Coaching the old-fashioned way…not so old-fashioned, after all!

Coaching, Nursery Pavilion, Lord's

I recently picked up a copy of The Oxford Pocket Book of Cricket Coaching, by D.C.H. Townsend (Oxford University & England), first published in 1953, with a second impression in 1955.

Not surprisingly, the book, written after the first M.C.C. Coaching Conference, in December 1951, describes a fairly formal and traditional description of the key techniques of the game.

Interesting as an historical document, but with a few ideas that would not look so out-of-place in the curriculum of the most maverick coaching programmes today.

Not every player is the same!

The technical portions are reasonably prescriptive, but with a refreshing recognition of the different body shapes found in the game.

In both bowling and batting, precise footwork is to be subjugated to the requirement for the body (and specifically shoulders and hands) to be in the right position for the player – not to meet a “text-book standard”, but to enable the free-est transfer of energy through the ball.

On the pick-up

Townsend recommends that the bat should be picked up “…outside the line in which it is to be brought down…[and]…swung in a loop to start into the stroke…” because lifting the back straight back will surely result in the loss of momentum gained in the backlift and “stilted and unnatural movements”.

Pick up towards the slips, or even wider – remarkably like Don Bradman, or AB De Villiers!

On bowling

In the delivery stride (right-arm bowler) – “…the left toe [should be] turned out [from parallel to the batting crease], so that it points to about fine leg…” to enable the right-hand side of the bowler’s body to follow through towards the target.

Not quite the current (un-)orthodoxy (to which I do subscribe) of directing the delivery stride straight towards the target, but certainly not “closing off” by stepping towards fine leg in the delivery stride!

Group coaching – an old “IDEIR”

Alongside the technical descriptions, there is a chapter on Movement Practices – not an early manifestation of the theory and practice of physical literacy, but the “how to” for group practice.

Townsend describes the use of “IDEIR”, the system formerly used in military physical training, whereby a technique is successively

  • Introduced by the coach;
  • Demonstrated;
  • Explained (put into context);
  • Imitated (by the players);
  • Repeated (and repeated, and corrected, and repeated…).

This was the 1950s, when pretty much every able-bodied man would have either served in the Armed Forces, or could expect to be called up for National Service, so taking a concept from military PT was not as far-fetched as it might appear today.

The photograph at the top of this post, illustrating a more advanced IDEIR session (the players have bats and full kit!) is on the Nursery Pavilion at Lord’s, positioned (ironically, I assume) where it can be seen from the balcony of the MCC Cricket Academy.

But this is an area where we have moved on as coaches.  No longer will you see groups of players miming a forward defensive stroke, or bowling an imaginary ball across the hall, imitating their coach, and being corrected individually as to the position of their top-hand on the bat, or the angle of their foot in delivery stride.

I have once seen a “visiting” coach line up his charges in the Academy, and have them demonstrate an immaculate forward defence, just like in the picture.  Not at all how the coaches at the Academy work, today, however!

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Andrew Beaven

Cricket coach, fascinated by the possibilities offered by the game. More formally - ECB CA cricket coach working at the MCC Academy, the Essex Indoor Cricket Centre, and with the junior sections at Oakfield Parkonians CC & Regent's Park CC; All Stars Cricket Activator; ECB ACO umpire.

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