Trigger happy (extract from Who Wants to be a Batsman)
At the start of a season (or tour), batsmen spend many waking hours getting their ‘trigger movements’ properly grooved. Most use this trigger to get themselves going, a sort of prelude to hitting the ball, a little pre-shot warm-up. For some this is a little step back and across as the bowler reaches his delivery point. Alastair Cook likes his front foot to be ‘floating’ – ie hanging just above the ground – as the bowler releases. For others the trigger might be a little shuffle two- footed across the stumps, or, in the case of Kevin Pietersen, a jump across and a slight step forward (unless the bowlers are obviously in bouncer mode).
The timing of these movements is absolutely crucial. Too quick or too early and the batsman is in position too soon, front foot anchored, and there is then a risk of getting stuck. Slightly too late and they might not get in line in time. We are talking nanoseconds here. The transfer of weight ideally needs to happen almost simultaneously with contact with the ball. That is what you might call perfect timing.
When a batsman is out of form it is often because these ‘triggers’ have become corrupted for some reason. They are out of sync. It will usually be something that has crept in with- out them noticing, like biting your nails or saying ‘Look . . .’ at the start of every sentence (the inevitable effect of any time spent in Australia). When Cook’s front foot is floating frac- tionally too high (ie his weight is back a shade too much) he can’t get forward properly, resulting in many of those tame dis- missals to relatively innocuous full deliveries and subsequent insults from Piers Morgan.
During the 2005 Ashes, Australia’s bullying left-hander Matthew Hayden was making his big forward lunge too early, planting his front foot just before the ball arrived and then having to work around it. He was out LBW or bowled six times in the series playing across the line. The Incredible Hulk became the Intolerable Sulk.
A few batsmen – Sachin Tendulkar being one – stand stock still, bat slightly raised as the bowler releases. Since a 90mph ball gives them less than 0.4sec reaction time – to move forward or back, line up the ball and hit it – this suggests remarkable reflexes and supreme confidence. Or, in the case of some tailenders, a transfixing fear – the original rabbit in headlights.