In its simplest sense, batting in the sport of cricket is the act of hitting the ball with the bat in order to score runs or to defend the wicket. A player who is batting at any time is called a batsman and there are always two batsmen on the field when play is in progress. They take station at either end of the pitch and, depending on which wicket is currently the bowler's target, the one defending that wicket is called the striker while his colleague at the bowler's end is called the non-striker. These roles are interchangeable when a run is scored or at the end of an over. A team has eleven players who all take it in turns to bat so, when a batsman is dismissed, one of his colleagues in the pavilion comes out to replace him and so on until the team's innings is completed.
The cricket bat itself is a precision-made implement. The blade is made of willow and must not exceed 4.25 inches in width. The handle is made of cane layered with thin strips of rubber and bound with twine. The whole handle is encased in a rubber sheath. The maximum length of the whole bat is 38 inches. There is no actual weight limit but they tend to weigh two to three pounds, though some heavy bats weigh as much as four pounds.
The striker needs to effect a solid grip on the bat handle as he takes guard and prepares for the bowler to deliver the ball. The method of gripping is the same for both left- and right-handers. A right-hander has his left hand towards the top of the handle with his right-hand just below it (vice-versa for a left-hander) so that the hands are close together. Positioning of the thumbs and forefingers are important in ensuring control of the bat and the ability to wield it. Batting coaches pay a lot of attention to this aspect of the grip. Also important is the direction in which the back of the top hand is facing as it should be towards the fielding position called extra cover.
In terms of the actual stance that the batsman adopts while taking guard, the important things is to be comfortable and relaxed with the feet about twelve inches apart either side of the popping crease. Knees should be slightly bent so that the batsman can quickly transfer his weight to either his front or back foot depending on the length of the delivery. While some batsmen prefer what is called an open or "chest on" stance to aid their visibility of the ball, the classic stance is "side on" to the bowler.
It is a natural movement for the batsman to raise his bat backwards (the "backlift") towards the stumps as the bowler approaches. This is another key aspect of technique that coaches are keen to improve. As in golf when addressing the ball, it is important to keep the head still.
To build an innings, shot selection is all-important and the batsman must be able to judge which deliveries he should defend, leave or try to score from. Subject to improvisation, there are about a dozen different shots that a batsman can use either side of the wicket. Shot selection is dependent to some extent on pitch and visibility conditions but, in the main, on the line, length, speed and deviation of a delivery.
Line and length
Line means one of three directions usually taken by the ball from release by the bowler:
- off stump and outside (passing in front of the batsman in his on guard stance; outside means missing off stump and towards the wicket-keeper or first slip)
- middle stump (bang on target)
- leg stump and outside (passing behind the batsman in his on guard stance; outside means missing leg stump and towards the wicket-keeper or leg slip)
There are essentially five lengths of delivery determined by where the ball pitches after release by the bowler:
- short-pitched (a bouncer if bowled well or a long hop if very badly)
- just short of a length
- good length
- full length (a yorker if bowled well or a half volley if not)
- full toss
Some of these deliveries like a long hop, a half volley or a full toss can readily be attacked by the batsman and he should be able to score off them. A bouncer may need to be avoided altogether. Just short of a length can pose problems depending on line and the amount of lift and the batsman must quickly decide whether to attack, defend or leave. A good length ball on target must be treated with respect and the batsman should normally defend. A yorker is a very dangerous delivery if bowled well and defence can be difficult.
Given the characteristics of the delivery, the batsman must instantly decide whether to play backwards or forwards and move his feet accordingly before the ball arrives, so that he is in the best possible position to play the best stroke. The mark of a good batsman is the ability to make this decision quickly and correctly, as the bowler releases the ball, and to quickly react as the ball approaches. It is generally agreed that the greatest batsman in the history of cricket is the Australian Don Bradman, whose career was from the 1920s to the 1940s. The secret of Bradman's success was the speed of his movement from his stance into the correct position so that he was ready for any delivery as soon as it pitched and he could then play the necessary stroke to best effect. All great batsmen are "quick on their feet" but, in this key aspect, Bradman was unmatched in the speed of his readiness.
Back foot play
Usually, the batsman will move backwards if the ball is pitching short of or longer than a good length and his main back foot shots are:
- back foot drive
- backward defence
- leg glance
- square cut
The hook, pull and square cut are cross-batted shots (i.e., the bat is held horizontally on impact) where the arms are fully extended for maximum power. The hook and pull direct the ball towards the leg side or into the mid wicket area and are usually played to deliveries pitched short on either middle or leg stump. The square cut is directed through point or cover and is played to a ball outside off stump.
A backward defence shot is played with the bat held vertically in front of the pads and its purpose is to simply block the ball's progress and hit it back along the pitch. A leg glance is played by deflecting the ball towards the leg side with a deft twist of the wrist. Driving is normally a front foot shot but can also be done from the back foot by a skilled batsman. The great West Indian batsman Gary Sobers was an outstanding exponent of the back foot drive and could readily use the shot to neutralise even a well-delivered yorker.
Front foot play
If the delivery is pitching on or close to a good length, the batsman will tend to move his front foot forward to meet the pitch of the ball. Th emain front foot shots are:
- forward defence
- leg glance
- off drive
- on drive
- straight drive
A forward defence shot is played with an angled straight bat which meets the ball as it is beginning to rise from the pitch and so the batsman is effectively "smothering" it. If the shot is played well, the ball is blocked and hit back along the pitch. A leg glance is normally played on the back foot but good batsmen can use the same wrist action whilst stepping forward and so deflect the ball into the legside field.
The off and straight drives are played to deliveries pitching on or outside the off stump. The on drive is played to a ball pitching on or outside the leg stump. The drive is a powerful, forcing shot using a full swing of the bat. The on drive is directed through mid on and the off drive through mid off. A straight drive is somewhat risky because it is down the pitch and passing the bowler who, if he reacts quickly, has opportunities to hold a catch or run out the non-striker.
The conventional sweep shot is played to a slow delivery, either an off break or a leg break, which is pitching on or outside leg stump. Since the introduction of Twenty20, enterprising batsmen have devised the reverse sweep and the dilscoop which are unorthodox versions of the conventional sweep.
- Marylebone Cricket Club: The Laws. MCC, The Laws of Cricket (2017).
- Swanton, E. W. (editor): Barclays World of Cricket, 3rd edition. Willow Books (1986).