Keep your head still

Some readers tell me, with grace, that I deal too much with cricket.  I can see their point, but then again, even with a losing team, I watch people in line at the bank riveted on the TV; even with no audio, some folks are still so engrossed they don’t hear when their turn is called.  Guyanese come out big for some soccer matches, but as a nation we’re cricket people; case closed. So here I go again, and this time it has to do with Shiv.

In the midst of the recent accolades on his reaching the 10,000 mark in runs, we had the opportunity, in those batting stints against Australia, to see some essential aspectsof his technique and even for me, as a non-expert, two things stand out.

The first is that Shiv does something that is fundamental in all great athletes who swing at a ball – in making the stroke he keeps his head still. In all the sporting greats in baseball, tennis, golf, hockey, etc, when they swing, the head is still.

Sure, Shiv fidgets and stretches and squirms in advance, but when he plays a shot his head is almost always completely still, his eyes are fixed on the ball.

The striking thing about his batting – it shows up in the slow-motion replays – is how often he middles the ball; the key to that is the still head.  If the head is moving about, it means the eyes are doing the same, and the bio-mechanics involved means the hands also will wander.

Next time tennis is on, watch Roger Federer.  You can see it on the replays of the backhand shots when he’s facing the camera.

His head is still.  Even in the execution of the shot, his head is still. Even after the ball is gone, with his racquet now fully extended, Federer’s eyes are still fixed on the spot where the ball was when he hit it; that means his head hasn’t moved.

Watch footage of people such as Ted Williams or Hank Aaron; as they swing through the line, the head doesn’t move. Even as the body rotates to deliver the power, it does so around the neck – the head is still.

The other striking aspect of Shiv’s technique that contributes to his middling of the ball is the compact stroke.  In a high backswing stroke, beautiful as it is to watch, there is a greater margin of error in the shot because of the length of the stroke, the speed of it, and the power exertion from the shoulders that comes into play.

In a stroke like Shiv’s, with the smaller arc, and the hands more in play than the shoulders, the bat is more likely to remain straight on the target and more likely to find the middle of the bat.

Watch Shiv on defence – head still, short stroke, hands holding bat vertical, ball hits the middle of the blade. It is a compact stroke devoid of all the contributions to errors – long swing, head moving, shoulders jerking – that would otherwise occur.

Mind you, concentration has to be in play for that process to happen, and Shiv can clearly concentrate, but the concentration must be directed; many batsmen concentrate on big hits; Shiv concentrates on staying at the wicket, and he applies the formula ball after ball. You don’t get snicks from the middle of the bat. No wonder the man is so hard to get out.

Watching him bat, it struck me what a tragic shame it is that we don’t have the facilities to do basic analyses or examinations of sport techniques in the Caribbean and particularly in Guyana.

The mechanics of Shiv’s batting, for example, should be the basis of a major video slow-motion study that could then be used to help young batsmen figure out what to work on, what to avoid, what to stress.  I’m an amateur in that area, and I could watch television and see some fairly obvious stuff; imagine then what could come out of a scientific study on the guy.

It is our loss that we don’t seem inclined, or don’t have the finances, to acquire the facilities to do such examinations.

I recall seeing an HBO documentary, many years ago, with high-speed cameras taking detailed footage of a college basketball player’s jump shot, breaking it down, frame by frame, and then producing detailed drawings showing you how he did what he did.

You could see where he was applying leverage, what muscles were at work; you could see the contribution of the legs to the shot, and even the role of the stance and the positioning of the feet, and the fundamental of the still head.

You could see how important the position of the elbow was, and the wrist, and of relaxation on the release.

A young basketball player could look at that video and immediately see what he was doing wrong and how to do it right. Of course, the application of the techniques would have to be repeated over and over until they became automatic, but at least the direction could be properly set.

Imagine the value to our young cricketers, and even the established ones in a slump, if we were able to break down the game like that explaining the what and the why and the how of winning techniques.

Imagine being able to watch in detail the bowling action of Lance Gibbs (enormous spinning power) and Ramadhin (difficult action to read) and Curtly Ambrose (consistent length).

How fascinating and useful it would be to unravel how Viv Richards did what he did – not just at bat but at his often unmentioned mastery in the field – and how Malcolm Marshall, small for a fast bowler, was able to develop such pace, and to see how this new Trinidadian spinner Sunil Narine is befuddling batsmen everywhere.

Clearly a lot of that will have to wait, but in the meantime our cricketers, both upcoming and established, can take a short but effective lesson from our 10,000-runs man, and begin tomorrow – keep your head still, dammit.


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