We now come to that part of cricket which is by many esteemed as the very first and the last.
However much opinions may differ upon this subject, and I have already put in a special demurrer against its claim to the first place in the game, sure it is that without batting, the game would be simply non est.
And without scientific batting too tame to be worth playing.
Let us, therefore, consider, in as extended detail as space will admit, the science of batting.
A correct attitude in readiness to receive the ball is of the utmost importance.
In one position, and in one only, can a player have all the use of all the muscles he will require at the critical moment. Batting, it must be remembered, is a succession of sudden starts into activity, with intervals of rest, and not one prolonged effort.
The body must, therefore, be so poised and situate in this attitude of quiescent expectation that the requisite muscles may be ready to come into play in the quickest and most effective manner, and this can be effected only by assuming one position, fixed and invariable in each individual.
To take up this position, which, however it may vary in minor matters, is substantially identical with all good players, the beginner may proceed thus:
Supposing a line to be drawn from the middle stump of the batsman's wicket to the point at which the ball leaves the bowler's hand, this will cross the popping crease nearly at right angles; this point of intersection is called The Guard, and may be marked by the batsman in any way he likes best (a scratch with a spike or one of the bails is as useful a way as any.)
A moment's consideration will show that the bat, grounded, and held upright at this spot (often, by-the-way, called the block-hole) will effectually obstruct the passage of any ball from the bowler to the wicket.
This gives the batsman a fixed point from which to judge the more or less accuracy of flight of the ball, and at the same time affords an invaluable guide to the correct position of the bat in defending the wicket.
The guard may be taken at any point between the popping crease and the wicket, at the pleasure or convenience of the player; but the one mentioned is the more advisable, as it gives the batsman more room for action, and at the same time a greater command over the pitch of the ball.
It is the business of the bowler's umpire to give the correct guard to the batsman.
The guard being taken and marked, the batsman has now to make ready for action.
If a right-handed man, he must stand with his right shoulder toward his own wicket, and his left towards the bowler's, his right foot parallel with and just inside the popping crease, and the toe about two or perhaps three inches from the guard, and the left foot somewhat advanced and pointed forwards.
The bat must be held with the face towards the bowler; the point touching the guard, and the handle slightly inclined forwards.
The right hand grasps the handle of the bat a few inches from the shoulder and in the rear, the left holds the handle a trifle higher up, but from the front; the hands being thus on opposite sides of the handle.
This is the 'position;' now for the 'attitude.
For this the player has only Three Simple Rules to remember:
To stand as upright and as easily as possible, to balance the body on the right leg, leaving the left free for any movement, and to turn the face easily and naturally towards the bowler, watching him over the left shoulder which must be kept well forward, the left elbow well up.
Many good batsmen, indeed most of our very best; having 'taken guard' in the manner described, rise to their full height - holding the bat still in the line of the wickets - but swinging a few inches clear of the ground.
This attitude, though apparently less cautious than the former, is in reality, in the case of an experienced player, far more effective even for defense, since the increased height of the eye gives a better sight of the ball, and the bat is more ready for 'bailers,' - balls that rise high to the bails - without losing, in my opinion even gaining, in the power of being down upon 'shooters.'
For, be it remembered, it is far easier to drop the bat than to raise it.
Moreover, the batsman standing upright has his muscular powers more at his disposal than when stooping.
The player is now ready for the bowler to deliver the ball; but something more is necessary before he can defend his wicket or strike with full effect.
The bat is merely hanging from his hands perpendicularly in front of the wicket, in order to put it in a position to block, that is stop the ball, or strike, a further movement is necessary.
As the ball is delivered, the point of the bat should be thrown lightly and smoothly back upon the bails, the right hand to be used as the pivot, and the left being changed from front to rear, until the whole bat lies in the line from the top of the middle stump to the bowler's hand.
This position allows the batsman, by the mere dropping of the bat to its previous position. If the call be straight and difficult, to stop it quite as effectually as if the bat had never been moved, with this further advantage, that the bat strikes the ball, not the ball the bat - a point always to be gained if possible.
Thus offering the chance of a run, where otherwise the ball might have fallen dead.
And if the ball be hitable, the bat is ready raised for the purpose.
So thus the batsman is enabled to wait till the last moment and hit or block as seems best.
Only let him take this to heart, that if he block, he shall block as late and as hard as possible.
Thus have I often seen even fast shooters turned into capital by a good bat, to the great discomfort of the bowler.
A beginner should practice this action of the bat at every opportunity.
For practice, a stick is quite as serviceable as a bat.
The change of the left hand from front to rear is somewhat difficult to acquire at first; but may be very soon picked up by constant practice.
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