If you’re a batsman, watching the ball as it travels through the area is one of the most important things for you to learn how to do. A batsman who watches the ball well will be able to identify deliveries earlier, make positive foot movements and strike the ball with much greater accuracy.
Watching the ball sounds very simple, but you would be amazed to realise how many batsmen struggle with it, or forget about it completely once they are out in the middle and under pressure. My aim in this post is to give you some tools you can use to train yourself to watch the ball a lot more closely, as well as improving your ability to react effectively to the deliveries that you face. If you can put all of my tips into practice, you will improve your ability to deal with skillful bowlers and increase your batting confidence as a result.
My tips for watching the ball while batting in cricket are as follows:
- Use Verbal Reminders Before Each Delivery
- Choose A Method of How You Watch The Ball And Stick To It
- Face Plenty Of Deliveries In Practice
- Keep Your Eyes Level
- Add Specific Ball Watching Drills To Your Practice Sessions
I’ll now take you through each of these tips and give you some more information on them. I’ll also share plenty of my favourite drills that will help put these tips into practice!
Use Verbal Reminders Before Each Delivery
This is such an effective tip, it’s worked wonders for me and I think it will do the same for you. Having said that, I’m always surprised that I never really hear cricket coaches talking about the importance of verbal repetitions while batting. Hopefully I can convince you that they’re incredibly useful!
When I’m struggling to pick up the ball in the air, the first thing I do is start talking to myself as the bowler is approaching the crease. As soon as I see the bowler begin their run up, I will repeat ‘watch the ball’ quietly to myself, to make sure that I’m fully focused on keeping my eyes where they need to be. All batsmen get lazy at certain points during their innings and lose focus on simple things like this. Reminding myself to watch the ball before each delivery helps me make sure I’m paying attention!
If you want to get into the habit of doing this, get used to doing it in practice first. The more often you give yourself these verbal reminders during your net sessions, the more likely you will be to remember to do it during an actual cricket match!
While batting we can often get stressed out over the smallest technical details like what guard we are taking, our head position or where are feet are moving. In reality, watching the ball properly should be our number one focus. Almost every other type of batting skill should follow on from that! Use this tip to help refine your focus during practice and matches and see if you notice a difference in your concentration levels.
Choose A Method of How You Watch The Ball And Stick To It
If you’ve read any of my other articles on this site, you’ll know that I always stress the importance of playing cricket in a way that is comfortable for you. All cricketers are different, and many of them have different ways that they like to approach batting.
How they watch the ball is no exception to this! In my opinion, there are 3 broad methods that you can use in order to watch the ball. Here they are:
- Watch the ball all the way from the start of the bowler’s approach – This method requires you to start watching the ball when the bowler is at the end of their run up. From here, you should watch the ball throughout the entire approach to the crease right up until the point when it reaches you. This method is good because you are not taking your eye off the ball at all, you’re remaining totally focused on it the whole time. The disadvantage of this method occurs if you are facing bowlers that choose to hide the ball, or bowlers that have very quick/complicated arm movements as they release the ball. With these kinds of actions, it can be tough to keep your eyes locked on the ball as there is so much going on!
- Keeping your eyes on the point of release – Instead of watching the ball all the way through the bowler’s run up, you can choose to just watch the point of release instead. This means that you should be estimating where the bowlers hand is going to be as they release the ball, and staring at that point. Once the bowlers hand reaches that point and releases the ball, you should track the ball down the pitch with your eyes until it reaches you. Most bowlers will deliver the ball from the same point every time they bowl, so this isn’t as hard as it may sound! The advantage to this approach is that you avoid trying to track the ball whilst the bowler’s arms are moving around rapidly during the gather phase and coil phase of their action. The disadvantage is that you will be estimating where the ball is going to be released from. When facing bowlers for the first time, or when your innings is just beginning, this can be a little harder to do.
- The Hybrid Approach – This approach is basically a combination of the two that I’ve mentioned above. During the first part, you should keep your eyes focused on the ball throughout the bowler’s run up. Then, just as the bowler reaches coil phase of their action (The coil phase is the part of the action when the bowler brings the ball up towards their shoulder) you should swiftly move your eyes to the area where the ball is going to be released from. Again, once the ball is released you should stay focused on it until it reaches you! This approach combines the best parts of the previous two approaches.
One of the approaches I’ve mentioned above will be suitable for you. It’s important to settle on the one that you find most effective, and work on perfecting it every single time you bat in practice! The more deliveries you see, the better you will become at picking up the ball in any way that you choose.
Face Plenty Of Deliveries In Practice
Practice is the most important thing in cricket. The more you practice, the better you will become. If you remember that, then you’ll go far in the sport!
Practice is especially important when it comes to watching the ball and being able to track the ball through the air. It’s the time when we can build good habits like making sure we are watching the ball during every delivery. The simplest way to enhance your skills in this area is to make sure that you’re getting plenty of batting practice every week.
Most cricket clubs will run an hourly practice session every week where you’ll be able to spend a little time batting, but if you really want to be an elite cricket player you should be looking to do even more. Think about getting a group of friends together so that you can practice at home as well, or even ask a member of your family to bowl to you. You can also join more than one cricket club (as long as they don’t compete against each other) and attend both team practices!
When I was younger I would attend the under 15’s/under 17’s practices as well as the senior practice sessions for my club. This was a huge help for me as it got me comfortable with facing quicker, more skillful bowling. As a general rule I’d say that cricketers who want to see real improvements in their basic batting skills should be spending at least an hour a week batting.
Our brain reacts much quicker and much more effectively to things it has seen before. That is why good preparation is so vital in sports like cricket! The more deliveries that you face in practice, and the more challenging bowlers you go up against, the better prepared you will be to repeat that in the future. When you practice, remind yourself to watch the ball before every delivery. This is so basic but you will only get into the habit of doing this if you do it before every ball in your practice sessions. Once the bowler is about to bowl, make sure you watch it using one of the methods that I mentioned during the previous section. After you’ve gotten used to doing this, it should become second nature to you. You should have no trouble executing the same thing in a cricket match! Remember, the more things you see and react to in practice, the more effective responses you’ll have stored in your muscle memory.
Keep Your Eyes Level
This tip is slightly more technical in nature. In my opinion you should always try to keep your eyes level when batting, rather than having your head tilted causing one eye to be slightly above the other. Having your head and eyes level gives you a much better view of the bowler and the ball as it is coming towards you. This is the way that we view the world most of the time, so it makes sense that our eyes and brain would be able to interpret the movement of the ball a lot better whilst in this position. We are not as comfortable when our head is at an angle, because we’re not used to viewing things this way.
The basic thing to remember is that your head and eyes are level as the bowler is about to release the ball. You can move around as much as you want before that as long as you’re in that position when the ball is sent towards you. Keep your eyes level until you begin following the ball down the pitch towards you. The same is true if you’re advancing down the wicket towards the bowler. As you make your movement, you should try to key your head and eyes level in order to give yourself the best chance to judge the line and length of the ball.
Add Specific Ball Watching Drills To Your Practice Sessions
Specific ball watching practices are incredibly useful if you want to improve that part of your game. It’s a good idea to have a few of these ready if you need to use them! I’ll share a few of my favourite ones with you now!
Half Pitch Drills
This drill is really simple, and is a good one to do if you’re just getting comfortable with watching the ball all the way on to the bat. To do this drill, follow these steps:
- Get a partner or a coach to kneel down in front of you about half of the length of a cricket pitch away. Make sure your partner/coach has some tennis balls or cricket balls at their disposal.
- Once they are knelt down in front of you, get into your batting stance and have them throw some balls towards you underarm. The balls shouldn’t bounce before they reach you!
- Your partner/coach can throw the balls wherever they like. Your task is to focus on the ball, watch it as it travels all the way through the air and as it strikes your bat.
- Your partner/coach can vary the speed and the height of the throws to test different parts of your technique. For example, they could perform some quick throws towards your upper body in order to simulate a short-pitched delivery. You would then have to watch the ball closely and decide to either get out of the way by ducking or swaying, or play an attacking defensive shot. They could also throw balls at knee height, requiring you to watch the ball, get forwards on to your front foot and play a drive shot!
This is a great drill with a lot of possible variations. You can start off with slow throws and using tennis balls if you’re a beginner. Whereas, if you’re more of a senior player you can use cricket balls and get your partner to throw the ball overarm, making it bounce before it reaches you. Make sure you focus on watching the ball right on to your bat all the way through the drill, and playing the correct shot in response to wherever the ball is aimed.
Use A Smaller Bat
There are some great cricket products on the market these days, and one of my favourite ones is a thinner bat that makes it harder for you to hit the ball. Practicing with a thinner bat helps means that you will have to watch the ball very closely, and then display excellent hand-eye co-ordination in order to make good contact with the ball. With a normal size bat you have a lot more margin for error, meaning you can take liberties and take your eye off the ball a bit if you wish. The thickness of your bat may save you! That’s why I love practicing with the thinner versions, they force you to pay attention to the ball at all times.
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If you’re practicing with a thinner bat, I wouldn’t recommend facing full pace bowling straight away. First, get a coach or a partner to throw some balls underarm towards you. Focus on watching the ball all the way on to the bat and making a good contact. Trust me, you’ll need to watch it closely in order to hit the ball regularly! Once you’re comfortable with that you can ask your partner/coach to throw the ball overarm, increasing the speed and the bounce of the ball.
If you can’t afford a thinner cricket bat, you can use a cricket stump or something of a similar size! The great Don Bradman practiced his hand-eye co-ordination with a cricket stump and a golf ball. He would use the cricket stump and hit the golf ball against a wall. You can also use your thin cricket bat in the same way if you have no partner to practice with!
One, Two & Three Finger Throw Down Drill
This is another really simple drill that really helps you to make sure you’re watching the ball as it leaves the bowlers hand. To take part in the drill, you’re going to need a partner or a coach to give you some overarm throw downs. The drill works like this:
- Get into your batting stance, and tell your partner/coach to stand around the length of a cricket pitch away from you.
- Your partner/coach’s job is to throw the ball towards you overarm. The ball should bounce before it reaches you, similar to the way it does when a real bowler bowls at you.
- Before your partner/coach throws the ball towards you, they should choose whether to put 1, 2 or 3 fingers behind the ball. I am demonstrating each of these different grips in the photos below!
- Once they have decided how many fingers to place behind the ball, they should walk take a step forwards and lift their throwing hand up towards their ear, getting ready to throw the ball. As they lift their hand up towards their ear, they should turn their hand around for a second, showing you how many fingers they have placed behind the ball. Once they have done this, they should throw the ball towards you as explained in point number 2.
- Your first task during this drill is to get into your batting stance and watch your partner/coach’s hand closely. When they turn the back of their hand towards you, you should identify how many fingers they have behind the ball, and then shout it out loudly.
- Your second task is to watch the ball on to your bat as it is coming towards you. You should then play an appropriate shot to the ball that you receive!
I really like this drill, it’s one you can have a lot of fun with. It teaches you to look for finer details such as the hand position of the bowler, which can be incredibly useful if you want to recognise slower balls and spin bowling variations! Give it a try and see what you think!
Watching the ball is one of the most important parts of batting, and if you can do it consistently well you’re setting yourself up to be very successful. Hopefully my tips have given you some inspiration and new ideas that you can use to improve your game! Above all else, make sure you commit to practicing hard, and regularly. That’s the only way you can really get better!