Mon, 03 Aug 2020

While many people may enjoy a game of backyard cricket, only a few go on to become elite professional batsmen in Australia.

Cricket batting is example of what human skills can achieve. The fastest bowling delivery speeds can exceed 150km/h. That leaves a batsman with less than half a second to react.

And to complicate the challenge even further, the environment and pitch they play on can change the trajectory of the delivery every time.

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To find out what gives elite cricketers the edge we interviewed eight expert high-performance international or state-level coaches, who themselves were batsmen at those levels.

We asked them a series of questions to capture the skills they saw as underpinning batting expertise. The results were published recently in PLOS ONE.

While the sample was small, there are not many people who were both elite-level players and coaches, so the research provides a unique understanding of the skills needed to become an expert in their field.

Learn to adapt and know your limits

A key finding of our study is that cricket batting can be viewed, at least in the minds of expert batsmen, as a battle for a sense of control of the game.

To gain this sense of control, batsmen must possess the skills to assess all the key environmental conditions, such as the opposition bowler's plan, the pace of the ball off the pitch, and whether the situation of the game requires scoring or surviving.

An expert batsman's ability to read these conditions and then adapt their strategy and technique was grounded in an understanding of their own game. One said:

But it's not just about knowledge of their own strengths, it's also about their limitations. As another said:

Being able to accurately assess the opposition's plan and the pitch conditions, and adapt accordingly, is no easy feat, and it doesn't always go to plan.

A batsman's worst enemy, as any sportsperson knows, can sometimes be themselves. The high-stakes, high-pressure situation within a game can create anxiety, clouding the ability to read the conditions, and have a negative impact on decision-making.

Routines and reflection

How expert batsmen continually assess the state of the game and keep their emotions in check comes down to what they do between deliveries.

Expert batsmen highlighted these periods in between deliveries as crucial. They engaged in a process of reflection to update their knowledge of the key environmental conditions, such as the pitch or the way the opposition bowled.

A brief switch-off period between deliveries was also highlighted as crucial to help overcome mental and physical fatigue during performances that can stretch for hours or across days.

To help with that process, expert players develop routines.

Now you know what's happening next time you see a batsman walk about the pitch between play.

We can all learn from elite players

Traditionally in sport, expertise has been thought of as the attainment of near-flawless technical abilities. But at the professional level that's what all players from both sides are hoping to achieve.

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For those players to have the edge, our research shows technical ability is only part of the game. The ability to be flexible, learn and adapt to each environment is seen as critical, including the ability to learn from any mistakes.

Taking that time to reflect on what just happened is crucial. And what happens between each delivery can sometimes be just as important as how they play the delivery itself.

Incorporating these ideas within any coaching practices, be it sport or something else, could greatly benefit the development of any expertise.

Author: Jonathan Connor - Lecturer, James Cook University The Conversation

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