Why cricket nets are rubbish (and five ways to improve them)

indoor cricketers

Ok, let me paint you a picture before cricket coaches and players everywhere begin to froth at the mouth with indignation.

You walk down to the end of the cricket net to have your ten minutes worth of batting.

The first ball is a rank, half volley outside off stump that you hit into the middle of next week. Satisfying.

The next delivery; a looping legbreak gets caught in the top netting and you spend a few minutes poking at it with limited results.

Halfway through your first over, a seriously quick yorker obliterates your stumps.

No IPL contract this year, you contemplate grimly, whilst trying to rectify the wicket which now resembles splayed teeth.

The point is that this in no way, shape or form mimics an actual cricket match so it boils down to why we all go to cricket nets?

If it’s to socialise, have a hit or a bowl without any desire to improve and loosen the rust from our limbs then job done.

But so many cricket nets are played out the same way, year after year, without any forethought to why they’re happening.

Ok, I take the point that practice, even bad practice, might in some instances be better than none at all.

I have run into bowl in a league match without having swung my arm in anger since the previous season and it’s usually doomed to failure.

The ball suddenly becomes a bar of soap; my previously smooth run-up now stutters and my bowling action looks like I’m manically falling down some invisible stairs.

True, there are many wily old dogs in league cricket who turn up without having trained all winter) and bowl 400 overs from the ‘whitewashed end’ every April en route to their usual fifty wickets-a-season.

They represent a unique breed that utterly baffles science and they should be cryogenically frozen in efforts to study the longevity of cricket careers.

For the rest of us?

Practice makes not-exactly-perfect-but-better-than-before.

When I was a scrawny slip of a lad and able to bend without requiring WD40, I would bowl in the nets at school over the weekend until either it went dark or the offer of food transpired.

It didn’t matter that the playing surface bore a striking resemblance to that Antiguan strip in 2009 when a Test match was infamously abandoned.

One ball would scoot at the ankles; another would roar from back of a length and threaten to pin the batsman to the back netting.

So, here’s a few pointers to pep up your nets sessions and improve indoor training.

It might be you’re doing them already in which case all power to you, your team or club.

1. Make the best of facilities

If the lighting flickers, there’s a hole in the mat on a good length or the side netting needs replacing then sort them out first.

It’s partly a safety issue but also makes for better practice. Don’t make do with lousy facilities if you’re in a position to do something about it.

2. Warm up properly

Definitely a case of ‘do as I say, not as I do.’ If you took a snap poll of indoor nets across England and Wales happening this week, what would we see?

A fraction of those adults training choose to warm up before or after cricket.

If they do, many do isolated, token efforts like grabbing a leg and pulling it behind to stretch the hamstring – whilst wobbling, off-balance.

Warm-ups get the muscles ready for the testing environment of bowling 98mph yorkers and reverse-sweeping a ball 135 metres.

You wish…

They also ease the body into thinking about cricket and get the reflexes and co-ordination from neutral into first and second gear.

It doesn’t have to be long. Ten minutes is better than nothing at all but it needs a coach or someone senior to bypass any grumbling and comments and make it happen.

Meanwhile, junior cricketers invariably have all the right habits coached into them like warming up beforehand and wearing the right protective gear.

cricket game

3. Make your net sessions targeted

Set up scenarios for batsmen and bowlers; encourage them to practice a certain shot or type of ball.

Perhaps get both batsmen to use a net as they would a game, with a non-striker and running between the wickets.

How about having a wicketkeeper in a slow/spin net?

If you have a bowling machine, set one net up so each batsman can have five minutes on a game scenario – or something they were doing wrong in the session with bowlers.

Work on a specific aspect of your game but don’t over-complicate things.

Make practice as realistic as possible so that means stop all the no-balls which is commonplace indoors with adults netting in winter.

Someone pace out 22 yards so the stumps are in the right place and get an incoming batsman to act as umpire to watch for no-balls.

There’s a reason AB de Villiers looks like a deity with a cricket bat in his hands.

It’s partly bags of natural talent but also hours, behind-the-scenes, working on aspects of his game, piece-by-piece.

If innovators like Dilshan and Jos Buttler tried those scoops and flicks over the wicketkeeper without any prior prep, likely as not they would end up looking like idiots.

4. Practice based on ability

One of the worst things I see in cricket nets at clubs. Cricketers of all abilities lumped in together.

It can dismantle someone’s form and confidence at an impressive speed.

In both junior and adult nets, organise your cricket nets based on ability.

That means don’t put a junior in with the firsts to ‘toughen him up.’

Sometimes poor attendance doesn’t lend itself to a ‘firsts’ and ‘seconds’ net so – what else could you do instead?

4. Discard nets altogether sometimes

Instead of cricket nets, how about pairs cricket, a six-a-side game or fielding drills?

There’s this notion that with cricket nets, everyone gets a game; a chance to bat and bowl.

That’s true to an extent but the act of practice itself doesn’t mean you’re practising, if you get my gist.

Half an hour of cricket practice when everyone is involved and doing something meaningful is better than two hours’ of nets without any focus.

5. Take advantage of and listen to your coaches

Not every cricket club has qualified coaches but many now do. Use their expertise and be open to new ideas.

It’ll refresh indoor (and outdoor) cricket training and make you all better players.

* Photo – Ben Sutherland via Flickr.

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