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Why do cricketers from the sub-continent struggle in English conditions?

Updated: May 1

Having coached so many players who come over from subcontinental countries such as Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh on student or work visas to play club cricket, I see a common issue with their batting styles.

Sub-continental cricketeres playing in English Conditions

Many players from the subcontinent grow up playing 'Tape Ball' street cricket on dusty side roads or in an area with little grass, more of a clay mud patch. There is barely any moisture in the ground or air! This allows the ball to travel faster with less friction, especially when the tennis ball is covered by a layer of electrical tape. The ball tends to skid and swing more.

Not forgetting the critical factor, "How long is the pitch?" General tape ball is played off 15-17 yards, so your reaction time is a lot less, requiring you to have much quicker footwork. Some of these players rack up some serious speeds when the ball hits you! It practically feels like one of those nasty balls you get into your inner thigh area while batting.

The second factor we must consider is the club cricket facilities in this part of the world. Having spent time in Pakistan, KSA, and the UAE, I can personally say that they're not that great compared to the club facilities in England. Most clubs in these parts of the world use cement track pitches. Only at high levels such as 2nd Grade and First Class do these players find themselves playing on actual grass pitches of a reasonably high quality.

"So what's the reason?" The simple answer and the pattern I see when coaching players who have grown up playing this way is footwork and movement. Having played hundreds of matches on cement tracks and street cricket. They're so quick with their footwork and movement that they moved into the shot before I even released the ball from my sidearm. Most of them have a "front foot trigger" (means they bring their front foot out first). Thus, they trap themselves when they move too quickly, as the ball swings in all directions in the air.

Due to the weather conditions especially in the early part of the summer season and towards the end. There is a lot more friction in the air due to cold and wet condition of the grass pitches, it stops the ball coming on to the bat quickly. In most cases, the player is through the shot before the ball has pitched or bounced! This results in being bowled, having been caught leg before wicket (LWB), or simply a snick-off behind somewhere to the keeper or slips.

"Is it because the ball swings more in English conditions?" Ok, I agree the ball moves a lot more in the English conditions, especially if your club league uses the old-school reader or kookaburra balls. However, this is not the main factor, there is some incredible talent in the sub-continent. I have personally witnessed people being able to swing a taped tennis ball more than a cricket ball. I have experienced playing tape ball cricket with players who have magically mastered spinning and turning a tape ball with just two fingers, which is pretty much the equivalent of the great 'Muralitharan'.

The most competitive tape ball matches involve only one side of the tennis ball being covered in tape. This helps create even more swing, to the point that the ball starts to reverse swing. "So how do they combat this?" The only way they can is to move a lot more quickly with faster footwork.

Remember the 'Sultan of Swing' Wasim Akram? Where did he grow up playing cricket? On the streets of Lahore, Pakistan. Let's not forget his opening Partner, Waqar Younis, with those deadly reverse-swinging Yorkers. Surely, there were conditions in Pakistan that helped them master swing bowling.

So, to all the players from the sub-continent who are about to play in the UK for the first time, here are some tips to help you combat the playing conditions with more confidence.

Tip #1 - Slow down your footwork

When I ask a lot of the players I coach, "When do you think is the right time to move to the pitch of the ball, or when do you plan to strike the ball?". 9 out of 10 times I get the same answer "As soon as the ball is released, I try to judge the line and move'. If the player has a trigger movement, this won't work as you're pre-meditating the shot you want to play.

If you have a 'front foot trigger,' try not to move when the ball is released. Instead, move your feet to hit the ball just before it's about to pitch (when it's on the half volley), allowing you to get on top of the ball and play it before it pitches and moves off the deck.

Remember, move your head towards the ball, then your feet!

Tip #2 - Slow down the backswing against spinners

In the case of a spinner, there are theoretically only two ways to play spin bowling regardless if it's off-spin or leg break. If the bowler is bowling a full or good length, the same principle applies: look to move and strike the ball on the half volley just before it's about to pitch so you will play it as soon as the ball has bounced. If they're bowling back of a length and the ball is really turning a lot, play late with soft hands with the spin in damp and wet conditions.

Remember, when playing against a spin, where the ball is coming onto the bat at a slower pace, go through your shot with a slower backswing. You should be looking to stroke the ball rather than throwing your hands at the ball quickly. Doing so will cause you to play through the shot too early, therefore miss-timing your shots, resulting in leading edges and frequent miss hits.

"Part of the art of bowling spin is to make the batsmen think something special is happening when it isn't." – Shane Warne

Tip #3 - Fuller line and length when you bowl

In the earlier parts of the season, when the conditions are damp and wet, a fast or medium-pace bowler should look to pitch the ball slightly on a fuller length, giving the ball a bit more time in the air to develop movement and swing.

With spin bowling, there isn't much you can change. You would be better off starting at a good length to assess how much the pitch is turning and how it's coming onto the bat. My best suggestion is to rock up early to the match and have a quick bowl on the side of the square if the groundsman allows you to. This will enable you to quickly assess how the wicket might actually play.

When the wickets become extremely dry and there hasn't been any rain for a few weeks or when there is barely any grass on the prepared pitch. Start with bowling back of a length if you're a seam bowler and later adjust your line and length according to how the batter is playing.

Final thoughts

The best advice I can give is to assess the situation the best you can and play according to the pitch and weather conditions. If you don't have a trigger movement, remember to side-step into the line of the ball, but don't move your front out until the ball is at a half-volley length. Do not chase the ball let it come to you! Go to sleep on the pitch if you have to wait for it to arrive! Make sure your footwork is not lazy. You still need to get to the pitch of the ball quickly. A final reminder: the bowler is always trying to deceive you into playing on their terms when, in fact, you should play the ball on your terms.

"Happy cricketing and good luck" from Ali Choudhry Cricket Coaching


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