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Date: 16th January 2017
A Paul Edwards copyright exclusive for L&DCC Official Website.
Birkenhead Park legend explains Don Bradman to Andy Flower
Three generations of cricketing excellence were linked at Birkenhead Park CC on a Thursday morning earlier in January when Tony Shillinglaw explained to the former England coach, Andy Flower, how he believes Don Bradman first found the method that helped him become by far the best batsman the game has known.
Watched by a select audience that included club officials and the ECB’s Head of Élite Coaching, Gordon Lord, Shillinglaw demonstrated the “rotary action” Bradman used as a boy when he would spend hours hitting a golf ball with a cricket stump.
More orthodox bats were used on this occasion but Shillinglaw’s ceaseless movements as he smoothly and continuously hit balls of different sizes against a wall would have done credit to cricketers with a third of his 79 years on their clocks.
There might only be a dozen Premier League batsmen with such perfect footwork and fluid grace but Shillinglaw’s main purpose was to help Flower understand how Bradman developed a technique which confounded the rigid orthodoxies by which some coaches still swear. It is a topic on which Shillinglaw has written a book and also lectured at the Bradman Museum in Bowral, Australia.
“Bradman’s technique developed from hitting the ball rather than the other way round,” said Shillinglaw, whose name features with great regularity on Birkenhead Park’s honours board. “The ball told him what to do. The whole essence of Bradman is that he didn’t learn to bat, he trained himself to control a moving golf ball with a stump.”
The results of Bradman’s unorthodox pursuit of excellence are unmatched in any sport. His Test batting average is 99.94 while the next highest is Graeme Pollock’s 60.97. It has been reckoned that Usain Bolt would have to run the hundred metres in seven seconds or Tiger Woods win ten more majors to achieve comparable dominance on the athletics track or golf course.
Shillinglaw’s masterclass was filmed by the ECB for their own coaching website and the former Birkenhead Park batsman confessed to a few “big match nerves” before the arrival on Merseyside of some of the country’s best coaches.
He need not have worried. Flower, who is currently head coach of England Lions, was left deeply impressed by all that he saw.
“Tony’s shown me something that is slightly different to what is presently coached but in principle it allies closely to what I believe about batting,” he said. “I agree, for instance, that your instincts are trained over an extended period of time.
“The ball determined how Bradman moved and the fluidity that was derived from that method is very important, especially as opposed to the robotic, rigid method many players employ.
“Some of the fluidity comes from the rotation of the bat and some from footwork but it is all in sync with the body and the ball itself. I would hope that a lot of the coaches working with younger players are allowing them to adapt and find what works for them.
“This type of interaction with coaches who have slightly different ideas is very healthy. It’s definitely the sort of thing I’d chat about with our own coaches.
“I would also talk to our players about what Tony can do because one of my jobs is to offer them options and for each player to make his own choices.”
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