Power-rangers: Former England cricketer Julian Wood opens up on the art of modern T20 batting

Hitting coach, Wood, who will be in Florida to take a look at baseball, opens up on the art of modern T20 batting

Published: 18th October 2022 08:18 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th October 2022 03:49 PM   |  A+A-

India's Suryakumar Yadav bats during the third T20 cricket match between India and Australia, in Hyderabad. (Photo | AP)

India's Suryakumar Yadav bats during the third T20 cricket match between India and Australia, in Hyderabad. (Photo | AP)

Express News Service

CHENNAI: With the entire focus of the cricketing world on Australia, Julian Wood – a former English cricketer and a batting coach – would be taking the flight across the Atlantic to be in Florida to watch Major League Baseball. One of the most sought-after batting coaches, who specializes in power-hitting, there is a reason why Wood is looking at baseball during the off-season for franchise cricket.

Even before the taking off of T20s, cricket as a sport has looked at bringing in innovative methods. In the noughties, the all-conquering Australian team appointed former baseball player Mike Young as their fielding coach. The US international even had a brief stint with Team India as fielding consultant in 2009. And as T20 cricket continues its evolution, batting coaches now looking at baseball shouldn’t really come as a surprise, because it is a format where teams and players are constantly looking for a cutting edge.

And looking at how some of the best T20 batters are going about in the format, one thing is becoming more and more clear. From the days of powerful strikers (Chris Gayle, Matthew Hayden, MS Dhoni, and Andre Russell to name a few), a smooth transition has happened. You don’t need to muscle the ball to go the distance. Instead, as long as your hand-speed is good and the bat connects the ball at a particular velocity, the batters are going to get the desired results.

Wood is a specialist power-hitting coach, who focuses on increasing the hand speed and the bat speed. “I was introduced to Anthony Iapoce of Texas Rangers. I was intrigued by how they hit the ball in baseball. It was power-based and cricket has always been hands based. T20 came along and players wanted more power. The terminology changed. Suddenly there was power-hitting in cricket, contrary to the traditional method,” Wood tells this daily.

While the basic nature of hitting is vastly different including the angles at the point of contact, baseball also uses more of the body than cricket. Despite emphasis on foot-movement to counter the moving ball and getting to the pitch, batters mostly rely on hands. But in some cases, with few technical adjustments, batters are beginning to use their body more. “In baseball, the angle is different. When they pitch, they do it from a higher angle and the angle is almost going down. And in cricket, the angle goes up after it pitches. What they (baseball) are good at is they use the body well to hit the ball. And that is what batters are starting to do these days... to put more body into the shot. In T20 cricket, you still play straight -- if you look at the best batters, they hit straight, but they don't play straight. They play in a slight angle and what it enables is, it opens more options both sides of the wicket. Basically from the same position, you can access more range and open more scoring areas and do more damage,” Wood adds.

There is a considerable change in the batters’ stance these days, especially in T20s. While batters of the past era more often had the bat aligned to their hips, these days it is common to find them hold it behind them next to their shoulder. Some do have trigger movements. Mostly, though, by the time the ball lands, they are in a position to strike the ball as far as they can. To put it simply, the bat swing is almost similar to that of golf. “Some players get into the position from their stance and some during their movement. But if you are looking to generate power, your hands needs to go back and the keys to the Rolls-Royce of the bat swing, is the separation from body. To create it, you need to take the hands away, so that it is separated from your body. The greater the separation, the more power you generate,” Wood says.

Next time when England are batting, watch how Jos Buttler, Liam Livingstone, Moeen Ali go about their batting. All three can hit the ball long, and unlike some of their counterparts from other teams, they are in an aggressive position to strike even before the ball is delivered. In India, Suryakumar Yadav and Hardik Pandya are good examples to follow for T20 batting. And among all of them there is a similarity – they all tend to open up their stance when they are in full-flow. According to Wood, statistics prove that the more your hands move away from your body, the hand speed increases resulting in an increase in the exit velocity of the ball.

“Take Buttler for instance. At the start of his innings, he is very traditional. He is slightly open and the bat is going over the keeper's shoulders. But when he likes to switch gear — it depends on surface and the swing aspect — he will then change to a more open position. Then his bat starts going towards the second slip, which is the most natural swing. It allows great access to the ball and stats also prove that every 4 degrees, your bat goes further away your hand speed would naturally increase. At the point of contact, your bat is quicker through the ball, which means the exit velocity of the ball will go up. Buttler — who has a slightly angled bat, can almost get under the ball slightly and can get backspin ... which basically slices and gives more air time,” Wood says.

Needless to say, Wood is an in-demand coach these days. Apart from already having stints at Loughborough, where he worked with England players, he has also had stints in Australia. Last IPL he was with Punjab Kings, which relied heavily on a six-hitting approach. For now, he is looking at his trip to Florida. Of late, batters have made it a practice to have personal sessions with Wood before they head off to a big tournament. “You have batting coaches and going forward you will see hitting coaches. You need to innovate in T20s or else, you become stagnant in the game,” Wood says.



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