What do expert batters look for before the ball is released? And how “incongruent information” might be the key to deceiving them.

Another fascinating webinar in Stuart McErlain-Naylor’s Science of Cricket series on YouTube — Oliver Runswick on anticipation and perceptual motor skill in cricket.

For me, two things stood out from Oliver’s presentation:

  • as a coach, what skills of the expert batters can we help novices to learn?
  • as a bowler (who could hardly buy a wicket last season), what is the role of “incongruent information” in defeating batter’s anticipation? 🏏🥧⁉️🤦‍♂️

What do skilled batters notice?

I wrote a while ago about how we, as coaches, could look at the behaviours of expert batters as a guide for helping less advanced batters to develop.

Oliver reported a study into the use expert batters make of the information they can glean before the ball is delivered, specifically match situation, field placement, and clues from the bowlers approach and bowling action prior to release (after which, the expert batter really should switch his or her full attention to the ball in flight…).

It was apparent that, whilst skilled & novice batters both take cues from the bowler kinematics, skilled batters draw from a wider range of sources of information than novices.

You might say “well, of course they would, that’s experience…”

Clearly, the skilled batters notice and utilise much more pre-delivery info.

How can the coach accelerate the acquisition of appropriate experience?

So we can help novice batters to pay attention to match situation etc. (if they don’t even see the situation, they can never react to it). Possibly scope for close-season “homework”. And then conditioned SSGs — small-sided games where the batters are set a challenge under simulated match conditions — in pre-season.

There’s a great example of what I call conditioned SSGs in a recent issue of the ECB Coaches Association Coaching Insight (but I think this is probably a Members-only item).

Crap takes wickets. Or delivering incongruity without (obvious) incongruence.

The other strand I want to investigate (as a bowler who could hardly buy a wicket at one stage last season) is the role of “incongruent information” in defeating batter’s anticipation. 🏏🥧⁉️🤦‍♂️

In “Why do bad balls get wickets? The role of congruent and incongruent information in anticipation” [1], Runswick et al demonstrated how skilled batters, who make much better use of the range of pre-delivery information sources, are also more likely to be deceived by “incongruent” information — if experience suggests the next delivery really “ought” to be a fast, leg stump yorker, that’s what they anticipate and set up for…so the back-of-a-length delivery, bouncing above off stump, with the off side boundary open, is likely to present a bigger surprise.

Again, this might look a little like a statement of the obvious — good batters anticipate where the next ball will go — but it offers hope for the bowler. If the incongruity can be disguised, there’s a chance to deceive the batter.

FWIW — deception through incongruity

Deception could, theoretically, involve any of the pre-delivery information sources used by batters.

But you can’t really disguise sequence. Good batters will know it is very unlikely that a bowler would bowl three identical deliveries in the death overs of a T20 — at the least, they will anticipate (almost certainly correctly), that 2 yorkers will be followed by something different.

Match situation might be misread by the batter, but I can’t see much opportunity for deception, here.

It would probably be difficult to pull a major deception with field settings, certainly in T20 — 4 fielders on the leg side boundary but bowl an outside-off half volley, and it goes for runs an outside edge into vacant spaces…

So we really are only realistically looking at “bowler kinematics” (and hoping the batter does not notice what he is going on!).

Seamers variations — grip potentially hardest to pick

For next summer, I’ll probably be looking at varying my grip more often, to see if the ball can be induced to behave a little less predictably, and also using the width of the crease a bit more.

  • Switch the seam orientation in the grip e.g. from outswing to cross-seam or inswing but change nothing else.
    • Actually trying to bowl an inswinger could give the game away to an observant batter, so the hope might be deliver with a normal outswing action but hope the seam position negates any swing.
  • Similarly, switching to a pace-off grip might be worth trying — split grip/vulcan/knuckleball/something else.

[1] Oliver R. Runswick, André Roca, A. Mark Williams, Allistair P. McRobert & Jamie S. North (2018): Why do bad balls get wickets? The role of congruent and incongruent information in anticipation, Journal of Sports Sciences, DOI: 10.1080/02640414.2018.1514165

Published by Andrew Beaven

Cricket coach, fascinated by the possibilities offered by the game. More formally - ECB level 2 cricket coach; ECB National Programmes (All Stars & Dynamos Cricket) Activator Tutor; Chance to Shine & Team Up (cricket) deliverer; ECB ACO umpire.

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