How to keep the ball down and find the gaps :

‘Smell the ball!’ used to be an oft-repeated instruction to batsmen in the nets in the olden days. What the coach meant by this was that to keep the ball down along the turf the moment of impact between bat and ball had to be close to the body and below the head. Almost under the nose as it were. A bent front knee ensures that the body-weight moves forward. It also ensures that the impact will be from up downward and subsequently, the drive will stay along the turf.

The movement of the front shoulder while playing shots should be downward before impact and upward after it, for all strokes played of the front foot and of the back foot. Now, this is very important for it ensures that the ball is hit from up downward.

If, before pitching of the ball, and before the impact between bat and ball, the front shoulder and head move up, the point of impact will be too far in front of the front foot. Hence the impact would be from down upwards instead of down and over the pitch of the ball. You wouldn’t then be smelling the ball and the result – an uppish drive.

At the point of impact, the front shoulder plays a very important role in giving direction to the stroke, and thus helps you find the right gaps. For example, if a ball is pitched on the off side and if you point your front shoulder at the fielder you want to bypass as you play the drive, the stroke will invariably go to his left. Highly skilled batsmen also use the wrist, at the point of impact, to place the ball past fieldsmen. The use of the wrist is useful, especially when you want to pierce the field on the on-side, both of the front foot as well as the back foot.

This aspect of using the front shoulder to give direction to the ball is very important. It allows you to find the gaps without lifting your head or taking your eyes off the ball at the point of impact. What you need to do is study the field placing before every delivery, so that the sub-conscious mind registers the placement of fielders and the resultant gaps. This fundamental principle of watching the ball at the point of impact, and not the gaps, is neglected very often at the formative stages of a cricketer and becomes a bad habit later on. Have you noticed how the great batsmen invariably play shots into the gaps and keep the scorers and the fielders busy? What a pleasant sight it is to watch those piercing shots! And, haven’t you noticed how the inexperienced batsman always finds the fielder in his way?

Remember : Eyes on the ball, all the time’, because that’s the most important aspect of cricket.