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Tactics to being a successful opening batsmen

This is an excerpt from Cricket: Steps to Success by Ralph Dellor.

Opening Batsmen

The first job of the opening batsmen is to survive. They should have sound technique in order to do so and be even sounder temperamentally. By definition, they will be expected to go out and face the fastest of the opposition bowlers at their freshest and when the ball is new. It is not a job for the fainthearted, but good opening batsmen relish the challenge.

For the opening batsmen, this is a partnership; it is not two individuals playing on their own. The opening batsmen need to communicate and be ready to take any runs going in order to rotate the strike. This prevents the bowlers from settling down against a particular style of batsman and spreads the concentration workload. Not letting the bowlers settle is particularly important when a right- and left-handed opening pair is used. If the bowler continually has to change his line to attack a different type of batsman, it is harder for him to concentrate on his primary job of getting them out.

If the opening batsmen are going to run effectively between the wickets, they need good understanding between them. With regular opening partnerships, an almost intuitive understanding exists, and calling becomes virtually unnecessary. The customary calls of “Yes,” “No” and “Wait” become redundant after a time. There are even cases, particularly in limited-overs cricket, in which the batsmen assume there is at least a single off every ball unless either of them calls otherwise.

This calling approach is only for a pair of batsmen who have absolute trust in each other. In general, the rule is that when the ball can be seen easily by the batsman on strike, he calls. Therefore, anywhere from backward point to mid-wicket is the striker's call. Anywhere else, it is the non-striker who calls. Calling should be clear and loud, and either batsman should have the right to veto a call to run if he is unable to make it. This might happen if, unbeknown to his partner, the striker slips on playing a shot.

The non-striker should always back up as the bowler delivers the ball so he has less distance to run if he is required to do so. When running, each batsman should carry his bat in the hand that allows him to best see where the ball has gone. If a right-handed striker plays the ball into the covers and runs, he should carry his bat in his left hand in order to stretch for the crease at the other end and still be facing the direction of the ball. A right-handed non-striker in the same situation carries the bat in his right hand for the same reason. This will enable both batsmen to see if another run is available without craning their necks to look over their shoulders at the ball. If they are running more than a single, they will need to change hands as they do so to be in the correct position at the other end.

Batsmen should always make sure that they ground their bats over the popping crease. Few things are worse than completing two or three runs and then having the umpire signal one short. And however hopeless the situation, give everything you have to make your ground. There have been many examples of a batsman giving up halfway down the pitch because he thinks he is going to be run-out, only to have the wicket-keeper or bowler drop the return. Had the batsman gone for it and dived, he would have got in before the wicket had been broken.

Once the opening batsmen have become accustomed to the bowling and conditions, they can be a little more expansive in their stroke play. After having done all the hard work, they should not throw their wickets away; however, they do need to press on if they are going to capitalise on the start they have enjoyed. As they become more confident, they effectively become middle-order batsmen in the context of the game.

More Excerpts From Cricket: Steps to Success