If you’re reading this you’ve probably played cricket.
You’ve watched the bowler stride in, while you possibly stood strangling the bat, forgetting about soft hands, footwork, front or back foot or that gap you noticed between fielders a few seconds ago.
No doubt there’s been times you’ve envied the sheer natural talent of the professional cricketers you admired. Those shots off their toes, the over the top of the ball defensive shot, straight drive off a ball right on the stumps.
How do players attain those skills? No doubt there are the endless hours in practice nets. The guiding hands of a technical but inspiring coach. Endless fielding drills. These modern times also offer the ability to watch yourself on film, finding out about your flaws and skills.
Then there are stories of Justin Langer sleeping with a bat or Don Bradman playing at golf balls with a stump while they bounced off the uneven surface of bricks under an iron tank. Imagine that level of sheer commitment and determination.
But what about how you see the ball? The way it drifts or rockets towards you. And your resulting ability to read and respond to what it will do. Is there, for instance, something about the way Steve Smith sees the ball that enables him to be so gifted?
Some studies indicate that the time to respond to a bowler’s delivery is a mere .45 of a second!
Last year I sat in a motel room in Manchester, having woken to what can be a typical English summer day. Mizzle (a blend of mist and drizzle) fell, leaving the view outside resembling a black and white photograph.
But lying on the bed with muddy instant coffee in hand, I listened to Ricky Ponting discussing how he used to see the ball. He claimed he only saw the top half of it once it left the bowler’s hand. Its movement towards him was the same as observing a spinning top.
And that’s all he needed to instinctively know what it was going to do. Then Shane Warne spoke on the same subject.
He noticed the different way the fielders observed before he bowled. As he reached the top of his mark, most fielders looked towards the batsman. In particular they concentrated on the likely transit of the ball. But there was an exception in Mark Waugh.
He watched Warne, following his return to his mark and continuing to study him as he ran in. Warne concluded from that fielders had different ways of concentrating on the delivery and the batsman.
Ponting and Warne agreed that as a batsman and fielder, some players saw the ball in a truly unique way that set them aside from others. It left me wondering whether this gave certain cricketers what is almost a supernatural power that placed them into a category of possessing what could be described as an x-factor.
We know there’s all kind of ingredients that produce a brilliant cricketer. Most we can list. Maybe it begins as the kid who has to be dragged inside and told to cease their practice as the light fades and the mosquitoes arrive.
As opposed to the others who pack up early to sit on the couch. The youngster you see bowling pieces of gravel and half-eaten apples at fence posts. The kids arriving early for practice, rehearsing strokes in mid-air without a ball bowled.
We accept people having incredible memories, mathematical brilliance, abilities to pick up multiple languages, create stunning art and more. In the context of cricket, the mere act of seeing the ball may be something else that sets some cricketers apart.