At club cricket level there are many batsmen who have a whole career with just two or three shots they play well. How much better could you be if you added another strong shot to the list?
Anyone can try and add a shot, but doing it right takes a certain amount of work in practice. You can’t learn it in games.
There is a distinct process to doing this that works well with younger players and can be adapted to any age.
This is called chaining (or reverse chaining) and works best when you can work with a coach on a one to one basis.
If you don’t have a coach you can still get a willing team mate to help you.
1. Analyse the shot you want to learn
Before you even pick up a bat you (or your coach) need to know the basics of the shot.
That said, there is no need to over-analyse each movement at this point.
All shots have a lot of coaching points to remember and you probably do most of them naturally. Just try to get an idea of how the shot is supposed to look and where you are trying to hit the ball.
2. Groove your muscle memory
The next step is to play the shot from a stable position.
This means removing the initial movement from the shot. For example, if you are learning to sweep you start the shot from the position with your knee down like in the picture below:
In these early movements use a tennis ball bobble fed to you slowly from a short distance away (for drives you could even have a drop feed). This will groove the feeling of hitting the ball in the right place.
It’s common to make a lot of mistakes at this point while you get the feel right. Keep hitting a lot of balls to find your own way of doing this.
If you have a coach or observant team mate, get feedback from them if it is not going according to plan. However, make sure you only work on one technical aspect at a time to avoid over analysis.
3. Add movement
Once you are confidently hitting balls into the right place you can add the initial movement back in.
So, for our sweep shot example you would start the shot from your normal stance, moving through the backswing and step, into position and shot execution.
Stick with tennis balls and bobble or drop feeds until you are repeatedly hitting the balls in the right place. Then increase the pace of the feed and move onto cricket balls from a thrown feed.
Again, technical issues can be corrected here by a coach. As before, the result is more important than the method and coaching should be kept to a minimum unless you are really struggling with one aspect or another.
At a pinch, you could move straight to the nets from this point with your new shot. This is up to the individual. If time and resources allow we would strongly recommend completing at least the next step before moving to the nets.
4. Add bowling
The ideal at this point is to have a bowling machine available to be able to bowl the ball in exactly the right place every time so you can practice your shot with a bowler.
Most people will not have easy access to this so an alternative is someone who can throw a cricket ball on the right line and length from 15 yards or so away. It helps to mark the right area with chalk.
If you are still making technical errors, move back to step 3 and groove your technique further before moving back to the bowling machine/full speed feed.
5. Add decision making
Once you are fully confident with the shot itself played at close to full speed you need to add some shot selection to your practice.
Make your feeder mix up deliveries so every now and again you have to play a different shot. This will make you think before executing the shot. Mark out different scoring areas for your shot with coloured markers.
Get the feeder to call out what area to hit the ball as they feed it to you. When you can do this regularly, you start selecting where to hit it instead.
6. Play it in the nets
Now you are ready to show your shot to the world in a normal net session. You should be totally confident in your execution so when the right ball comes along in the nets you simply let your muscle memory take over and hit the ball where you want.
If this is not happening, go back to steps three and four until you feel confident again.
7. Play it in a match
When you have had enough net sessions playing the shot well you can, finally, take the shot into the game.
The pressure now becomes much greater so the chance of you making a mistake also ramps up. At this point you know you can play the shot, it’s now a mental thing. Can you play it in the heat of battle?
If you can’t, I would suggest it’s time to think about your mental approach rather than technical errors. If you can play the new shot in a match, congratulations!