When watching sports that involve a bat and a ball, many spectators automatically assume that the main aim of the game is for the person with the bat to strike the ball as cleanly and as often as possible. In the majority of bat and ball sports this is true – especially in cricket! The more they hit the ball, the more runs batsmen will add to their team total, and therefore their team will have a higher chance of winning the match. However, during the course of a cricket match, there will be many moments where you notice the batsman purposely ‘leaving’ the ball. This means that they will allow the ball to fly past them into the wicket keeper’s gloves without even trying to hit it – even when it was perfectly within their reach!
This leaves many spectators puzzled. Why did the batsman leave the ball? What was it about that particular delivery that made the batsman avoid playing a shot at it? If the aim of the game is to score runs – why would the batsman willingly leave the ball alone in this way? These are all great questions – and in this post I’m going to answer them for you. I’ll take you through all of the reasons why batsmen choose to leave the ball, and I’ll also explain why you should start doing it too!
Here are the main reasons why batsmen leave the ball:
- To Judge Conditions & ‘Get Themselves In’
- To Force The Bowler To Bowl In More Favourable Areas
- To Allow The Ball To Deteriorate
- To Survive A Particularly Tough Period In The Match
In the sections below, I’ll take you through how leaving the ball can help you achieve each of the things I’ve listed above. Let’s begin…
How Leaving The Ball Helps You Judge Conditions & Get Yourself In
In the longer formats of cricket, one of your main objectives once you arrive at the crease should be to judge how the cricket ball and the pitch are behaving. The quicker you do this, the quicker you can become comfortable with the conditions and begin to get into the rhythm of your innings.
The only problem is, those early moments while you’re trying to judge the conditions are some of the most dangerous moments for a batsman. You may not be totally sure how quick each bowler is bowling. You may not know how much the ball is swinging in the air or seaming off the pitch. And you also won’t be 100% sure on the level of bounce provided by the pitch. This means there is a higher risk that you could be dismissed!
Leaving the ball is a great way to judge conditions and get yourself into the game without actually taking the risk of playing a shot. To ensure that you’re getting the most out of leaving the ball, you need to make sure your eyes are focused on the ball as it travels towards you and goes past you. For example, if the bowler bowls a good length delivery outside your off stump, you should focus your eyes on it as it travels through the air and pay very close attention to how the ball behaves. Did it swing? Did it bounce up as much as you expected it to? What kind of pace was the bowler bowling at? Leaving the ball and watching it carefully can provide you with answers to all these questions and can give you a lot of information about the pitch you’re playing on and the bowler you’re batting against.
Once you’ve let one delivery go, it may be wise to leave a few more too so that you can gather as much information about the playing conditions as possible before you start playing expansive shots. Obviously, bowlers may not make it easy for you by bowling consistently outside the line of your off stump, so there may be some deliveries you have to play at in between the ones you leave alone – but this is part and parcel of batting!
If I’m ever batting at the start of an innings for my club side, I always like to at least leave a couple of balls before I start playing my shots. If you find that you get dismissed a lot early in your innings, why not try leaving the ball a bit more? It may help you get into the swing of things!
How Leaving The Ball Forces Bowlers To Bowl In More Favourable Areas
Many of the most tactful batsmen in world cricket will use the leave to force the bowlers to bowl in areas which are more suited to them. If you’d like to know how this happens, it’s probably best explained by using an example!
Imagine you’re facing a fast bowler who is constantly bowling outswinging deliveries on a good length outside your off stump. In this situation, it should immediately be clear to you that this tactic is designed to tempt you into playing a cover drive, in the hope that you will edge the ball through to the keeper or the slip fielders. When using this tactic, bowlers will often make sure that most of their fielders are placed on the off-side, to limit the run-scoring potential of any shots that you do play. In game situations like this, the best batsmen will not be tempted into playing a booming drive outside the off stump. Instead, they will simply leave the ball, again and again, and try to frustrate the bowler into trying a different delivery.
Let’s face it, seeing a batsman leave a large proportion of their deliveries is incredibly annoying for a fast bowler who is putting a lot of effort in. No matter how disciplined they are with their line and length, if a batsman is leaving every single ball, they will eventually push one delivery straighter in order to try and force them into a shot. This is why leaving the ball effectively can be incredibly beneficial to us as batsmen, it can force bowlers to bowl where we want them to, rather than where they want to!
I remember ex-England captain and opening batsman Andrew Strauss talking about how leaving the ball in this way formed a large part of his approach to batting – especially at the start of an innings. Early on, he wouldn’t be aiming to play any drives unless he received a particularly bad ball. He also didn’t want to be playing shots at any deliveries that were just outside the line of off stump. Because Strauss was particularly good at playing the ball off his body, he wanted to leave the ball well and bore the bowlers into angling the ball in towards his body/the stumps. The moment they did this, he knew he could easily whip the ball through the leg side, which was one of his biggest strengths! If you watch test cricket, you will see many of the best batsmen using similar techniques to combat tight bowling from the best fast bowlers!
If you play longer forms of cricket too, I’d definitely recommend trying this approach.
How Leaving The Ball Can Help You Allow The Ball To Deteriorate
This one is very simple to explain! When the ball is new, it is shiny, and the seam is hard and pronounced. Cricket balls that are in this condition are much more likely to swing as they move through the air, to seam once they hit the pitch, and bounce much steeper. Therefore, often the most dangerous time for batsmen to be batting is when the ball is new!
Batsmen can help themselves to get through these new ball periods by leaving the ball. When we leave the ball, we are allowing the ball to deteriorate without putting ourselves in danger of getting out! Every time the ball makes contact with the pitch it deteriorates slightly and loses a bit of its shine and hardness. Therefore, the more times we can allow it to fly past us without offering a shot, the more the ball will deteriorate and the less dangerous it will be.
When watching test cricket, you’ll often hear cricket commentators talking about the opening batsmen ‘seeing off the new ball’, or ‘getting through the first hour of the match with their wicket intact’. By this, they mean that opening batsmen should be trying to protect their wicket whilst allowing the ball to deteriorate. One of the easiest ways to do this is by leaving the ball effectively. After the first hour, it is likely that the ball will not be swinging or seaming as much because it has deteriorated significantly – and this makes it much easier to bat!
How Leaving The Ball Can Help You Survive A Tough Period In The Match
Leaving the ball is a great tactic for getting yourself through tough periods in the match with your wicket intact. For example, if you’re batting against a bowler who is on a real hot streak, leaving as many of their deliveries as possible will minimise your risk of getting out, and will help you to reach the end of their spell. No bowler can bowl for ever, and as a result elite batsmen will often try to ‘see off’ the best bowlers by playing conservatively against them and leaving the ball whenever possible. Once the in-form bowler is replaced, the batsman may now choose to play more expansively!
As we discussed earlier, opening batsmen tend to leave the ball a lot at the start of their innings while the ball is new, because this is the most dangerous time to bat. Batsmen will also do this when the second new ball comes into play during test matches. Each time you leave the ball it deteriorates slightly, and you get one step closer to being able to bat against the old ball which will represent a much lower risk to your innings!
Another period where you will see batsmen leaving the ball as much as possible is when trying to survive and bat for a draw in a test match. I remember watching Jimmy Anderson and Monty Panesar bat out the last hour of an Ashes test match for a draw in 2009, and both of them used the leave to great effect during their innings’. When you’re just trying to survive, you don’t want to be playing shots at every ball the bowler bowls. The more deliveries you can leave alone, the safer your wicket will be!
There are many other periods of a cricket match where leaving the ball represents a great option – but hopefully here I’ve provided you with some info as to why it’s so important. Don’t be afraid to utilise it in your own cricket career! Often I find that a well judged leave is just as satisfying as a nicely timed cover drive!
How Does A Batsman Know When To Leave The Ball?
Now we’ve discussed some of the advantages of leaving the ball, you may be wondering how certain batsmen can be so good at deciding when to do it! Well, I’m sure you’ll be relieved to know that it’s actually quite simple. The main thing you need to do in order to leave the ball consistently well is to watch the ball – and I mean watch it very closely!
In my opinion, watching the ball all the way from the bowler’s hand until it reaches you is the most key aspect of batting, and it’s especially important when it comes to leaving the ball. Watching the ball is how we pick up information about the delivery the bowler has bowled, and it is only once that information is processed that we know where to move our feet and which shot to play in response. Therefore, by watching the ball closely, you can quickly pick up whether the delivery is one that can be left alone, or whether it is one that is more dangerous. If you’d like to read my in-depth guide on how you can coach yourself to watch the ball better – click here to read that post!
Once the batsman has their eyes locked on the ball, there are two main criteria they should be evaluating when it comes to deciding whether to leave the ball or not. They are as follows:
- The Line Of The Ball – If a batsman picks up that the line of the ball that they have received is comfortably outside the line of off stump, and therefore presents no threat of hitting the pads or the stumps, they may choose to leave the ball. Additionally, if they receive a ball that is angled way down the leg side, they may also choose to not play a shot at that delivery. Batsmen that choose to leave the ball based on its line will have to be very wary of things like swing and seam movement. To explain why, imagine the batsman is watching the ball closely and notices that the delivery they’ve received is travelling on a 5th stump line – just a few centimetres outside the off stump. This is a ball that can be left if it is travelling in a straight line. However, if you’re batting against a bowler who has the ability to swing the ball in towards you, or if you’re playing on a seaming pitch, this is a delivery you may want to play at just in case!
- The Length Of The Ball – If elite batsmen are playing on a pitch that is particularly bouncy, they may choose to leave some deliveries based on their length. Basically, this means that if they see a ball that is back of a length or shorter than that, they know that delivery is potentially one they can leave as they are certain it will go over the top of the stumps. On pitches like the WACA in Australia which are known for their high levels of bounce, batsmen may even choose to leave good length deliveries, confident in the fact that the ball will miss the stumps from this length. The risk with this method is that there’s always a chance you could receive a ball that doesn’t bounce as high! You should aim to get comfortable with the bounce of the pitch before you start leaving deliveries on length.
If you’d like some tips that will help you to judge the line and length of the ball earlier in its flight, click here to read my post on that. Leaving the ball is all about judgement, so the more sound your judgement is, the better you will be able to execute this skill.
How Do Professional Cricketers Leave The Ball?
At this stage in the post I thought it would be worth taking a look at some examples of how professional batsmen leave the ball. Many batsmen have slightly different techniques when it comes to executing a leave, but the fundamentals are all the same!
The first thing you’ll notice when you watch elite players leaving the ball is that they get their hands and their bat completely out of the way of the ball. They do this so that they aren’t in any danger of the ball bouncing more than usual and striking them on the bat or gloves by accident. Batsmen who leave their hands low when leaving the ball are putting themselves at higher risk of being dismissed!
Look at the photo series of legendary Indian batsman Rahul Dravid leaving the ball below. In photo 1 he picks up the line and length of the ball, and in photo 2 he pushes well forward onto the front foot whilst keeping his eye on the ball. You can see in this photo that he’s already begun moving his hands well out of the way. In photo 3 you can see Dravid in his final position, with his hands and bat nice and high and out of the way of the ball.
The next thing you’ll notice is how professional batsmen try to cover their stumps as they leave the ball. They do this in order to get a part of their body in the way just in case the ball seams or swings in towards them at the last moment. This means that if the ball swings or seams in, the ball won’t hit the stumps. Instead, it will strike them on the pads, and will force the umpire to make a decision as to whether it was going on to hit the stumps. Getting hit on the pads is much more preferable to being bowled out as there is a chance the umpire could give you not out! Plus, covering your stumps with your pads means you could potentially be struck by the ball outside the line of off stump, which automatically leads to a not out decision.
I like to use Steve Smith as an example to illustrate this. He’s an expert at leaving the ball outside the off stump and forcing the bowler to bowl the ball towards his pads instead. Once they do bowl on his pads, his excellent hand-eye co-ordination allows him to easily score runs by whipping the ball through the leg side.
I read an interview with Indian youngster Riyan Parag recently and he said that Smith gave him some advice on leaving the ball in red ball cricket. Smith told him that that your focus shouldn’t just be on getting your hands out of the way, it should also be to cover the stumps as you leave the ball. He told Riyan that the more he covers the stumps with his body while leaving the ball, the bowler will be forced to bowl a few deliveries on the pads which is the strength of most batsmen! This is something you can take into your game too.
Look at the picture series below if you want to see how Smith covers the ball. In picture 1, while the ball is in the air, you can see that Steve has walked right across his stumps so that his back foot is just slightly outside the line of off stump. His legs are now in position to cover the stumps. In picture 2, he has picked up the line and length of the ball outside the off stump and is preparing to leave the ball by throwing his hands up in the air. Picture 3 shows him get a big stride in with his front leg, which is important, because this will be the leg that gets hit by the ball if it swings or seams in late! As you can see, if the ball were to hit Steve on the front leg, he would be outside the line of the off stump and the umpire would have to give him not out!
How To Practice Leaving The Ball
Leaving the ball is something you need to become comfortable with, and the only way to achieve that is by practicing it! It’s for this reason that I thought I’d share a simple little practice method that you can use in your net sessions to work it!
To practice leaving the ball in the nets, simply dedicate a small portion of your weekly practice time to leaving as many balls as possible. For example, if you spend 2 hours batting per week, dedicate 30 minutes of this time to practice leaving the ball. If you bat for an hour, dedicate 15 minutes of your session to it.
As I’ve mentioned, during this part of your practice your objective will be to leave as many balls as possible. This means that you should only be playing shots at deliveries that you think are going to hit the stumps or your body. Everything else, you should leave alone, ensuring that you get your hands out of the way and that you cover your stumps as much as possible!
If you repeat this drill and practice it for a decent period of time, you’ll be amazed at how much better your ability to judge the line and length of the ball will become!
I think I’ve covered everything that you need to know about leaving the ball in this post! If you’re a newcomer to the game of cricket and you have any more questions about it, then you’ll find answers to plenty of commonly asked questions here on the site. If you’re a cricket player and you’re looking for some more technical tips, check out my batting, bowling and fielding tips pages – you’re guaranteed to find something that will help you in there!