It seemed that last year, Jofra Archer was the next big thing for England. But I would like to beg to differ.
It’s often said that the only thing indoor cricket has in common with outdoor cricket is the name.
There’s a fair bit of truth to it – anyone who has played both games and tried to smoke a pull shot in the indoor game, or gone for a down-up to a good length ball outside off on a turf wicket will tell you the approach and tactics vary quite a bit!
Across the country, at indoor sports centres – although mainly given over to netball and futsal these days – on one night each week, indoor cricket takes over. It remains a niche sport in the Australian landscape, with a small yet dedicated band of followers. The game is played in other traditional cricketing nations, but not to the same extent or passion as in Australia – a cursory glance at the international history of the game will show you that.
There have been nine world cups played since 1995, and Australia has won the open men’s and women’s final in every single one of them, an incredible run of success. Australia’s record in the masters age division is almost as good, winning all bar one world title, and Australia regularly dominates the junior competition as well.
The foundation for this dominance, as is the case with any successful international side, is an outstanding domestic competition, with fierce competition for places at the highest level and impressive levels of dedication and professionalism, particularly impressive given that indoor cricket remains very much an amateur sport.
The transition of a player from social hacker to seasoned pro is a gradual one – most players come to the game with an understanding of cricket, but it takes time to learn the nuances of what makes a technically correct indoor cricketer. And there is plenty to learn as well. Unlike the outdoor format, everyone has to bat four overs, and everyone has to bowl two overs. There is nowhere to hide in the field either, players need to be agile and adept at fielding the ball and getting throws to the stumps at either end very quickly.
At the higher levels of play, the bowling starts to become more and more unpredictable, with the indoor ball offering plenty of scope for variations and pace – not to mention outlandish amounts of swing and cut, both in the air and off the wicket. Simply hoiking for the back net becomes a low percentage play to most deliveries.
Batsmen learn to move at the crease and make precise, well directed contact with the bat to ensure the ball stays out of reach of the prowling hands of the close in fielders.
Bowling also becomes a more difficult proposition – the caveat to batsmen being more circumspect is that balls on a good driving length become very vulnerable to skilled batsmen hitting through the line for high value scoring shots. Bowlers need to develop variation and control, and ensure that they are bowling to give their fielders a chance to make the run outs, rather than relying on the batsman to make a mistake.
Undeniably though, the most important ability to learn is that of teamwork, and how much a confident, well-drilled, unified team can impact on the result of the game, and force events in your favour. One man who knows a lot about the value of teamwork is Brenton Brien – a dual world cup winning captain for Australia, and in recent years has helped coach a powerhouse Queensland side to five national titles, to go with the 10 he won as a player. Always generous and insightful with his experience and advice, he spoke about what it takes to be successful at the highest levels of the game.
“The very best players will of course be excellent at batting, bowling and fielding – that’s a given. At this level, everyone has the skills and the technique. But what sets the elite players aside from the rest is their attitude – most importantly, a maturity towards disappointment or mistakes. Either made by themselves or by teammates. At the highest level it’s all about the team. A good player should always be prepared to keep learning from those that are prepared to offer their time.”
One of the best aspects of indoor cricket being an amateur sport in Australia is that the exposure players get to the standard at the highest level is a lot more commonplace.
The Toombul centre where Brien plies his trade has a number of current international players plying their trade there, with plenty of opportunities to face up to and bowl at some of the best players in the land. While it’s a steep learning curve for any decent amateur to suddenly find yourself with cement boots against Andrew Roiko’s fast leg spinners, grimacing as Matt Jenkins keeps ripping cutters past the edge of your optimistically flailing blade or resignedly seeing Andy Byrne slam a decent ball back over your head for 7, the experience is invaluable, and just talking to them about the game can do wonders for your own skills and abilities.
On teamwork, Brenton continues: “The most successful teams I have been involved in have a common ingredient – the belief within the squad that no one player is bigger than the team. If everyone does their bit to the best of their ability, a team can achieve amazing things. I have witnessed it and been part of it (for which I am so thankful) many, many times. More than anything else, a team that plays 100per cent for each other and for the success of the team are the most daunting and intimidating opponents. It’s hard to describe – but once experienced it is so great to be part of.”
The truth to his words can be easily seen at any indoor cricket tournament, whether it be a state title, or the popular and well contested inter-centre ‘superleague’ titles that happen every year across Brisbane in the winter months.
You can see the immediate impact that a united and committed team has on the game. Huddles at the end of each over, and at the fall of each wicket – always celebrated enthusiastically and passionately. A fielding team that is active, pumped and prowling dangerously creates doubt in the minds of the batsmen. In a game where instinctive, split-second decisions need to be made by batsmen about whether or not to risk a run, a crack fielding outfit will stop runs from being scored, create dismissals where none would have otherwise existed.
The swirling maelstrom inside the net after a few quick wickets is filled with animated fielders, bowlers brimming with confidence, and two very lonely batsmen who now have to try and salvage something from the rest of their overs.
The very best sides create their own aura; that feeling in the opposition’s mind that something is going to go wrong, or that a dismissal is inevitable. Being out there, batting, with only your partner for support, and a ring of focused, cat-like fielders surrounding you on all sides as the bowler runs in, is the very definition of pressure.
The relief when you hit a shot past the field and find the (relative) safety of the net is almost palpable. But it continues on – ball after ball, over after over, never letting up.
This then, is the pressure cooker that creates the standard that ensures only the very best can rise to the top. It should be emphasised that when we talk of pressure, adrenalin, passion – the most important thing to maintain is the maturity Brenton referred to. At the highest level the pressure on the batsmen, or the bowlers, is created through confidence and composure, across the whole side. You see it when the best teams are playing – there’s that aura again, where you just feel that a team has absolute confidence in what they’ve scored, or what they’ve restricted their opponents to. They feel they can achieve anything, and that the game is never lost until it’s over. The last is particularly important, as Brenton says:
“It’s easy to perform when things are going well. How do they react when the chips are down? That’s what sets a great player apart from a good player.”
At its heart, indoor cricket is one of the most team oriented games I’ve ever played. The format of the game means that every player has to contribute with bat and ball, and players have plenty of opportunities to influence the outcome of the game. An outrageous display of skill, a key wicket or scoring shot can galvanise a team like nothing else, and bring about huge momentum shifts in a very short space of time.
At the highest levels, the game rewards players who play for the team. It pushes an individual to the limits of their mental concentration and resolve. It allows for that greatest of feelings, the euphoria when the game is won through hard work and shared success as a team. Truly the finest reward for anyone who plays sport to enjoy the challenge and test of one’s abilities and character.