First and foremost you start with courage. When you face a fast bowler, there will be nerves and there will be some fear – anyone who says they’re not a bit afraid when they’re facing someone hurling it down at 90mph is kidding themselves. But I do feel that fear or nervousness is your mind telling your body that you are ready to perform.
One thing you must accept as a batsman if that you are not going to pick every ball as you would like and you will have to wear the odd bruise.
The point is that it doesn’t matter if you don’t pick every ball right. Every batsman would love to guess every length correctly, but that is not going to happen against quality fast bowling so occasionally you have to play a bit ugly.
You need to embrace the fact that you are there on your own – one on one with this bowler –it is your job to help the team. If you can hit him out of the attack, you have landed a big blow on the opposition.
Similarly, if you can deal with that big effort ball from the quick bowler – either by playing defensively or getting out of the way – also has a psychological effect.
Think of it from his point of view: he has just run in 25 yards, bent his back and crunched it into the pitch and it’s had no impact whatsoever, he will feel like he is wasting his time. And the psychology of that is huge from a batsman’s perspective.
2. Be positive
Body language is important. If you can radiate calmness and control, that will unsettle the bowler because he will feel that he’s not getting to you. As a captain, if I saw an opposition batsman with his head down, or walking to and fro across his crease and flapping around, I would be thinking to myself: ‘I’ve got you.’
Batting, at times, is an acting job. Inside you might be fretting and churning away, but externally you have to put on a front that says: ‘I’m in control, you’re not getting me out.’ It’s all part of the psychology.
That said, the mindset should be that you’re looking to score, rather than merely to survive. And that doesn’t have to be fours and sixes; getting singles and rotating the strike is crucial as well. It means the bowler is less likely to be able to settle, particularly if there is a left-hand/right-hand combination at the crease.
A fast bowler is a pretty simple beast: they charge in as hard as they can and bowl the ball as fast as possible. Anything you can do to disrupt that is worthwhile, so making him change his angle of attack could work in your favour.
3. Be smart
Test cricket is a stressful environment, with lots happening on and off the field – noise from the crowd, chirp from the fielders, a baking hot sun or freezing cold wind. And that is before you even get a ball sent down in anger.
But amid all that, batsmen must never lose the ability to read the game. Very often, a captain will throw his fast bowler the ball to try and create an impact. As a batsman, you need to calm the situation down and send a message back to your own dressing room that this situation is under control and this bowler can be faced.
It should also be a reminder to the opposition team that their fast bowler is under pressure as well – he is the guy who is expected to wreak havoc and bowl you out at 90mph. So reverse the psychology: every run you score, it is more pressure on him.
You have to try and get on top of them and have an awareness of the match situation. So if you are up against the new ball, you need to remember that the ball might come off the pitch faster – skiddier for a low-arm action bowler, and a steeper bounce for the taller ones. You need to be aware of the field that has been set, and the fact that you will often have a short leg right next to you as you take your stance.
The intimidation of the crowd also plays its part – fans generally get up and involved when a fast bowler comes on, so that makes a difference. You need to try and replicate some of these things in practice.
4. Be watchful
Looking at the ball is crucial. That might sound like stating the obvious, but it is remarkable how many players who struggle with quick bowling take their eyes off the ball when it is coming at them.
You have to stare at it. If you do that you are more likely to be positive and look to score. Yes, occasionally it is fine to duck or sway and get out of the way, but that can usually be your last resort; until you make that decision, you should have the attitude that the ball is there to score from.
And when you do sway out of the way, keep looking at that ball – never turn your head away. That way you are less likely to put your hands in a dangerous area and be hit on the glove or splice of the bat and caught.
5. Be still
So many players in international cricket have a trigger movement – a pre-delivery movement that you use to try and get your feet moving.
It is not imperative but I do think it is important. It gets you into what I call the ‘ready zone’ – that position when as soon as that ball is released, your base is such that you don’t have to move much further.
If the ball is coming at you at 90mph you can’t be trying to effect big strides or movements with your feet – you just don’t have the time. So get the movements in early. Get your eyes level, your head over off-stump and when that ball is released you are still. That gives you a better chance to track the ball and react to it; if you’re still moving, you have no chance.
And don’t pre-meditate. If you get yourself in a crouch position because you are pre-meditating that it is going to be a short ball, and then it’s full – or vice versa – you are going to be in real trouble. That is why you need to have a nice neutral position, with a still head.