Cricketing muscles need memory training, and where better than on a coaching mat? Dave Bocking reports
You'd think Dave Cooper might have divided loyalties. A Lancastrian, and a former opening batsman who regularly faced the likes of Joel Garner, Madan Lal and Garry Sobers during his days in the Central Lancashire League, Dave is now coaching the next generation of Yorkshire batters. But cricket's War of the Roses isn't part of the equation as Dave dances about his classroom at Holy Trinity Senior School in Halifax. He's got the future openers for England in mind.
"You've got to play straight," he says, hitting straight under a filing cabinet. "If you have a big tennis racquet you can play across the line, but if you do that with a cricket bat you're going to miss it completely."
A tennis ball hurtles across the classroom. "It's totally unnatural to swing straight, you can feel your muscles creaking, so you've got to teach it so the body gets used to swinging," says Dave as he cover drives on to the skirting board. "It's about muscle memory - grooving your muscles so your body gets used to the shot."
He places yet another tennis ball on the batting tee in front of him, swings, and drives under the legs of a row of desks and a hopelessly wrong-footed overhead projector. "With this, you can play a shot every five or six seconds - 100 cover drives in 10 minutes. Some people never play 100 cover drives in their entire career."
Dave Cooper's batting mat has undergone another successful demonstration.
Tennis balls are scattered around the classroom, and Dave's well honed straight-batting muscles have been grooved into shape again.
The Cricket Coaching Mat has been developed by Cooper over the past three years, following a moment of revelation on a typically bumpy Yorkshire playing field. "There were 50 keen youngsters standing in a long crocodile, all wanting to hit the ball. The coach did a lightning-fast demo of a particular stroke, and then the wicket-keeper started bowling balls down.
They were bouncing all over the place. No one could play the shot, but they all got chastised for not doing it."
What was needed, Dave decided, was a means of allowing batters to play a stroke from the right height and the right length, in any conditions, on any surface. Batting tees were already available, but as he explains: "the ball goes one way, the tee goes somewhere else, somebody fetches the ball, somebody fetches the tee, somebody else puts it back together and the next person comes along. It's like the Keystone cops. You're lucky to get two or three shots a minute."
His own design uses a spring for a tee, mounted on a board underneath the mat. Four colour-coded lengths of tubing (20, 40, 60 and 80cm high) are placed on the spring, which can be inserted through 30 different holes in the 2m x 1.5m mat, to correspond to different lines and lengths of bowl, and different age groups. The result is a means of demonstrating and practising all the 30 or more cricketing strokes anywhere, from bumpy playing fields to school gyms to back gardens.
Dave, 46, is head of humanities at Holy Trinity, and has coached young cricketers for many years, both at school and at the nearby Burley cricket club. Many of his trainees have gone on to win local leagues and trophies, and Holy Trinity currently has one player (14-year-old Kathryn Doherty) in the Under-15 England squad.
The lightweight mats come with six Velcro-backed feet-positioning guides, fixing pegs, the spring and mounting boards, four lengths of tubing, and a CD-Rom demonstrating coaching techniques as well as several batting and fielding games using the mat. A video can also be included. The CD-Rom doubles as an audio-CD that can be played while learning different strokes.
Aspiring Geoff Boycotts or Michael Vaughans can hear how to play cover drives and late cuts from the man who once stood up to Joel Garner "for 30 minutes of hellish defence on a flying wicket after our professional had been sent to hospital with a broken jaw. We had no helmets in those days, and by the time I finished I was bruised up all one side of my body," says Dave with a smile. "I scored a magnificent two not out."
Cricket Coaching Mat, pound;89.95 + postage
Tel: 01422 244818