follows:
- Make sure you grip the bat in the correct way – gripping the bat properly allows you to hit the ball with the middle of the bat more often. If you grip the bat in a strange way, it can cause the face of the bat to be off-line slightly when you connect with the ball, giving you a bad contact. If you want to find out how to grip the cricket bat correctly, click here to read my post that has all the info!
- Finish your trigger movements before the ball is delivered – Trigger movements are small movements of the feet that are made before we play our shots. They help us to get our feet moving and to get ourselves in good positions to play the ball. If you use a trigger movement as part of your batting technique, try to ensure that it is finished by the time the ball is delivered. If not, it will take you a lot longer to move your feet in relation to the pitch of the ball and could lead you to be too late with your shot!
- Make sure your bat is in the air as the ball is delivered – A very simple mistake that a lot of inexperienced batsmen make is to have the toe of their bat on the floor as the ball is delivered. This means that in order to play their shot in time, the bat has to quickly lift up and then come back down to strike the ball. It’s very hard to complete this movement in the limited time we have to react to the ball and still time your shot well! Instead, you should ensure that you have already begun your backswing/backlift when the ball leaves the bowlers hand. I’ve written more about this and other aspects that combine to create a perfect batting stance in one of my other posts, which you can read by clicking here!
- Make sure your head is level and still as the ball is delivered – It is much better to have your head still and your eyes level if you want to pick up the line and length of the delivery early. The quicker you can pick that information up, the better your shot selection/timing will be. If your head is moving around, your perception will not be as good. This will affect the shot that you play.
Stay Calm While You’re At The Crease
Timing the ball well is a lot easier if you can manage to stay calm and relaxed while you’re at the crease. If you’re agitated and nervous while you’re batting then you’re more likely to tense up and play uncontrolled, rushed shots. You will often find yourself lunging more wildly at the ball because you are too eager to make contact. If you want to time the ball well you will need to display controlled & fluid movements instead, and a great way to do this is by learning to calm yourself down and get in a comfortable zone throughout your innings.
This can be accomplished in a number of ways, including;
- Specific breathing techniques
- Methods of distraction such as walking away from the crease in between deliveries or marking out your guard
- Focusing on certain aspects of the game like watching the ball
I’ve written a lot more about these different techniques and many others in one of my other posts that you can read by clicking here! The mental side of batting is so important and is overlooked by so many players, when in reality we should be paying a lot of attention to it. By mastering some of the techniques I mentioned in the post I just linked to, you can move yourself into a better mental state for batting. If your mind is cluttered and worrying about different aspects of your technique or scared that you may get hit by a delivery from a fast bowler, this will stop you responding as effectively to the ball. Try to keep your mind as free from stress as possible and you will give yourself a great platform from which you can play well timed shots.
Teach Yourself To Watch The Ball Carefully
There is simply nothing more important when it comes to batting than being able to watch the ball as it travels towards you. Watching the ball is important for so many reasons, but broadly they are as follows:
- In order to know how quickly we need to react and move towards the ball, we need to be watching it!
- By watching the ball, we can quickly pick up the line and length of the delivery and move our feet accordingly
- If you want to be able to hit the ball accurately out of the middle of your bat, you should have your eyes on it. It’s incredibly hard to hit a moving target that you are not looking at!
When batting, I like to watch the ball right through its entire journey. This journey begins at the beginning of the bowler’s run up, and ends when the ball makes contact with my bat. If you can do this for every ball that you face, you will give yourself a much higher chance of hitting the ball out of the middle of the bat, and if you’re hitting the ball regularly out of the middle of the bat, then you’ll be displaying perfect timing. If you want to time your shots better, then you need to give your brain as much information about the delivery that you’re receiving as possible, and this information is gathered by the eyes!
A lot of batsmen struggle to maintain the concentration that is required to watch the ball closely for every delivery that they face. Therefore, I’ve written a separate post which will give you loads of little tips and tricks that will help you to do that – you can read it by clicking here!
Transfer Your Weight Into Your Shots
When playing certain shots in cricket, we don’t have to hit the ball as hard if we transfer our weight into the ball at the correct time. To hit the ball to the boundary, we have to generate force on the ball, and if we are moving our weight forwards into the ball as we strike it, we can generate large amounts of force without swinging the bat as aggressively.
This tip is mostly applicable to front foot shots, as these require us to move forwards towards the ball. The shots where this tip will be the most beneficial are as follows:
- The straight drive
- The cover drive
- The on drive
- The square drive
- The front foot leg glance
You can transfer your body weight into the ball in two main ways. The first is by moving your front foot forwards down the pitch, and the second is by getting your head forwards and over the ball. Both of these are equally effective and you should try to do both whenever you receive a full length delivery. If you time these movements correctly you will be able to generate a decent amount of power without much backswing or follow through of the bat.
Batsmen who don’t move their front foot towards the ball or get their head over the ball have a tendency to lunge at the ball with the bat, and this makes it much harder to play a well timed shot!
Try To Play The Ball Late
If you were to ask a selection of professional batsmen what the key to batting was, I’m sure many of them would tell you that you need to learn to ‘see the ball early & play it late’. As we’ve already discussed in this post, seeing the ball as it leaves the bowlers hand and quickly picking up the line and length of the delivery gives you a huge advantage. The quicker you can do this, the more time you give yourself to play the perfect shot in response to the ball. In addition to this, the earlier you pick up the flight of the ball, the longer you can wait to play it. This is referred to as ‘playing the ball late’ and by doing so you’ll give yourself a much better chance to weigh up the speed and bounce of the ball in order to time your shot perfectly.
The key with playing the ball late is letting the ball come to you and hitting it once it reaches you, which is often described as ‘playing the ball under your eyes’. Some batsmen who don’t pick up the line and length of the ball early will go searching for the ball, playing with the bat well out in front of their body. Batting in this way makes it much less likely that you’ll get a good connection with the ball.
Obviously, with some shots such as the hook or the pull shot, playing the ball late and under your eyes is not advisable, and more often than not it’s impossible! But with most other cricket shots that you play, including drives, square cuts, uppercuts and leg side flicks, it will benefit you to wait that little bit longer for the ball to get closer to you. The diagram below illustrates the difference between playing the ball late and playing the ball early and how delaying your shot can benefit you!
I’ll share some drills later in this post that will help you to play the ball later, but you can also ask your coaches to watch you bat and give you some feedback on how early/late you’re hitting the ball! It’s very hard for us to know this ourselves, so having someone else watch is very useful. If your coach thinks you’re playing the ball too early, then you can make changes accordingly.
Get Comfortable With The Pace Of The Bowlers and the Pitch
If the situation allows it, I think all batsmen should take around 10 balls at the start of their innings to become comfortable with their surroundings. During this period, you should be paying attention to and adjusting to the pace and bounce that the pitch is offering, as well as the speed that the bowler is delivering the ball at. If you’re facing a spinner, you should also be looking to find out how much spin the pitch is offering as well as any variations they may possess! During these 10 deliveries, you should try to avoid playing ultra-aggressive shots if you can, and instead play either defensively or try to leave the ball.
As you become comfortable with the pace and bounce of the ball, you will begin to adjust the speed of your movements and your shots to suit the conditions. The more comfortable with the conditions you become, the easier it will be for you to time your shots. This happens because you will have a better idea how high the ball is likely to bounce, and you know how quickly the ball will reach you after it leaves the bowlers hand. Think about it, how many times have you seen the elite test batsmen get to the crease and play an aggressive booming drive to the first ball they face? I’d bet you haven’t seen it many times – and there’s good reason for this! If they launch into an aggressive shot straight away, it’s very unlikely they will time the ball perfectly due to them not having a clue how the ball will behave. Most elite batsmen will always take some time to adjust if they can afford to.
Unfortunately, you won’t be able to take this time to get comfortable with the pitch every time you bat. Sometimes you’ll get to the crease with your team needing 30 runs to win off 10 balls and you’ll have to tee off from the first delivery you face! However, if you’ve got the time to get yourself in, I’d always recommend doing it! Your ability to time the ball will improve as a result!
Use the ‘Drop Ball’ Drill
The drop ball drill is a great way to work on the timing of your front foot shots. It’s one of the drills that I always recommend because it’s so simple, and you don’t need any additional bits of equipment to do it. All you’ll need is a bat and a few balls, as well as a partner to drop the ball for you.
If you want to use this drill, follow the simple steps below:
- Get into your batting stance and ask your partner/coach to stand a metre or so in front of you. Ideally, they will also be standing slightly off to the side of the wicket so you have room to play your shots without hitting them!
- Your partner should be armed with several tennis balls. Once they have one in their hand, they should extend their arm out in front of them at shoulder height and drop the ball vertically.
- As the ball drops, make sure you keep your eye on it. Your task is to wait for the ball to bounce once and then move your front foot towards the ball in order to play your shot. You will need to display a good sense of timing to strike the ball at the right moment as it bounces upwards.
- To vary this drill a little bit, have your partner drop the ball in slightly different locations each time so you can work on different shots like the cover drive, the straight drive and the on drive.
- You can also use this drill to practice advancing down the wicket to a spinner. To do this, have your partner stand a little further away from you before they drop the ball. In this version of the drill you should advance quickly down the pitch and try to strike the ball after the second bounce
Take Part In Throw Down Sessions
Throw down sessions are a great way to practice your timing of the ball in a pressure free scenario. If you’re not sure what a throw down is, it’s basically a type of bowling that is used in practice where a coach or a partner will throw the ball towards you instead of bowling it towards you like a real bowler would. Throwing the ball towards a batsman is much easier than bowling the ball, so this means your coach or partner doesn’t have to be a skilled cricketer in order to give you a testing practice session! Throws can be received underarm or overarm, and the choice of which one you use will be entirely down to you as the batsman or your coaches.
If you’re just beginning to practice your timing, I’d recommend facing some underarm throw downs to start with. Once you’ve faced a good amount of these deliveries and gotten a good feeling for the timing of your shots, ask your partner to switch and throw the ball overarm. This time, they will throw the ball more forcefully which will cause it to bounce more, making batting more challenging. Practicing the timing of your shots against throw downs like this is a great way to prepare yourself to time the ball properly against real deliveries.
Throw downs are great because they won’t tire your partner out too much, and as a result you can get a nice long practice session in. I’d recommend facing a minimum of 60 throw downs each time you engage in one of these sessions, as that amount of deliveries will allow you to build up a nice level of batting rhythm and help you take your timing to the next level.
Practice Batting With a Stump or a Thinner Cricket Bat
Instead of using their proper cricket bat for the entire practice session, many professional players will opt to dedicate part of their session to batting with a stump, or a thinner version of a cricket bat. AB de Villiers is one player that does this regularly. He will ask a partner to throw him some balls while he bats with a single stump in his hand. Batting with a thinner object like this during your practice sessions requires you to display top quality hand-eye co-ordination as well as good timing if you want to make contact with the ball regularly.
If you want to incorporate this into your own practice sessions, I’d recommend grabbing a partner and asking them to give you some throw downs like I explained in the section above. Ask them to throw you about 20 – 30 balls, and try to play a good solid shot to each of them. As you’re going through the deliveries, keep a mental tally of how many balls you manage to hit and how many you miss and give yourself a final score at the end. By doing this, you can give yourself a target to beat the next time you perform this drill.
If you become highly skilled at batting with a stump or a thin cricket bat, you will find it incredibly easy to go back to playing with your normal bat. You will find that your ability to hit the ball out of the middle of the bat has improved significantly, which is a key part of timing the ball well.
Use the ‘No Foot Movement’ Drill
This drill is one of my favourites to do, and it’s definitely one of the most effective! Not only will it help you to improve your timing by teaching you to play the ball later, it will also help you to improve your head position and how you transfer your weight into the shot. If you want to try out this drill, follow these steps:
- Grab yourself a partner and make sure you’ve got enough room to do some batting. The surface you’re batting on can be indoors or outdoors, but make sure it’s as flat as possible.
- Make sure you’ve got the correct equipment. Your partner will need to be armed with a few balls. These can be cricket balls, tennis balls, or rubber balls – whichever you prefer. If you’re using hard balls you’ll need to make sure you’re wearing the correct protective gear like helmet, pads, gloves and an abdomen guard/box.
- Ask your partner to throw one ball towards you at a time. If you’ve never done this drill before, you should start by asking your partner to throw the ball underarm towards you. Once you get more comfortable with the drill, ask them to throw the ball overarm which will make the delivery slightly more testing, and if you want to go a step further you can get a fast bowler to bowl real, quick deliveries at you whilst you perform the drill.
- Ask your partner to aim to get the ball to bounce on a full length. Shorter deliveries are not as beneficial for this drill as fuller ones.
- Once the ball has been thrown or bowled towards you, your task is to keep your feet totally still and play your shot without adjusting your foot position at all. As you play your shot, focus on moving your head towards it. Kevin Pietersen describes this as ‘kissing the ball’. If your partner throws you a half-volley outside your off stump, get your head over and towards the line of the ball as you strike it.
- I’d recommend hitting at least 30 deliveries like this during each of your practice sessions.
Due to the fact that you’re not moving your feet towards the ball, to play a well-timed shot in this drill you will have to wait for the ball to come to you and play it late. This will help you get into good habits for the future! I enjoy using this drill to improve my timing because it takes away the urge that we all have to get at the ball too early, instead forcing us to wait for the ball and play it under our eyes.
Repeating this drill over and over during your practice sessions, and making it more challenging by facing quicker bowling will get you accustomed to moving your head towards the ball. There’s a saying in batting that goes something like this – ‘wherever your head goes, your feet will follow’, so basically if we can teach ourselves to move our head towards the ball, our feet will move towards the ball too when we are batting properly.
Make Sure You’re Practicing Enough – Especially Against Real Bowlers!
If you want to improve your timing, you’ll need to make sure you’re getting enough batting practice. There really is no way to improve your skills if you’re not spending time with the bat in your hand hitting balls on a regular basis. If you want to become an elite batsman, I’d recommend practicing your batting for a minimum of 1 hour a week, and playing in as many cricket matches as you can. If you have the time available to practice more than 1 hour a week, I would recommend doing so. Every extra bit of practice you do will put you a little bit ahead of your competition.
I’d also recommend checking out my guide on how you can practice batting at home by clicking here! The more you practice, the more the rhythms and movements of your batting technique will become ingrained in your muscle memory, meaning you won’t have to think about your technique as much when you’re at the crease! In addition to that, getting plenty of practice will teach you what it takes to time the ball perfectly on a variety of different surfaces and against different types of bowlers. Through experience, you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t!
Your sense of timing will be improved even more if you can make sure you practice against real bowlers in your net sessions, rather than just facing throw downs or deliveries from a bowling machine. This is because facing deliveries from a real bowler gives you the whole batting experience. It helps you get accustomed to watching the ball as the bowler goes through their run up, and then watching it as it leaves their hand. It also allows you to get a better sense of how to time your trigger moves to coincide with the bowler delivering the ball, as well as when to lift up your bat to prepare to strike the ball. None of these things are as easy to practice and repeat reliably if you’re facing deliveries from a bowling machine because the ball is simply inserted into the machine very quickly. This can lead to the timings of your movements being slightly skewed, and the timing of your shots being poor as a result.
Thanks for reading! I hope these tips and drills have given you a few new ideas on how you can improve your timing. Enhancing this area of your game will help you become a much more effective batsman and that’s why it’s definitely worth putting in the hard yards on the practice pitches. If these tips have worked for you, or you have any other methods that you’d like to share, feel free to leave me a comment below – I’m always on the lookout for new ways to practice!