The former master of working the spinner’s and England Lions batting coach Graham Thorpe talks AOC through how to improve against the turning ball.
You were an adaptable player, was playing spin a big part of the step up when you went to play Test cricket?
Playing spin was one of the big challenges of succeeding at Test level, in terms of reaching that total confidence in what you are doing in Asia, being confident enough to know that you can survive and not worry about a turning pitch. If you’re going to try and be in that top bracket, as a team or as a batsman, you have to be able to play well in Asia, which means being good against spin bowling.
What steps do you take to help young players deal with spin bowling?
I always go back to the start with it. And you start with footwork. That means getting players to come out of their crease confidently, and also pushing them back so they use the depth of their crease. Once a player understands that, his decision-making improves. At a young age I think footwork is the most important thing. As they progress, they have to bring in the ability for the feeder to be able to spin the ball. I like a lot of footwork drills to start with, to make them confident, and that can be done without a bat. I like guys to be able to have what I call ‘power positions’ against spinners. Ultimately you’ve got to read spin well, picking the length is the key thing when playing it.
How can you teach ‘picking length’?
It comes down to volume again. Mixing up length against a young player will get them to recognise the length that they will be able to come down to, what they should go back to, and what they should defend. I like batsmen to be encouraged to be able to hit the ball over the top. It is important from a coaching perspective that when you are in developing mode, that you encourage that. If you want to be able to play at the highest level, and run down and hit the spinner over the top – just the same as if you want to hit a fast bowler off your nose – then coaches have to allow mistakes to be made in practice. That is all part of the coaching process. There will be a time for being firmer, but there is definitely a time when a player needs to experiment and feel what the shot feels like when a risk is taken.
How can you introduce that ‘risk’ element to practice?
We will use half-bats with spin, to improve their decision-making and sometimes take out the cavalier attitude to batting, to make them concentrate on footwork, footwork and footwork. With a much thinner bat, you have to do that, or you are going to miss the ball a lot, so we use the thin bats against the turning ball. That can be used indoors, with mats flipped over to assist the turning ball.