If not for Glenn Maxwell’s Mumbai miracle, Afghanistan could have been in a World Cup semifinal. That would have meant everything and nothing to a country with grim fate.
Traditions Of Modern Day Hitting
One of the oldest surviving cricket film’s, is that of Kumar Shri Ranjitsinhji practicing in the nets in 1897.
He had made close to three thousand runs in the previous season, where he even got two first-class hundreds on the same day.
This black and white footage doesn’t transform the ease of the silk white shirts he loved to wear. Yet his stroke play screamed, how many light years ahead from everyone else he was, when it came to the art of hitting the ball.
Before moving into a ‘ready position’, his bat would be down and then went right up, with its bottom pointing skywards. For his ‘launch position’, his body would coil backwards and his arms would open up. Only much later, his hands would snap towards the ball.
He had cracked the pith of power hitting only about a hundred twenty-six years ago. The man who turned Aaron Judge into MLB’s best hitter, Richard Schenck, did so by pointing out how Judge wasn’t coiling back enough. In 2022, Judge, with that advice, went on to hit 62 home runs, surpassing the Al Single-season record since 1961.
Six hundred sixes in not even fifty ODI games in the ongoing ODI world cup is the brand of white-ball batting we are used to.
Hitting in cricket has become very hand-eye dominated, with little or no footwork being involved. Now this was evident in that once in a lifetime innings by Maxwell.
Unlike ‘Maxi’ though, who taught himself the above technique, few batters grow up having the need of quick hands and wrists.
Training The Mind and Not The Technique
Beyond the great mountains of the Hindu Kush, on rocky outcrops of Kabul, with people still mourning the death of freedom, follow the tape ball that flies around. The tape ball gathers extreme pace, which can only be countered if the batter has a respectable hand speed.
Afghan batters, most notably Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Azmatlullah Omarzai and Rashid Khan, all have got elite hands when it comes to batting.
Looking back at their most successful world cup campaign, their batting had an added sense of temperament that aided their natural ability of ball striking.
If not all the credit but a significant amount of it goes to their batting mentor, former India cricketer, Ajay Jadeja who hails from the same cricketing royalty of Ranjitsinhji.
Against England in Delhi, when Afghanistan scripted their greatest win ever, it was Jadeja’s knowledge of the local conditions that had prepared his team better.
For Afghanistan’s men’s cricket team, the support back home has been inspiring. They have lived up to it too with their best world cup campaign having beaten England, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Netherlands. They should have beaten Bangladesh, and they almost did beat Australia.
A day before that game against Australia, Sachin Tendulkar, Ajay Jadeja and Trott had a long conversation in the practice nets of Wankhede.
It has been a distinct style of coaching from the Afghan camp which is not centered only around a technique based training that burdens the players with only having to interact with their cautious thoughts.
Instead of dissecting minor aspects of batting, the emphasis was on being present, proactive and prepared to solve problems in a match environment.
Ajay Jadeja allowed his batters to access their mind maps while training and empowered them with a fearless approach with necessary clarity and purpose of scoring runs.
In Chennai, as the Afghanistan team practiced before their game against Pakistan. One of their assistant coaches, reminded Jadeja of his clean ball striking against Waqar Younis at the same venue in the 1996 edition of the world cup.
He did so on the fifth and the sixth ball of the forty-seventh over. Smashed a four through extra cover and obliterated the ball over mid-wicket.
Having heard Jadeja’s account of that story before, he must have mentioned how it was Anil Kumble who started the assault in that over by hitting back to back boundaries.
Trusting The Process
Players who constantly keep getting better at the highest level, all are the best students of the game.
They constantly keep learning from every opportunity they get. The great Shane Warne used to talk about some players who kept playing their first game over and over again and lacked the ability to learn on the job.
Everything about batting is reactive in nature. It is a combination of movements set in accordance with the state of the ball, plan of the bowler and the conditions on offer.
Having faith in your routine enables a sound mind while batting.
A batter’s routine is the only thing he has control over, and he’s rehearsed and mastered over a period of time.
Jadeja as a batter followed a routine that he stayed true to throughout his career.
In that little partnership with Kumble, while the movements of the routine were dictated by the situation of the game, the routine itself didn’t change. Between deliveries, most batters go through a checklist of things that allows him to keep a stable mind.
The cycle begins with quickly reflecting on the previous ball and then going on to relax their mind for a brief period.
As a batter, Ajay Jadeja liked his brisk walk towards the square leg umpire where he essentially reflected on the ball before and must have noticed a bird in the distance to take his mind off the contest only for a few seconds.
Soon as he walked towards the crease, his mind would reset and back to the situation of the game.
With the bowler being ready on top of his mark, Jadeja often looked around the field to refocus on his plans and areas of scoring.
This is the exact moment when a lot of batters talk to themselves and it is usually a reminder to the mind to switch on to optimum focus.
Several aspects of a similar routine was a notable reason behind Ibrahim Zadran becoming the first world cup centurian for his country.
Maxwell did steal his thunder big time for he is the Big Show, but what Ibrahim achieved that day in Mumbai is the peak of batting excellence.
Trade Secrets To Be Common Knowledge
The game of cricket is designed in a manner that it evolves automatically as players find better ways to enhance their approach.
The most recent advancement that is seen in batting is to do with decision making and having a clarity of intent, which Jadeja has been a great advocate of.
Warne’s great gift to the game was how repeatedly he shared tactical and temperamental strategies, just spreading his vast understanding of the sport.
Jadeja as a broadcaster is no different, and you can imagine as a coach, he would be diligent in giving his share of cricketing insights regarding utilisation of resources, cultivating adaptability and resilience in that batting group.
He must have reminded them that no matter how incredibly hungry and competitive they are, it is important to acknowledge the inevitability of getting out.
Sometimes to a rash out and most times to a good ball. To be at peace no matter what the end result is as long as they are focusing on managing their thoughts, emotions and distractions while batting, takes the fear of failure away.
It constructs a sustainable mindset necessary for batting at the highest level.
While technique is the foundation of batting, Ajay Jadeja’s role was to improve the tactical side along with the mental and emotional state which is often untapped in teams with lesser international experience.
He found a way to allow them to trust their abilities in order to access the skills they had learnt earlier.
Feature image- Twitter / X