England's secret practice weapon

Poms look to Pro Batter to unravel India's bowling mysteries.


Via ProBatter.com

The haze of the unknown is perhaps the greatest weapon a bowler can brandish against a batsman. Tales abound of mystery spinners taking unaccustomed batting line ups to the cleaners; of Saqlain Mushtaq confounding clueless counties with his ‘doosra’; of teams doing their utmost to replicate alien conditions and bowling attacks in preparation for key tours.

England’s cricketers, who are in India for a revenge four-Test series, have been honing their skills against the ProBatter system – an evolution of the humble bowling machine that promises to dispel at least some of the murkiness that shrouds opposition bowlers.

Pro Batter in action
Pro Batter bowling simulator

The ProBatter merges the standard practice of using a contraption to chuck projectiles at high speed with an immersive cinematic experience. What happens is this: On a big screen facing the batsman is projected footage of a bowler running in to bowl. At the last point of the delivery stride – when the bowler has apparently delivered the ball – an actual leather sphere emerges from a hole in the screen imitating exactly the same delivery that the action on screen would have represented.

What the technology does is merge the images of the bowling action to the actual emission of the ball from the hole. This means that the hole in the wall is analogous to the bowlers hand and can be commanded by the attached computer to synchronise the moving pictures to the type of delivery shot out. Thus, the software can be reengineered to decide whether it is an out-swinger that will emanate from Dale Steyn’s hand, or an equally destructive in-dipper.

The same principle works for spinners as well – the type of delivery can be chosen and appended to suitable footage – and such has been the welcome accorded to the new device that Jonny Bairstow recently spent over an hour facing off against Zaheer Khan’s flickering image in the nets.

Many advantages

The advantages that ProBatter offers are obvious. It is perhaps the only technology that allows batsmen to study a bowler’s action from front-on, at will. The kind of programming it allows for (the machine can recreate and deliver all four of R. Ashwin’s confounding variations) would be the perfect way to demystify the unknown bowler, one whose allegedly terrifying turn or pace and practical anonymity is the biggest deterrent to touring batsmen. Unless one is out in the middle and facing the music, ProBatter would provide the closest simulation of a bowler chugging in to deliver.

Bowling machines do not require breaks, but preferring them to real bowlers as a means of regular practice has its own drawbacks. It should be realized that the processes of bowling and batting are a series of interlinked events. The events begin with the delivery stride, involve a fair bit of anticipation on either part – a synchronicity of the feet, body and bat swing – and culminate with, hopefully, willow meeting leather, a perfect closure to events as if divinely ordained.

Nothing like the real thing


But it’s not all hunky dory. After a few sessions, batsmen facing ProBatter realise instinctively that the easier approach is to watch the hole (which is stationary) rather than the bowler (who is likely to be all over the place). Since the hole doesn’t move, and since the ball comes unfailingly out of the same infernal spot, over-reliance on the ProBatter – or on any bowling device, for that matter – may foster premeditation and leaden footedness, key elements of avoidance for batsmen. As much as it is a vital part of pre-tour preparations the ProBatter should not – and cannot – replace facing a flesh and blood bowler at an old-fashioned nets session.

Matches

MORE TOP STORIES TODAY

On Now: Bangalore vs Mumbai

On Now: Bangalore vs Mumbai

Bangalore elect to field against Mumbai at Dubai. More »

Delhi look for first points against confident Kolkata

Delhi look for first points against confident Kolkata

Preview — The threat of Sunil Narine looms large again. More »

Glenn Maxwell carves his parallel universe

Glenn Maxwell carves his parallel universe

Glenn Maxwell seems to project an icy disdain when at the crease. Match situations rarely faze him and the bubble in which he plays excludes everyone … More »

[REWIND] The world record that nearly wasn't

[REWIND] The world record that nearly wasn't

Twenty years ago this week, Brian Lara became Test cricket's highest scorer, but he almost didn't make it. More »

Moores gets second stint as England coach

Moores gets second stint as England coach

In a two-year spell from 2007 to 2009, the 51-year-old Moores led England in seven Test series. More »

BCCI is not anybody’s property — Dalmiya

BCCI is not anybody’s property — Dalmiya

Dalmiya feels that Srinivasan’s ‘power hungry’ attitude isn’t helping matters. More »

Tough for bowlers: Saeed Ajmal

Tough for bowlers: Saeed Ajmal

The 36-year-old believes the T20 format and rule changes in 50-over matches have made a real difference. More »

Rajasthan edge low-scoring thriller

Rajasthan edge low-scoring thriller

The bowlers restricted Hyderabad to 133 for 6 before Rahane and Binny took Rajasthan over the line. More »

KP ridicules idea of day-night Tests

KP ridicules idea of day-night Tests

Kevin Pietersen has ridiculed the idea of day-night Test cricket, saying the game would be so different to proper Test cricket that we will need a whole… More »

BCCI members want independent probe

BCCI members want independent probe

The board members are realising after the Supreme Court's observations that something has to be done — IS Bindra More »

Maxwell blitz takes Punjab home

Maxwell blitz takes Punjab home

The Kings XI batsman blasted a 43-ball 95 to help his team pull off a massive chase against Chennai Super Kings. More »

'BCCI lacks leaders to take on Srini'

'BCCI lacks leaders to take on Srini'

Two former BCCI presidents, Shashank Manohar and Jagmohan Dalmiya, have reacted strongly to the news of the BCCI calling an emergent meeting on Sunday… More »

Bangalore vs Mumbai: A battle of the big-hitters

Bangalore vs Mumbai: A battle of the big-hitters

Preview — Given the firepower in both line-ups, Dubai crowd may see another high-scorer More »

Yuvraj tees off to Sharjah's delight

Yuvraj tees off to Sharjah's delight

Yuvraj Singh was hardly convincing to begin with against Delhi, but a big dose of crowd support and a helping of poor bowling meant he had the opportunity… More »

Stressed Trott stands down again

Stressed Trott stands down again

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) on Friday confirmed that batsman Jonathan Trott is to take another break from all cricket with immediate eff… More »

PCB starts another coach hunt

PCB starts another coach hunt

The PCB has decided to not extend the contracts of head coach Moin Khan, fielding coach Shoaib Mohammad and batting consultant Zaheer Abbas, and has invited… More »

Fiery star Stokes bids to curb his temper

Fiery star Stokes bids to curb his temper

England all-rounder Ben Stokes admits he must keep his anger under control if he is to end his international exile. More »

Bangalore's arsenal blazes to victory

Bangalore's arsenal blazes to victory

Yuvraj Singh was back to his best in his first match for Royal Challengers Bangalore. More »

Pakistan cricketers face probe

Pakistan cricketers face probe

Pakistani cricket authorities have launched an investigation after a number of current international stars played in exhibition matches in the United States… More »

BCCI to meet before next court hearing

BCCI to meet before next court hearing

The BCCI will hold an emergent working committee meeting on April 20 to discuss the future course of action with regard to the Supreme Court hearing concerning… More »

Gavaskar wants a clean IPL

Gavaskar wants a clean IPL

"Integrity is non-negotiable..." says the BCCI's interim chief ahead of Season 7 of the tainted league. More »

Time for Chennai to enter familiar cocoon

Time for Chennai to enter familiar cocoon

Chennai have an emphatic 8-3 lead in the head-to-head with Punjab, with one game tied More »

Kallis, Narine star in KKR win

Kallis, Narine star in KKR win

An all-round display saw Knight Riders thump Mumbai Indians by 41 runs in the IPL-7 opener. More »

'Yak' Kallis still on top of his game

'Yak' Kallis still on top of his game

The 38-year-old South African veteran turned it on for Kolkata Knight RIders in the opening match of IPL-7. More »