While many people may enjoy a game of backyard cricket, only a few go on to become elite professional batsmen in Australia.
Cricket batting is example of what human skills can achieve. The fastest bowling delivery speeds can exceed 150km/h. That leaves a batsman with less than half a second to react.
And to complicate the challenge even further, the environment and pitch they play on can change the trajectory of the delivery every time.
To find out what gives elite cricketers the edge we interviewed eight expert high-performance international or state-level coaches, who themselves were batsmen at those levels.
We asked them a series of questions to capture the skills they saw as underpinning batting expertise. The results were published recently in PLOS ONE.
While the sample was small, there are not many people who were both elite-level players and coaches, so the research provides a unique understanding of the skills needed to become an expert in their field.
Learn to adapt and know your limits
A key finding of our study is that cricket batting can be viewed, at least in the minds of expert batsmen, as a battle for a sense of control of the game.
To gain this sense of control, batsmen must possess the skills to assess all the key environmental conditions, such as the opposition bowler’s plan, the pace of the ball off the pitch, and whether the situation of the game requires scoring or surviving.
An expert batsman’s ability to read these conditions and then adapt their strategy and technique was grounded in an understanding of their own game. One said:
You have to be adaptable to change the momentum of the innings – whether that is by batting through an hour or whether it is counter-attacking during a period.
But it’s not just about knowledge of their own strengths, it’s also about their limitations. As another said:
So if you get on a tough wicket … you’ve got to have the decision-making and planning and discipline to say, right now I can’t do that today, or, I can’t do that for the first hour or two; until the balls a bit older, or the wicket’s a bit flatter, or the ball is a bit closer to me.
Being able to accurately assess the opposition’s plan and the pitch conditions, and adapt accordingly, is no easy feat, and it doesn’t always go to plan.
A batsman’s worst enemy, as any sportsperson knows, can sometimes be themselves. The high-stakes, high-pressure situation within a game can create anxiety, clouding the ability to read the conditions, and have a negative impact on decision-making.