Some great insights into the preparation, mind-set and strategies that Ricky Ponting adopted. It is easy to see why he became one of the true greats. From a constraints-led approach there are some fascinating insights. While there are many points of interest, here, I want to deal with just one. Ponting talks about the impact of his early development where at the age of 11-12 he played against men on hard pitches. In order to cope with the high bounce he played with ‘high hands’ and because he was always looking to come forward he developed a unique pull shot that became one of his trademark shots later in his career. Early experiences play a massive part in underpinning the techniques and strategies of future elite players. Think of Malinga, who developed his slingshot style of bowling through playing lots of tennis ball cricket, or Hoggard, who’s curved run-up developed to take into account the position of his dad’s greenhouse. One of my favourite examples is Neil Harvey, who developed his renowned ability against spin by batting on a cobblestone street near his home. Remarkably, Harvery was never stumped in test cricket and puts this down to the technique he developed when learning on this uneven surface. For those interested, Australian journalist, Steve Canane wrote a superb book on this subject called: First tests: Great Australians and the Backyards that made them. The link to the book is here: https://shop.abc.net.au/products/first-tests-great-australian-cricketers-and-the-backyards-that-made-them-. Canane’s thesis is that the backyard is the true academy for Australian dominance not the high-end coaching or formal academies. He makes a pretty powerful case providing evidence form Trumper to the Husseys. There is a cautionary note though, backyards are disappearing in Australia and (possibly) with it the unique skill sets developed in these adult free learning environments.
In our own work on talent development in fast bowlers, we found that many of Australia’s greatest fast bowlers all played significant amounts of backyard cricket but also played against men while still young.
“Results provided strong support for previous research highlighting the importance of unstructured practice activities, such as backyard‟ cricket (Weissensteiner et al., 2009; Cannane, 2009). Backyard cricket was encouraged by cultural constraints, providing experts‟ with the capacity to adapt movements to emerging task and individual constraints. This unstructured play was also important for promoting enjoyment, participation and competition at various stages of development. These early experiences shaped the intrinsic dynamics and movement patterns of developing experts, as they naturally discovered creative movement solutions in unstructured play (Phillips et al., 2010).”
Playing with adults was also vital to future success, and these experiences took place in supportive environments where senior players ‘looked after’ the youngsters.
“Participants stressed the importance of opportunities to play with older cricket players, and the challenge of this environment. The practice and performance environments made sure players were continually challenged and always on the edge of stability, forcing them to constantly adapt their behaviours and increase their level of performance. They also felt the club structures protected them when required but also gave them the opportunity to play a more challenging level of cricket, both in big cities and smaller locations. Many affirmed there was no specific fast bowling coaching available, so often senior team mates filled this gap. These ideas bring into question the relevance of birth date effects by arguing that these constraints on expertise could be manipulated, depending on the dynamics of development environment, where backyard, and structured cricket environment are not necessarily age-specific. Qualitative data suggested that introducing younger players to play with older, more experienced players may create a controlled, supportive, mentored learning programme (Phillips et al., 2010).“
Personally, I think the way that older players mentor youngsters is one of the strengths of cricket and a real challenge going forward given that players are retiring from playing at younger ages with a resulting lack of leadership in the lower Grades in club cricket. In Australia, Cricket Australia are acutely aware of this problem and a review of grade cricket is currently underway to try to ensure that the pathway form the backyard to the Baggy Green remains open and connected.
Phillips, E., Davids, K., Renshaw, I., & Portus, M. (2010). The development of fast bowling experts in Australian Cricket. Talent Development and Excellence, 2(2), 137-148.