The Jubilee Book of Cricket/Chapter 1
JUBILEE BOOK OF CRICKET.
TRAINING AND OUTFIT.
TRAINING—ELEMENTARY AND OTHERWISE.
Cricket implies a certain amount of physical capacity, and cricket-matches are a pretty good test of physique. In order to make the body fit to undergo a severe season's work, men and boys alike must cultivate health and strength. With regard to boys, the discipline in vogue at all schools in England puts excess of almost every kind out of the question. A good night's rest and a perfect digestion are two of the chief foundations of success in cricket. In the words of the greatest of all cricketers: "Temperance in food and drink, regular sleep and exercise, I have laid down as a golden rule. From my earliest cricketing days I have carefully adhered to this rule, and to it I attribute in a great degree the measure of health and strength I still enjoy."
To play cricket at school, and afterwards to retain one's physical attributes at their best, it is necessary to keep in training all the year round. Luckily, cricket does not demand that severe course of training which is required by such athletic pursuits as football or running. The ordinary pleasures of life, partaken of moderately, will not interfere with cricket; but if a player does not live carefully, he cannot hope to be consistently successful, however exceptional his keenness of sight, his suppleness of limb, and his strength of wrist. Such natural gifts soon become neutralised by self-indulgence. A man must lead a regular life, especially in the matter of sleep, in order to play cricket satisfactorily. After a late night he usually presents a poor picture in the morning. Half asleep, with a bad headache, he is much to be pitied, for he cannot do himself justice in any department of the game. In bowling he cannot find his proper pitch or length; in batting and fielding he often sees two or three balls, and invariably hits at or tries to catch the wrong one. Perhaps this is an exaggeration. An occasional departure from regular hours may not seriously interfere with your condition, but if you wish to play cricket really well, you must get into the habit of taking a due amount of rest, and be temperate in all things during the whole year.
It is very important for a man who wishes to have a good season to take regular exercise during the winter months. Boys at school and men at the university play football, racquets, fives, and other games, in that part of the year. But there are many people who play first-class cricket during the summer, but during the winter take no exercise at all worthy of the name. This is a great mistake, and leads to much bad form in the earlier part of the cricket season. Obedience to the laws of health is necessary for all athletic undertakings. Certainly no cricketer can afford to disregard them. Even in my short career I have seen many instances of decline of form simply due to careless living. I do not, of course, mean to say that cricket is the chief motive for keeping fit—to do so is a duty which every man owes to himself. But those who wish to do great things in batting or bowling must train on special lines. No one expects to run well without practising running, or to jump well without practising jumping. How then can a cricketer expect to be able to make a lot of runs, or take many wickets, without careful training in batting and bowling? The fact is, that, before the season begins, a man ought to practise regularly at batting or bowling for several weeks; for both batting and bowling call into play particular muscles which they alone can exercise. It is impossible to train for long scores in a few days. It may be years before a man can combine enough proficiency with enough strength to play a really long innings. When the season is in full swing, he probably gets sufficient exercise in actual matches. It is the few weeks before the season begins that people neglect. It is then that careful and regular practice is so important, for one of the fundamental requirements for good cricket is, that the movements and actions used in the game should by assiduous practice have become habits.
Most matches imply a certain amount of travel. It may be well, therefore, to say a few words as to its influence on play. A fatiguing and wearisome journey exercises a certain strain on the eye, which to some extent injures one's play. Hence, in case of a match away from the home ground, go, if possible, to the spot the night previous, or in good time before the game begins, and get a couple of hours' rest. Another advantage to be derived from this rest is, that it will enable you to arrive on the ground in good time and have a few minutes' practice at the nets. Your eyes will thus become familiar with the light, and your judgment with the pace of the ground. The neglect of this few minutes' practice often leads to disaster. Different grounds have different paces and different kinds of light, and without practice you cannot be at home on the new venue for the first few minutes.
Then as to eating on the ground. Cricket-lunches at school are, as a rule, plain and wholesome; but I have known places where a regular feast has been put on the table. Nothing is so apt to deaden activity and create sluggishness in the middle of the day. With regard to drinks, boys generally drink ginger-beer, lemonade, and, where they are allowed it, beer. I assert, although I fear there will be a great preponderance of opinion against my theory, that water is far and away the best: failing that, I advise non-alcoholic drinks. Many players make a habit of taking a drink in the middle of a long innings. I do not advise them to take anything more than a little water, just to wet the throat and rinse the mouth. This is all that is necessary; it will quench the thirst effectively.
Train yourself never to deal carelessly with any ball or bowler. Bad balls, particularly when straight, ought not to be treated with contempt. So also in the case of a bowler when a change is put on; he should be played carefully, and no liberties taken until his action, pace, and other peculiarities have become familiar. One thing that has often proved fatal to a batsman, through lack of this caution, is the inability to resist the temptation of hitting a boundary after two or three have already been hit in the same over.
A few hints to "coaches" on the training of boys may not be out of place here. All boys require coaching in cricket at a very early date. Hardly any cricketer has reached a very high standard who has not had some early coaching. A coach should first impress upon his pupil the rudimentary elements of the game—how to stand at the wickets, how to watch the ball coming from the bowler, and how to make particular strokes off particular balls. If a boy shows a tendency to play a stroke in an effective way but unlike others, he ought to be encouraged to do that stroke and not have his natural style cramped. Nothing is more detrimental than to check the natural strokes of a boy. Nor should a coach try to make a pupil too steady a bat if he shows an inclination to hit out. Let him make the best of his material, and not try to change the boy's natural style, attributes, or gifts by forcing them into a fixed groove. Far better results will thus be accomplished than if the coach impressed upon each boy a stereotyped style, however sound. This does not mean, however, that he will neglect to tell each student certain elementary things, such as to keep the ball down, not to move the right foot, and so on. One important part of his duty is to teach his pupil to gain confidence in himself: in doing this he will have to be careful that the pupil does not become afraid of the ball by batting to very fast bowling or joining full-grown men in their games. He should see also that the boys practise on good wickets—that is to say, on wickets that are neither fiery nor bumpy, nor such as are likely to injure their nerves or damage their bodies. Of course a boy's success will ultimately depend on his own natural abilities, his keenness and perseverance, and his temperament. Too much coaching is bad. Half an hour a-day once or twice a-week is quite sufficient, added to the practice which he gets at the nets by himself and in games. Some one should be on the look-out to see that he is not practising so long as to become fatigued and careless. Many bad habits may be traced to such overwork.
A coach should give his pupils a few pieces of general advice which apply to all. First, as to the batsman. After going to the wicket, he should watch the ball all the time, and not premeditate a stroke before the ball is delivered, a very common fault among boys. He should put himself into the right position to meet the various kinds of balls, either forward or back, as the case may be. Then as to the bowler. The coach must tell him to bowl straight, to vary his pace, to put on a spin, and try to find out the weak points of the batsman. Of course these gifts will only come one by one, but the great thing is to make him think what he intends doing. In the case of fieldsmen, he must show them how to pick up balls, both when they are coming straight and when they have to be run after; how to catch the ball; how to pick it up; the duty of running at top speed and returning it as quickly as possible; and other things which help to make a man perfect in fielding.
The subject of outfit in connection with school cricket must not be omitted. It will do much towards success. All distinguished cricketers have been careful as to their costume and cricketing material. Every one will agree that we must suit our dress to the demands of ease, convenience, and comfort, as well as of health and cleanliness. The shirt ought to be of canvas, wool, or flannel. Flannel is always preferable if the wearer can put up with the irritation. In this respect the schools are well looked after by the masters. Both trousers and shirts must be made so as to fit loosely, but not flappingly. Boys are in the habit of putting on belts. This is a mistake, since the noise the belt makes may at times be mistaken for a catch at the wicket. I advise instead scarves or sashes, which also have a smarter appearance. For the sake of discipline, too, boys will do well to wear their school uniform or colours in turning out for cricket games: it shows keenness and pride in the school. It is not necessary to speak of head-gear, as caps are in general use at schools. It would be better for boys when in the field or at the wickets always to keep them on, as it will render them less liable to sunstroke. I strongly condemn the practice of playing cricket in straw hats; they are both cumbersome and uncomfortable. When the sun is too powerful for caps, felt or sun hats are the best. For cold days every one should be furnished with a jersey or sweater; but it is not advisable to use the sweater while batting, as it tends to cramp the movements. Blazers also are very necessary when one is not actively pursuing the game—e.g., during the luncheon interval or while awaiting your turn to bat. Boots, not shoes, should be worn, as they give better support to the feet and ankles. They are generally white in colour, and ought always to be kept clean by the use of whitening or pipeclay. Nothing is more disagreeable than to see a member of a team wearing a dirty pair of boots. It is not necessary for a batsman to have many nails in his boots, but for a bowler it is essential on all sorts of wickets. All boys should keep a few nails of various sorts in case of an emergency, suited to the different kinds of wickets they are likely to meet. Always have a good-fitting pair of pads and gloves, to save the limbs pain or injury. They impart confidence in standing up to bowling, and will render your play stronger. Care of course must be taken in selecting these articles that they are of just the right size. Every one should have a bat of his own to suit his own particular style and taste, and it must always be kept in good condition. Further, a young player should reserve to himself, as much as possible, the right of using it. Nearly all schools provide the boys with lockers for their materials, but I should further advise boys to have a comfortable bag in which to carry their materials for out-matches. Another useful hint to them is the duty of choosing all these articles for themselves, in order that they may gain experience in their selection. Nothing is more important than this knowledge, particularly in the selection of bats. Most cricketers use handles of either rubber or chamois-leather, but in this boys should consult their own tastes. My last piece of advice in regard to outfit is, Do not think it necessary to give large prices, but choose well-fitting, suitable, and durable articles.