Tue | Sep 19, 2017

Orville Higgins | Singling out batsmen

Published:Friday | March 24, 2017 | 3:00 AM

Last weekend, Sabina Park witnessed one of the most bizarre cricket matches ever played in the region. The game lasted under two days (two nights if you prefer.)

Neither the Jamaica Scorpions nor the Leeward Islands Hurricanes scored 150 in either innings. No batsman got a half-century in the entire game. The consensus is that it was a bad pitch. I won't disagree, but there is more to it than that. What we are witnessing is the lost art of West Indian batting.

I was at the hotel with the Leeward Islands players the night after they wrapped up victory. They were convinced that the pitch was responsible for the frighteningly low scores. I disagreed. I kept insisting to some of them that a pitch alone can't account for first-innings scores of 50 and 70-something against less-than-world-class bowling. After a while, the Jamaican team members came in and some of them joined the discussion. The cricket conversation lasted until well after one in the morning.

We grew up listening to the great '80s West Indies team. It's a misconception that they only beat ball. They were able to come off strike virtually at will. The number one problem for West Indies batsmen is the inability to get singles off reasonably good balls. The inability to come off strike fairly easily is the major reason why our batsmen struggle to post good totals.

We keep hearing commentators and coaches telling batsmen to rotate the strike. We want them to do it, but the skill is not practised enough at the formative levels. I have been to coaching sessions at every level, and I can't remember seeing too many coaching sessions where the whole aim is for the batsmen to get singles.

Getting singles serves a multiplicity of purposes. It ensures the bowler finds it harder to work on a plan to get a batsman out if he is bowling to a different batsman every other ball. If the batsman is able to pick off singles routinely, he will avoid the pressure of being bogged down and, therefore, less likely to make rash shots to score boundaries.

I was watching Veersammy Permaul bowling to Jermaine Blackwood when we played the Guyana franchise a few weeks ago. In one over, I saw Blackwood hit three back-of-a-length deliveries right back at Permaul. Permaul stopped them all and Blackwood didn't score. That ought not to happen. If you can hit three balls off the back foot to the bowler, you should have been able to find a gap for a single for at least one of them.

 

ONLY A MATTER OF TIME

 

I told the person beside me that it was only a matter of time before something had to give. Either Blackwood would blast him out of the attack or Permaul would get him out. Permaul did get him out, finding the outside edge as he prodded forward. Now Blackwood is easily one of the best talents around, and what happened to him is not dissimilar to what happens to most West Indian batsmen. They are more inclined to go for big shots or for long periods of blocking, simply because the art of getting singles is slowly being lost.

I don't just blame the players. Getting singles is a coachable art. Coaches at all levels should routinely get batsmen to set targets for getting singles. One hundred balls and sixty singles is a reasonable task. Batsmen at the first-class level should undergo this exercise maybe half the time they have a net session. This will force them to learn the subtle arts of manoeuvring body and bat and wrists to knock the ball into gaps, to use soft hands to drop the ball short of fielders, to better practise running between wickets.

The average net session for first-class cricketers in the West Indies is to go in the nets and bat for maybe an hour, without a field being set, merely to get technique right. That isn't good enough. That doesn't duplicate closely enough game situations. The powers that be need to revise their coaching methods at all levels. Too many of our coaching sessions at every level are about batsmen looking clean and straight. If we concentrate on getting our batsmen to learn the art and value of getting singles, more of them would score heavily and we wouldn't see scores of 50s and 70s in a first-class game, no matter the state of the pitch.

- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.