Invariably over the course of a season, conditions shall emerge from the unknown that inhibit logical and established batting methods. Skills honed by countless hours of hitting balls from machine, bowler, throw downs, drop balls, under arms and “Amla drills” will be rendered less than desirable. Batting with the bat side on, or a stump would seem more attuned than trying to find the middle of the willow.
Clarity, a rare commodity disguised and entangled in the nervous strains of tensions surging through the neuro regions within the batsman’s mind, will be sought for. Batting ugly! Can the ingredients be found?
Batting ugly, herewith offered a definition of sorts.
“Devoid of style and technique but resolute in application to remain at the crease for a long enough period in forming an innings of substance that shapes the course of the match.”
A method and plan of clarity that calls achingly upon the powers of concentration and control over instinctive muscle memory.
This correspondent was fortunate enough to witness an impressive example first hand in recent times. Please allow me to set the scene.
Country setting, late spring warmth under bright blue skies. Win toss, bat first, lose opener early to a snorter, runs start to flow through boundaries struck to all sides.
Wickets tumble, starts consist of dots and the occasional stuttering single. A powerful list is removed for 107 after being 1/31. The last 76 runs eked out over 36 overs, a one day game becomes mired in sludge beneath the glorious mountains.
The opposition step up, the chase so paltry to invoke no serious threat in “improving” conditions.
Rampaging fast bowler emits plentiful pent up steam. Warm up complete on the diametric plane opposite to not interrupt the youngsters longest throw competition from the boundary into the wicket during the break. Turning around to the end proper he starts the innings. Opener gets off the mark and turns the strike over to more distinguished and highly rated captain, full of confidence after a recent pair of 80+ scores in powerful wins.
Rhythm in motion, thundering towards the crease, arms whirring fluently at speed. Short ball, lifting and steepling at pace. The batsman awkwardly moves into position to play but arrives too late. Leather crunches into the helmet casing. A stagger of sorts does not force the ten count but the image is dire, and the condition upsetting. Play stops as head is checked for damage. Batsman refuses to leave the middle. He is the only one present in this frame of mind.
Play resumes. Bowler charges in with greater intent. Another short ball. Again not handled well, the fend being caught in the slips. The departed in obvious distress beyond the dismissal. His younger partner at the other end, a long devoted follower of his leader, remains calm in the moment. Head still. Eyes locked in steely focus. Without distraction from the carnage and emotions from being with a fallen mate, he understands there is still a job to be done at 1/5.
Recent innings of insignificance suggested another modest performance, 59 innings @ 19 with a highest score of 83 on the career record to date.
What occurred though from here was a valued observation in constructing a resistance of substance that shifted the match. Assessing the difficulty of the conditions and the obvious difference in class, the younger partner applied himself in the following manner.
- Remaining as completely still as possible.
- Reducing footwork to basically cover the stumps.
- Courageous slight press forward with full bat face.
- Firm top hand, close to eyes, over the ball.
- Barely a scent of a follow through, more holding the blade in the direction of the ball.
- Body in complete alignment within the shadow of a 4th stump.
- Leaving anything wider of this point.
For this situation, by removing as much risk and reducing the temptation of error the occasional ball arrived within this zone of control. Runs started to flow. Boundaries accumulated. Bowling changes occurred. Momentum shifted. The half century partnership surpassed.
Alas there was no complete fairy tale outcome as a curious waft at a tempter found the edge through to the keeper at 3/69. The individual score at 36 from 59 balls. More than enough grit to build the base for an eventual successful chase. Kudos.
Better innings will be played and witnessed by many. However for this correspondent the application shown and preparedness to “bat ugly” a gift that will resonate.
Well played Nathaniel.