Whatever standard you play at, you can get the best out of indoor nets.
At this time of year, the weird environment of stark lighting, sports hall terrain and matting for a pitch is a significant ritual, normally over several months, designed to ease out the kinks, oil the technique and grow confidence.
If you’re of a mind to get a bit of exercise and have a thrash, divorced from the idea that it has much relevance to how you’ll perform when April comes round then all power to your swashbuckling elbow.
But over a decade of doing Cricket Yorkshire, I’ve met thousands of you in whites on a league weekend, steaming into bowl at nets or switch-hitting and thudding out the yorkers in a T20.
I know it matters if you get castled by a grubber for a duck or scorch everything off the middle all afternoon and walk off grinning.
So…here’s a few simple ideas that won’t fragment time and space but can make a difference to your cricket training.
1. Measure the correct pitch size based on age
Are you curious how to train effectively, eradicate some bad habits and become a better cricketer? An opening observation is as straight-forward as marking the correct length of pitch.
Don’t stick the stumps roughly where you think they should be. Step out the exact distance. Google has helpfully answered what that should be. It’s 26.4 steps.
Ah, I hear you ask – but are those the steps of an 11-year-old or a freakishly tall giant? Are they meant to be steps or strides? Well, I always used to pace out 22 steps which I have a sneaking feeling was massively wrong.
There’s two prevalent issues but they both tap into the fact if you’re bowling off 18 yards or 24, you’re not doing yourself any favours.
Whopping no-balls won’t engrain good habits. Nor will junior cricketers bowling off twenty-two yards. Their bowling action will struggle as they try to do something that they’re not easily capable of.
When, inevitably, a bowler’s trailing leg clatters into the blue plastic stumps and propels them into the side netting or a straight drive deconstructs them in milliseconds, put them back where they were before; not closer to the facing batsman…as it’s a false economy.
— The Fat Cricketer🏏 (@DatFatCricketer) February 22, 2020
2. Practice for outdoors, not indoors
Geez, that’s not rocket science, is it? Well, you’d be surprised. Indoor nets can engender a bravado and mindset that just doesn’t match a bitingly cold day in April when the ball is hooping all over the place.
Fast bowlers, especially indoors, lick their lips at the bounce and pace of the surface and temptation is to get carried away.
Yes, pretending you’re Tymal Mills or Pat Cummins and attempting to re-distribute the batsman’s head is a story for the pub afterwards.
But…can you replicate this bloodlust on a pitch more like a suet pudding than the MCG? If not….it’s ultimately pointless practice.
Part of the trouble is either too few people per net lane so everyone bowls too much or if ten cricketers share a lane in only an hour to give everyone a go, it’s tempting to tear in.
The micro-climate of five or so minutes batting doesn’t lend itself to a journey of discovery but if you go with a gameplan, it can all still pay off.
Approach a net session with objectives a bit more subtle than just trying to hit 36 off an over or pinning a tailender to the back wall with chin music.
Is your game typically rotating the strike with nudges or an opening batsman looking to be watchful? Practice your role in the side, it will stand you in good stead.
3. Target-based training over a good outcome indoors
The repetitive groove that is weeks of indoor nets will ultimately serve you better when wickets, strike rates, points and titles are up for grabs.
As a left-armer seamer, I would automatically drag my length back at nets if someone was climbing into my bowling with something approaching relish.
There can be ego attached to our actions and so I would dig one in short to try to wrap the batsman’s knuckles.
But try bending your back and menacing the batsman with an early-season half-tracker in the Craven Cricket League and the end result on a muddy wicket can be mortifying.
It might even be a future episode of BBC Time Team. Such are the fine margins in cricket.
So, bowlers…a sports hall bounce naturally means you dig it in shorter but be brave, pushing it fuller means you won’t have such a rapid adjustment outside.
4. Stretch and properly warm up
Now, Cricket Yorkshire’s readers are a broad demographic and as such have the full spectrum of ages and abilities when it comes to cricketing prowess.
How you approach indoor nets will naturally depend on your mindset, ability and the level of cricket you’re involved with – but you should all warm up.
I’ve noticed how the professionalisation of training has become engrained at more ECB Premier League cricket clubs and those in the higher standard leagues across Yorkshire.
Twanging a hamstring by going full tilt while all your muscles are still wincing at the meat locker temperatures is a no-no.
I know, I know, looks like you’re taking it all a bit too seriously in front of your mates. Here’s a word for you: longevity. Want to play for decades to come? Look after your body, warm those muscles up as most surfaces are hard and unforgiving on your back and shins.
Of course, it’s worth stressing that whatever standard you play at from a beginner through to a professional, there’s no reason you can’t train in a way that means you’re getting the best out of the time you’re investing in your cricket.
We return to the time-poor element in nets for cricket clubs of cramming in as much a possible into that hour’s slot rather than realising that a sensible warmup and even twenty minutes of high-intensity cricket practice trumps sixty minutes of flogging your body unmercifully.
5. Think about workload during a net session
All of which brings us onto a vital piece of organisational advice around scheduling your time.
Sometimes a club coach may have mapped out exactly what happens when but if not, think about what is best for the types of players.
How about quick bowlers batting earlier in the indoor session (regardless of ability)?
That avoids being bowled into the ground and then having a last-minute dash at the end when body parts are already beginning to grimace.
For quicks, short, sharp bursts of real menace, punctuated with a bat, will lead to smarter training.
6. Mix and match with the bowling machine
Booking a bowling machine with a group of mates to work on trigger movements or conquer indecision with a particular shot can be a wise option.
The reliability and flexibility of a bowling machine are its twin assets.
What you don’t get is six balls from six different bowlers so that you’ve faced an over comprising of a doosra, a bouncer, two off-cutters, an in-ducker and a rank pie that flapped the lip of the mat and spooned comically into the air.
But, beware just cranking up the machine to seventy, getting it to land on a nice, juicy half volley length and smashing each dimpled delivery to smithereens in the belief that you are odds on for a daddy hundred in your first outing.
So, whoever is operating the bowling machine could throw in a curveball or two (safely…don’t crank up the mph for giggles), vary lengths and types of delivery to mimic matches.
After all, variety is the spice of life and it’s what you’ll all be coming up against out in the middle when you get your whites muddy in 2020.
So, my challenge to you is to change it up indoors, avoid predictable for the sake of it, train smart and reap the rewards down the line.
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