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AOC Coaching: Opening The Innings With Chris Nash

Chris Nash is one of the more complete opening batsmen in the English domestic game: in a world of pinch hitters and specialist Twenty20 openers he’s a constant presence at No.1 for Sussex. He spoke to AOC about the art of opening the batting.

Chris, you’ve taken guard, the bowler’s at the other end. What areas do you look to score in?

You can’t read what the wickets going to do, but if it’s seaming all over the shop you’ll look to play really late. If you’re playing late you can drop it in the gap for a single and hopefully get off strike – if you’ve got a good understanding with your partner and a loud call you can get the scoreboard moving and rotate the strike. As a general rule I think the best way to play the new ball is holding your bat standing at the other end, watching Joycey [Ed Joyce] or someone take it all on!

Where are your boundaries going to come from?

If you look to drive too much you bring in the slips, but if someone does err by bowling very full you’ve got to look to score. Some opening batsmen will look to play defensively and leave more, but I like to think that there are lots of gaps in the field and I can potentially get off to a flyer if someone doesn’t bowl where they want. With the new ball everything’s in their favour so I put pressure on them – if they bowl a bad ball you’ve got to take it on. I don’t want them getting away with it so that after 10 overs we’re 6-0.

Do you always go in with a positive approach regardless of the game situation?

Definitely. Not having opened the batting all my life, I see it as an opportunity to score because you’ve got a lot of fielders behind the wicket and there are big gaps – I like to look at it positively. If I can get a few boundaries away early they might take the slips out, which helps me out; they might stick fielders on the boundary, which means I can rotate the strike more. As a general rule I’m looking to be positive – if we’ve got to bat out for a draw I still think it’s important to put pressure on the bowlers, because no bowler likes going for runs.

An opener’s dream is to bat all day; do you have any techniques that help you avoid burning out?

Very much so. If you watch Test match cricket – the likes of Kallis, Cook and Strauss – these guys are brilliant at concentrating. They do all sorts of things. I like to keep it quite tidy, I’ll kick away any dirt as I like to keep my guard neat. In between balls I walk away from the crease, have a look around, try to get out of the game a bit, then it’s a little tap of my gloves, a bend of the knees and I’m back in my stance.

Is the secret to keep a clear mind as the bowler’s running in to bowl?

I wouldn’t say not thinking anything, I’m always making sure that I’m trying to play as straight as possible, almost looking at the sight screen. Before I go into my stance I check my front elbow, then all I’m thinking is, ‘play straight’. Then I know the rest of my game will look after itself.

When you get a short and wide one and you’ve got fielders at slips and gully, can you resist it?

A lot would say I don’t resist it! Every shot you play you could get out to. If I went in with that mindset I wouldn’t play a shot, I’d bat 40 overs for not very many and I probably wouldn’t be playing the game for too long. It’s that give and take. I might score a hundred runs through boundaries on the off side and I might get out twice doing it. If you’re scoring a lot of runs with a shot, you’re going to get out to it because it’s the shot you play the most – it’s your most productive shot.

What’s the key to being an opening bat?

Opening batting’s quite a specialised art. It’s something I started doing when I was 22; I never did it as a youngster so I had to learn about it instead of being one of those prodigal sons that grows up opening the batting and scoring big hundreds. I had to learn the difference between opening the batting and coming in at No.5 or No.6.  Obviously you go out there and the scoreboard’s 0-0 and it can be quite nerve-wracking, so the first thing I looked at was my routine. Working with sports psychologists you generally talk about having your bubble, you walk into your bubble to play the shot and then you move out of it. When I was younger I stayed in the bubble too long, that meant I didn’t get the big scores – I was tired after making 30 or 40. If you can only concentrate for the two or three seconds that you need to, hopefully you can stretch that out a bit.

Sussex batsman Chris Nash
Chris Nash scored three centuries in the County Championship in 2012

The Pro Tip

What is your key trigger movement?

Your Steve Harmisons – much taller guys who are generally going to get the ball coming through at waist-height or above – my initial set-up won’t change a huge amount, I’m still looking to bat from middle stump, my toe is just inside leg stump. The  movement with someone a bit quicker is back and across. The key with trigger movements is the earliness of them. A lot of people move very late and they’re stuck, caught on the move by the bowler. I’m not looking to lunge in with the bounce they get – he’ll bowl a short one and you’re wearing it on your head.

How would this compare to facing someone like Lasith Malinga?

With guys who are looking to attack your stumps it’s so important not to get on the wrong side of the ball. If you do get slightly head over and your foot goes over, they’re looking for lbws. In county cricket, because of the wickets, you do experience more of these guys who are looking to nip it about on off stump, so one of my movements is just to advance at the bowler a bit.

And your weight distribution?

People often think to get forward you have to get your weight forward. That’s not always the case. If you’ve got 70 per cent weight on the front foot and 30 per cent on the back, you’re asking quite a lot to lift your foot up to get forwards – you can get stuck. Ricky Ponting is the best example of having a floating front foot. He has his weight on his back foot and can go into the ball. He can play off his back foot or go into the ball. The other way round it’s very hard to go anywhere. He’s probably got about 80 per cent of his weight on his back foot, but he can transfer all his weight into the ball. I’d probably be more 60-40 back foot. One of my big things is the weight on the heels of my feet – with weight on your toes it’s very hard to go but in your heels you can glide across the surface.

How would you change for the shortened form?

I like to look to come down the wicket – sometimes first ball – just to get going. Towards the end of an innings, if guys are looking to bowl yorkers, by giving yourself a bit of depth you can make that a half-volley. It makes bowlers have a little less margin for error.

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