Tear up those coaching manuals. Against all the accepted wisdom of the ages, the really, really good batsmen don’t watch the ball from the bowler’s hand – that was the conclusion of the four previous posts.
Great batsmen will be using their experience and a host of visual clues to predict events in the half second or so of the actual ball’s journey from the hand.
The best may in effect be playing a phantom ball milliseconds ahead of the actual ball, the path of which, they have near perfectly predicted.
With these tools of anticipation in operation, aided by psycho-geographical information, they can move their eyes from where the bowler’s hand will (fractionally) later release the ball to that part of the wicket where they assess the ball will pitch.
The process is repeated from this position, again ahead of the actual event, towards the future contact point of bat and ball. Many the better strikers and timers are able to ‘see’ the impact through the back of the bat, racket or stick. They will even see a vision of the ball leaving them, piercing the field and crossing the boundary, so focused are they on the phantom ball.
Can batsmen develop the accuracy of these expectations? Yes. The good ones will have done so by a process of natural selection.
For cricketers this can equate with ‘time at the wicket’. Practice against the human bowler, (not with bowling machines which helps groove and develop muscle memory but not anticipation,) long innings in the middle and plenty of match experience will see the skill and accuracy of expectations develop.
Month after month, Sachin Tendulka’s coach, Achrekar, drove his prodigy round the cricket grounds of Mumbai looking for matches where he could insert Sachin as ‘next man in’. As soon as he was out (though that was not ‘often’ soon) he’d be off to the next opportunity to practice in match conditions against real bowlers.
These experiences change the way a batsman’s brain works in a process known as cortical remapping or neuroplasticity.
The C21st has seen the development of the idea that all areas of the brain are plastic even after childhood. According to these ideas substantial changes occur in the lowest neocortical processing areas, and these changes can profoundly alter the pattern of neuronal activation in response to experience.
Experience can actually change both the brain’s physical structure and functional organization.
It is about adding or changing the connections between brain cells and creating new ones. There is a degree of unconsciousness about this as the visual clues taken in to guide expectations are peripheral and do not reach conscious attention.
But for the ball striker the process is one of improving anticipation, peripheral vision and the accuracy of expectations.
It’s a batsman’s brain that sees, not his eyes.
Next: What does this mean for bowlers? Can it explain some of the success of bowlers like Muttiah Muralitharan and ‘Tiger’ O’Reilly?