Cricket is mainly about 2 things: Judgment and Mind-Body co-ordination.
You need to train your mind to make accurate judgments about the ball (e.g. about its pitch, flight, line, length, etc.).
You also need to train your mind and body to be in sync with each other — so that when your mind judges the ball to be of a certain type, your body can quickly adjust and come in the right position or stance.
Both these things require practice — not just physical practice, but mindful practice.
What is a good way to get mindful practice?
Here, I believe that practicing with other players is important. But, practicing alone is crucial!
Practicing alone can train both your Judgment and Mind-Body co-ordination, very effectively. Provided you have created the right conditions for your solo training.
Sir Don Bradman, on his retirement reflected his whole cricketing life through his book: ‘Farewell to Cricket’. The following is his own account (bold accent added by me) of how he developed the amazing skills:
Our headmaster, Mr A. J. Lee, was a good sport who often amused himself by playing with the boys, but there was no coach. We were left to our own devices and had to play as nature advised, without knowing whether we were adopting orthodox methods or not.
During weekends and after school, I usually found myself without any playmates because no boy lived close to our home. For this reason I had to improvise my own amusement, and this, during the hours of daylight, almost invariably centered around the use of a ball. It was either kicking a football, playing tennis against a garage door or an unusual form of cricket which I invented for my own enjoyment.
At the back of our home was an 800-gallon water tank set on a round brick stand. From the tank to the laundry door was a distance of about eight feet. The area under-foot was cemented and, with all doors shut, this portion was enclosed on three sides and roofed over so that I could play there on wet days. Armed with a small cricket stump (which I used as a bat) I would throw a golf ball at this brick stand and try to hit the ball on the rebound. The golf ball came back at great speed and to hit it at all with the round stump was no easy task.
To make my game interesting I would organize two sides consisting of well-known international names and would bat for Taylor, Gregory, Collins and so on in turn.
The door behind me was the wicket, and I devised a system of ways to get caught out, and of boundaries. Many a time I incurred mother’s displeasure because I just had to finish some important Test Match at the very moment she wanted me for a meal.
The open side of my playing area corresponded to the on side of a cricket field, and therefore I did not have to chase the ball for any shots on the offside.
This extraordinary and primitive idea was purely a matter of amusement, but looking back over the years I can understand how it must have developed the co- ordination of brain, eye and muscle which was to serve me so well in important matches later on.
Another form of amusement was to take a golf ball into the neighboring paddock where I would stand some 10 or 15 yards from the dividing fence and throw the ball to hit the rounded rail. My main purpose was to make the ball come back at various heights and angles so that I could catch it. Obviously this also developed the ability to throw accurately, because if I missed the selected spot, it would mean a walk to retrieve the ball.
Watch this video to see how Bradman practiced with a golf ball.
2 things stand out from this inspiring account:
- Bradman did a lot of his practice alone
- He did not just do mechanical practice, he did mindful practice — by creating innovative conditions to train his judgment as well as mind-body co-ordination
Why may solo practice be so effective after all?
How exactly solo practice helps better in training one’s judgment and mind-body co-ordination?
Well, as I mentioned earlier, first you need to ensure that you have created the practicing conditions that are similar (in fact, accentuated conditions will even be better!) to the real playing conditions. For instance, a surface that has allows for natural and reasonably unpredictable variations of the ball, etc.).
If that is ensured, practicing alone is more effective simply because of following reasons:
- You are able to utilize your time better
- You are able to focus on one thing at a time
- You avoid distractions, that are unavoidable in collective practice
- You can do lot of experimentation
Due to all the above reasons, you can get a lot of training in just a few hours of practice.
For those parents who are serious about their kids pursuing Cricket:
- Assess how much time your kids spend playing with others versus practicing alone
- Nudge them to balance their time, such that mindful solo practice gets its adequate share too!
By the way it is said that the Indian hockey legend Dhyan Chand also did a similar thing, when he used to practice ball control alone — by sprinting along the length of railway tracks while balancing the ball on the track rail.
Greatness often requires solitude to fully blossom.