In my opinion the cover drive is one of the most beautiful sights in cricket. When you see it played perfectly, you know you are watching a batsman that is fully in control of many different parts of their game. To play the cover drive consistently well, you will need to display precise foot movement, good head position, a smooth swing of the bat and have a good sense of timing. The follow through is also important!
In this post I’m going to give you a lot of technical information that you can use to improve how you play the cover drive. I’ll also share a few simple drills that I’ve used in the past! In addition to all of that, I’ll also mention some things that you have to watch out for when playing the shot. The cover drive is one of the most attractive and rewarding shots, but depending on the situation it can also be one of the most dangerous for the batsman to play!
First, let me take you through what this shot actually looks like and where you should be trying to hit it…
What Is The Cover Drive?
The cover drive is an attacking shot that can be played on the front or the back foot, and it is most effective when it is played against deliveries that just outside the line of off stump. This line is often referred to as a 4th, 5th or 6th stump line. The choice of whether to play a front foot cover drive or a back foot cover drive depends on the length of the ball that you receive. Deliveries that are ‘back of a length’ (click here to see what that means), will require you to play off the back foot. Deliveries that bounce a lot closer to you (referred to as full length deliveries) will require you to step forward and play the front foot cover drive. The diagram below illustrates the areas that the ball should be landing in when you choose to play the front/back foot cover drive!
Note: The diagram below shows the landing points for balls bowled to a right handed batsman. For left handed batsmen, the ball would land on the opposite side of the pitch.
What Areas Of The Field Does It Target?
Both the front and back foot shot generally target the same area of the field. The cover drive gets its name because it is hit through the cover region of a cricket field. This region is highlighted in red in the diagram below! The batsman will usually have to place the shot specifically so that it avoids the fielders at cover/mid off.
Note: The diagram below shows where a right handed batsman should be trying to hit the shot. A left handed batsman would be aiming for the same region on the other side of the field.
How To Play The Shot – The Technical Details
In this section I’ll break down all of the technical details of the cover drive, focusing on each little aspect of your body position individually. Let’s start with arguably the most important one…the feet!
Foot & Leg Position
If you’re going to play the cover drive successfully, then you’re going to need to get your feet in a position that will help you.
Your main aim should always be to get your front foot just slightly inside of the line of the ball. This is true whether you’re playing the shot off the front foot or the back foot. When I say ‘inside the line of the ball’ I mean that your front foot should always be slightly closer to the line of the stumps than the ball is. You should never get your front foot fully into the line of the ball if you want to play the cover drive. I’ve used the diagram below to illustrate what getting your foot inside the line of the ball should look like!
If you’re playing the shot on the front foot, then you should take a stride down the pitch and get your foot inside the line of the ball. The length of the stride should always be a comfortable one. You don’t want to stride down the pitch too far that it makes you unbalanced! Once you have moved forwards, plant your foot and bend your front knee slightly. Focus on getting your body weight over the top of that front knee. This helps you to keep the ball grounded once you strike it! If your weight is back over your back leg, you are much more likely to hit the ball in the air.
If you’re playing the shot on the back foot, the first thing you should do is use your front foot to push your weight backwards. As you push back, take a small step back towards the stumps with your back foot. You should be aiming to get your back foot inside the line of the ball! Once your back foot has planted, drag your front foot backwards so that both feet become quite close together. The aim with all of this movement is to stand upright and make yourself as tall as possible. This is what allows you to get over the top of the ball and play it along the ground!
All of the movements I’ve described above happen quite quickly, and you’ll need to practice them often in order to ingrain them in your muscle memory. If you want some more tips on how to improve your batting footwork, then you can check out my post on it here. It contains loads of new tips and drills you can try that should make you a lot more decisive and accurate with your feet!
Having your head in a good position while you play the cover drive is what allows you to get your weight over the ball and allow you to avoid hitting an aerial shot!
When playing any cricket shot you should be aiming to get your head towards the line of the delivery. Think about trying to get your head over the ball as you strike it. Kevin Pietersen refers to this as trying to ‘kiss the ball’ as you play your shot. This is something you should be thinking about while you’re batting in the nets and during matches! When batting, the position of your head affects your balance massively. Wherever your head goes, the rest of your body (including your feet – which is vital) will follow. Always remind yourself to get your head going towards the line of the ball and you’ll get yourself in great positions more often than not.
Arm Position & Bat Grip
Your bat motion and the way you grip the bat are also important components of a successful cover drive.
A technically correct bat motion should see the face of the bat pointing towards the area that you are trying to hit the ball. As you make contact with the ball, you should focus on keeping your elbow nice and high like I’m demonstrating in the photo below! This applies to both front foot and back foot cover drives. This high elbow helps you to keep the bat vertical and above the ball, which assists you with keeping the shot down.
Ideally, you should be gripping the bat tighter with your top hand than with your bottom hand. Having a very tight bottom hand grip can hinder you a bit when playing the cover drive, because it often causes you to ‘close’ the face of the bat. Closing the face means you will tend to tilt the face of the bat more to the leg side than to the off side, which makes it harder to hit your shot smoothly through the off side of the field. The top hand is your guiding hand, which is used to steer the ball into the correct gap.
Other Tips For Playing The Cover Drive
I’ll now share some other things I’ve learned about the shot from my time watching and playing cricket. These will be specific things to bear in mind when you’re playing this shot during practice and in real match situations. I’ll also give you the details on the drills that I mentioned earlier.
Consider Avoiding The Shot In Dangerous Conditions
In bowler-friendly conditions, some top order batsmen may choose not to play the cover drive at all. When the ball is swinging and seaming around, any horizontal movement of the ball can cause it to hit the edge of our bat rather than the middle! If this happens, there’s a high chance you will end up edging the ball through to the wicketkeeper or slip fielders.
Instead, in these situations you may choose to stop playing the cover drive and wait for the bowler to bowl a really bad ball instead. A delivery that is on the line of your pads, or one that is short and wide of the off stump is much less risky to attack!
Play The Ball Late & Under Your Eyes
If you do choose to play the shot, it can be wise to try to play it as late as possible! A lot of modern batsmen tend to play the shot too early and lunge hard at the ball with the bat way out in front of them. To drive in the most effective way you should allow the ball to come to you and only make contact with the ball once it is under your eyes. Playing the ball later gives you the maximum amount of time to assess what the ball is doing, and also gives you the maximum amount of time to react to what occurs. This makes playing the ball late an incredibly good way to combat the swinging ball! I’d advise all top order batsmen to try to play the ball late in these kinds of conditions!
You can practice this by trying to change your mind set during your practice sessions. Have a coach watch you and make sure that you’re not lunging at the ball with your bat. Your coach can point out when you’re too early on the shot! Instead of lunging at the ball, you should be allowing it to come to you and letting it hit your bat. Think of this while you’re practicing and you should get the hang of it before too long!
Use The Drop Ball Drill
I always recommend the drop ball drill to players who want to practice their cover drive. It’s a great way to get a feel for the shot and get your feet moving properly. Here’s how you can do it:
- Get into your batting stance and have a coach or a partner drop a tennis ball vertically in front of you
- They should try to drop the ball at the point on the pitch where you would usually strike the cover drive. This should be on the off side of your body, slightly outside your off stump, and about half a metre away from you.
- As the ball drops, keep your eye on the ball and step towards it with your front foot. Remember to get your foot to the inside of the ball.
- Once you’ve planted your front foot, bring your bat through and strike the ball.
- Repeat this until you feel you have a good grasp of the timing and the movements required. You can then move on to facing actual bowlers.
Practice The Shot Against A Bowling Machine Or Throw Downs
To properly get the feel for the cover drive you should play it against fast deliveries. There are a number of ways you can do this; getting throw downs from a partner, facing a bowling machine & facing actual bowling! All of these are good methods and can benefit your game.
If you’re getting throw downs, get a partner to stand about half a cricket pitch length away from you. Then get them to either underarm or overarm throw the ball towards you. They should be aiming to get the ball to bounce in an area that is appropriate for you to play a front or back foot cover drive! If you’re uncomfortable playing the shots, you should start with your partner delivering the ball underarm, then you can up the speed a bit with overarm throws! If you really want to increase the pace, you may want to purchase a sidearm thrower (click here to see current price on amazon). These are great and allow the person giving you throw downs to simulate the pace of really fast bowlers with minimal effort! These are so popular nowadays in the professional game, and they can definitely help you out a lot!
Bowling machines can be set to only bowl deliveries in a certain area of the pitch! This makes them incredibly valuable when you’re trying to practice a specific shot like the cover drive. They also allow you to set different bowling speeds. This means you can start with slower deliveries and build it up as you get more comfortable. Surprisingly, there are many bowling machines that aren’t as expensive as you may think! Click here if you’d like to see one of my favourite cheaper options on amazon! Just remember, before you buy you’ll have to make sure you have a few things:
- A power supply – Some bowling machines have batteries but others will require access to mains electricity.
- A flat surface – bowling machines use large stands for stability, so you’ll need a relatively large flat area on which to place the machine. As well as a flat area where the ball is going to be delivered.
- Enough space to cover the length of a cricket pitch – A standard cricket pitch is about 22 yards (20.12 metres) long, which means the bowling machine should be placed roughly this distance away from the batsman. (It can be a little bit shorter if you wish, but you may have to turn down the speed of the machine). You’ll probably also need a bit of extra space at each end to make sure the standing room of the bowling machine is accommodated as well as a bit of space behind the stumps.
- Appropriate balls for your machine – Most bowling machines aren’t compatible with normal cricket balls. Instead they will require you to purchase specific bowling machine balls. Make sure you look into this and find out which balls you have to buy before purchasing your bowling machine.
- Cricket Matting – You may wish to purchase some cricket matting that can be laid down to mimic the surface of a pitch. This can be quite expensive!
- A Batting Net – This isn’t an essential item if you buy a bowling machine, but sometimes it will help during your practice sessions. A batting net basically surrounds the batsman and makes sure that when a shot is played, the ball does not travel too far away – making them easier to collect afterwards.
- All of the protective equipment required for batting – Just because we are facing a machine, you still need to protect yourself. Make sure you’re always wearing full protective gear when using your bowling machine.
Practicing against regular bowlers is the other great way to hone your cover drive. However, you can’t always guarantee that bowlers will deliver balls that are suitable for cover driving. They will be trying to get you out! Not to offer up balls that are easy for you to hit away for 4. This type of practice is just great all-round practice that all batsmen should do a lot of, as it allows you to pick up specific cues from bowlers such as the release from the hand. Facing bowling machines doesn’t allow you to do this!
Practice Picking Your Gaps
It doesn’t really matter how well you play a shot if you hit it straight to a fielder! Some batsmen are so technically correct that they forget the importance of shot placement and manipulating the field. It’s incredibly important to be able to get the ball through the gaps in order to score runs.
When I’m batting in the nets, I sometimes place some cones at the side of the net to simulate the positions where fielders would be. You can put these cones anywhere in front of square on the off side of your body. Once they are in place, imagine they are fielders and that you have to pick the gaps either side of them with your shots. This teaches you to manipulate your hands and wrists to hit the ball in different places. It also teaches you to hit the ball a bit earlier/later in order to find the gaps that you want!
As I said at the beginning, this shot is one of my favourite ones in all of cricket so I hope I’ve given you some inspiration to get out there and practice it! There really is no better feeling as a batsman than creaming a cover drive through the infield for a boundary. Fingers crossed you’ll be doing that a lot more after reading this post!