At the Schoolboys' Bowling Camp
Mon, May 3, '04
Watching Corey Collymore's bowling meltdown in the penultimate over in the 1st ODI against England, I had a thought. "If only Corey had been at that four day camp for schoolboy fast bowlers recently, he would have learnt about variation; how not to bowl the ball in the same spot if the batsman is hitting you out of the park with it!"
Organized by Philip Service, the WICB's Development Officer for Jamaica, in association with the Jamaica Cricket Association, the camp ran from 13-16 April. Retired West Indies bowlers Kenny Benjamin and Courtney Walsh, along with Jamaica's national coach Robert Haynes and Service, took 15 of the most promising youngsters through a rigorous programme that should see them returning better figures in the future. I had the privilege of being allowed to sit in on the sessions.
The students travelled from near and far; from schools that are not well known and from those that are - schools like Tacky High in St Mary, Cedric Titus High in Trelawny and Dinthill Technical High in St Catherine. Originally Service had 13 names down but two others turned up, having been sent by their schools when they heard about it on the news. They weren't turned away, and what a good thing that was.
After welcoming the boys on day one, it was time for some assessment tests to be done. Trainer David Bernard Snr took them through a physical assessment, or more specifically a "cardio respiratory capacity endurance assessment test". According to Bernard, their standard was pretty high. (West Indies players take note - these are amateurs).
Next, it was time to be filmed. Two video cameras were set up to record the bowlers from the side and from the front. Each bowler had to bowl six balls in the nets. While the filming was being done, the others who were not having their time on camera were participating in fielding drills with David Bernard Snr. I later learned that this was something of a trick, as the boys did a good bit of running during the drills without realizing it. Much Gatorade was consumed during this period.
After lunch, the youngsters took to the field again to wrap up the filming and do more physical work. They had an early enough finish at 3:30, allowing them time to relax and have dinner before coming back for a 7:30pm lecture. The topic? Bio Mechanics - the new buzzword in cricket. With pen and paper ready, I scribbled as fast as I could from the PowerPoint presentation conducted by Philip Service, with interjections by Benjamin to illustrate or expand on certain points.
Bio means "the body" and Mechanics means "how it works". Simple enough. Now for the complex definition: "Bio Mechanics is the study of forces and motions involved in human movement. It studies the internal forces (muscles, tendons) acting on external forces (gravity, resistance)".
It is being used now in cricket because it is felt that knowing how the body works will lead to more effective coaching, with the outcomes being improved performances and less risk of injuries.
Day two was reserved to give analysis and feedback to each bowler on what was observed on the tapes. Service and Benjamin spent the previous night not sleeping very much. Instead, they watched each of the bowlers and filled out a form entitled "Observation Guide for Bowlers by Coaches". In addition to some demographical information, the form asks the coach to answer questions about the bowler, categorized into five aspects of bowling: Run-up; Bound/gather; Back foot landing; Front foot landing; Delivery and follow-through.
At the end, the observers had to write comments as to what the bowler needs to do to become more efficient and safe. Of the four types of bowling actions (Front On, Side On, Semi-open and Mixed) it is from the latter that 70% of injuries occur.
This was the first time that the majority of them had seen themselves on tape, and in slow motion too. Having Benjamin, Service, Walsh and Haynes each chipping in with their observations must have been intimidating, but Jermaine Chisholm, an 18 year old from Tacky High was comfortable.
He said "I feel okay, I feel relaxed. It being the first time, I felt I would be nervous". It's not everybody who can have the world record holder for Test wickets giving feedback. How did Chisholm feel about that? "I would say excellent. From their point of view, they're just helping so I don't bowl and hurt myself". Indeed, that was the objective.
Once the bowlers received the verdict on their action, it was time to go into the nets to start remedial work but as much of day two had been spent giving them individual feedback, not much time was left for this.. Another lecture was held that evening, this time conducted by the Chairman of the WICB's medical panel Dr Akshai Mansingh about cricket injuries and how to prevent them. I decided to skip this. Having been inspired by David Bernard Snr's sessions, I headed for an evening gym session instead.
For the morning session on day three the boys received a visit from Susan, a Pilates instructor who showed them some exercises they can use to strengthen their core muscles. Afterwards, the bowlers went into the nets again in groups of 4, to bowl at a target that was just outside and behind off stump.
Coach Benjamin is a hard taskmaster and the youngsters need that at this stage of their development. After specific instructions to the bowlers that anything other than hitting the target would be an illegal delivery, one energetic youngster bowled, of all things, a bouncer! That irked Benjamin especially since during one of his class room sessions with them that very day, he had made the point that when the coach or captain gives you an instruction, you have to follow them, unless you and they come to some agreement about a change. I was glad not to be in that boy's shoes! But he got the point, which was firmly reinforced by Courtney Walsh.
Speaking of Walsh, I'd say he was born to work with youngsters. His gentle, reassuring manner was refreshing to watch. He took one boy who started out bowling several balls down the leg side aside (I still have to think hard to remember which side that is, but I'm learning!). "Relax", he told him, "Concentrate, focus". Back to his mark he went and the next ball was right on target. He got a big up from the 'Big Man' himself.
Back in the classroom later that afternoon, Kenny Benjamin spoke about swing and seam bowling and did some demonstrations for the youngsters.
Demonstrating very good teaching skills, Benjamin didn't just talk and demonstrate. He got the kids to get up and explain the art of swing bowling, asking them questions to make sure they understood the concepts, reinforcing what they?ve been taught.
During this session, the youngsters were joined by Jermaine Lawson, Jerome Taylor and Dwight Washington, who trained with them on day two and day three. All three participated in the discussion and shared tips with the youngsters.
The final day was to be a short one, with all the time spent indoors. Benjamin showed the students that a tool they can use to decide how to bowl to a particular batsman is his grip and stance. Then the youngsters were shown a video with four batsmen. Working in four groups, they were to discuss the batsman they were assigned and decide which ball they would use to get the batsman out and why. Thinking caps had to be put on. Some great answers had the coaches impressed. These youngsters were really thinking, and thinking tactically too.
Next, Walsh went through a discussion on variations in bowling ? slower ball, bouncers, round the wicket. Advice to the youngsters included "You can't talk to the ball, it talks to you" from Walsh and, "Luck is when opportunity meets preparation" and "Promising means not doing enough today" from Benjamin, who encouraged the boys to write his comment down.
What did the youngsters think about the overall programme? According to Deron McLeod "I've learnt a lot in this camp. What they did was changed me into a safer position that can last me for longer and make me more efficient". Ricardo Miller said "When I came here first, I didn't expect to get so much hard work. I've learnt how to swing the ball and a lot of other things I can do with the new ball".
Michael Bedward, a left arm pace bowler from Dinthill Technical said "I've learnt some strengthening exercises which will help me, along with bio-mechanics, to be a more efficient bowler. I've also learnt that line and length, patience, control, consistency - those are the things that will wear batsmen down, in order for you to be effective, not only in youth cricket but for those of us who will be lucky enough to make it on to Test cricket".
Asked if he would be taking what he learnt back to his community, Bedward added "I'd like to, but there are only a few youngsters who decide to play cricket. Those who play are much older than I am and I don't think they would take kindly to a younger guy giving advice. But I'll try my best to improve cricket in the West Indies and to do the best for my community and to pass on what I've learnt here".