Science of power hitting in cricket

April 9, 2023

Batters don’t have to be bulky to be great at hitting sixes

Science of power hitting in cricket

Batting style was transformed in cricket when Australian batter Joe Darling hit the first ever six in international cricket in 1898. T20 cricket has transformed the modern-day cricket into an entertainment industry where spectators throng stadiums or remain glued to their television sets to watch result orientated, fast paced games dominated by runs churning power hitters.

The modern-day batting approach pioneered by pinch hitters like Sanath Jayasuriya of Sri Lanka and Shahid Afridi of Pakistan in the ‘90s has been taken to a new level by players like Glenn Maxwell, Eoin Morgan, Rohit Sharma, Corey Anderson, Alex Hales and Andre Russel, who have the capacity to change the fate of a T20 game in just two to three overs.

Power hitting is certainly not about occasional slogging, the physical size, height or the weight of the batter, but rather it is about mastering the physics of employing the kinetic energy of the bat to exert the right force in reversing the direction of incoming ball and lifting it over the boundary line.

Science of power hitting in cricket

Different players with practice have evolved their unique shots over a period of time but to reach that level, mastery in basic skills of cricket is a prerequisite.

The bat lift, swing of the bat, the impact point on the bat, the bat twist, the stance of the batter and the use of technology are vital in improving the power hitting.

The highest point to which a batter lifts his or her bat towards the shoulder is called back lift. Back lift is usually of two types: lateral or rotatory back lift and the straight back lift. Lateral or high back lift angles result in a longer downswing thus generating more power for hitting. A B De Villiers used a higher back lift to generate more kinetic energy for hitting big sixes.

The second important factor in power hitting is the mastery over the bat swing or the down swing of the bat. To achieve the desired result in power hitting the downside speed of the bat should be higher than the ball speed. Consequently, the bat’s impact on the ball can empower it with a higher force in the desired direction. Thus, a batter should have a reasonable control over the bat speed which should be adjusted according to pitch condition, ball speed and the angle of bat.

Despite the fact that quality of bats has improved a great deal and lighter bats of tremendous balance have made the batters’ task easier, the batters use heavy bats in practice to master the technique and strengthen their leading hand muscles for desired purposes. The focus of modern-day cricketers is now on full body training to strengthen all muscle groups with special focus on legs, arms, back, shoulders and wrist.

Impact point or sweet spot of the bat is another important factor in power hitting. As physics play an important role in power hitting the impact points are crucial in hitting big sixes. Not all the impact points can dispatch the ball beyond the boundary line. According to scientific principles every object has a natural frequency at which it resonates or vibrates; the sweet spot is thus the node of the vibration.

In order to find the right sweet spot, the cricket bat can be divided into three spots. The best and most desired is known as a high positioned sweet spot. This spot is usually about 250 mm above from the bottom of the bat. The medium positioned sweet spot is about 205 mm above the bottom and the least desired low positioned sweet spot is approximately 210 mm from the bottom of the bat.

Bat twist is yet another important factor in power hitting. Bat twist determines the deviation of the actual shot from the intended direction. Bat twist occurs due to bat grip, speed and trajectory of the ball, bat swing and location of impact. The lesser the twist that takes place on the bat during impact with the ball, the better is the outcome of the intended shot.

An ultralight weight bat sensor in form of a sticker is placed on the back of the bat which is assisted by machine learning algorithms to decode the shot parameters thus providing real time insights to the players who can compare their hitting performances and improve their power hitting.

Famous British coach Julian Wood says that power hitting has very little to do with the physical size of the batter in terms of height, weight or amount of fat in the body. Rather it is the flow of kinetic energy drawn from the back leg of the batter to the hips and from the back to the shoulders, elbows and ultimately to the hands.

As per Julian, the batter needs to realise that their wrist holds the actual and final blow of energy. A classic example in this regard is enigmatic Shahid Khan Afridi who used his strong wrist in power hitting.

Julian calculated through notational analysis that a batter needs to hit the ball at the speed of at least 90 mph for obtaining the desired result. He said that a batter generates this power from hips and strong torso to the wrists and can improve this capability with practice and fitness.

The power hitter must have a good and balanced batting stance with legs wide enough to square up the body when required. His or her foot should face the bowler with a fixed head position. The eyes should focus on the ball till the last moment. He or she should be able to transfer body weight on the front foot at the time of shot execution. The batter should also use the bottom hand which is near the bat’s handle.

Coaches suggest that in order to improve the bat swing and rotation of hips the power hitters must play golf and baseball and also play squash to improve their hand eye coordination, foot work and general fitness.

I am of the strong opinion that power hitting is a scientific ability which can be acquired by any technically correct and physically fit player, and should be applied in the limited over games according to the situation of the game. The English players gave a warning during the recent Test series against Pakistan that power hitting could also be more frequently employed in red ball cricket.

Pakistan has some classic world class batters like Babar Azam in their side. However, Pakistan batters participating in shorter formats of cricket need to improve their power hitting skills, particularly during the first power play of the game.

Fakhar Zaman and Muhammad Haris are quite destructive with the bat on a given day but their class lacks persistence like Morgan or Rohit Sharma. Iftikhar Ahmad is proving good as a power hitter in the middle order, but he needs more support from the other end.

Prudence has ultimately prevailed in PCB selection committee and Azam Khan after a poor show with bat and gloves against Afghanistan has been dropped from the national squad. Azam’s inclusion was not only blocking the position of a deserving player and upsetting the entire composition of the team, but was also sending an unwanted signal to the international cricket fraternity regarding our physical standards, and projecting poor optics of the national side.

It is now the duty of the coaching staff to work more diligently on developing and improving the power hitting skills of available Pakistani batters to achieve better results in limited overs games.

Science of power hitting in cricket