Front Foot Strokes
Back-foot strokes are often underestimated in comparison to front-foot ones, purely because to the naked eye they may not seem as attractive. Make no mistake though, the former take as much skill and finesse to execute perfectly, as the latter.
Front-foot strokes are a treat to the eye. It is important to have a good sense of recognition of the length and pace of the incoming delivery, to execute them perfectly, apart from possessing an excellent timing.
While the back-foot defense is applied to counter a ball pitched just short of good length, the front-foot defense needs to be adopted when the ball is pitched on good length, in a straight line with the stumps. The purpose of this shot is to block out a potentially dangerous delivery, rather than to try and score off it.
The head and front shoulder should shift in the line of the ball, with the front leg coming right up to the pitch of the ball. Failing to do this could easily result into missing the shot altogether, with the ball going in between the bat and pad. The back leg should remain straight.
As the ball approaches, bend the front knee, as it will help in getting on top of the ball, and thus reduce the chances of edging. The arms and palms should be kept relaxed too, without trying to force on the ball. The purpose is to just block out. The face of the bat, when brought down to make contact with the ball, should be straight. The point of contact between the bat and the ball should be beneath the eyes.
The bat should be just in front of the pads, with minimal distance between the in a straight line. The heel of the back-foot should be raised, and the position should be stilled, rather than following through.
There isn’t much difference in how to play the front-foot drives from the defense, except for the point of impact of the bat on the ball, where the bat play is extended, and the result is a scoring shot, rather than a blocking one.
It is vitally important to get to the pitch of the ball, and keep the head still and in front of the vertical line of the pads. The weight should be shifted forward with the front knee bent a little, and the top hand firm, unlike the relaxed grip for a defensive shot. A drive is timed perfectly only if the top hand does most of the work, with the bottom hand used only to support. The bat should follow through in the line of the shot, and accelerate through a straight line.
The various drives that can be played off the front-foot are:
a) Off drive:
Played to a ball pitched just around the off stump. The bat should come down in a straight line in the direction of mid-off, to make sure that the ball is propelled toward that direction.
b) Cover drive:
Played to a ball pitched slightly wider outside the off stump. The bat should come down in the direction of extra cover, so as to hit the ball in that area.
c) Square drive:
Played to a ball pitched wider outside the off stump, in the direction square of the wickets.
d) On drive:
One of the most difficult drives to play, which is being eradicated from the modern game gradually, as not many exponents of it are left. Played between mid-on and mid-wicket.
e) Straight drive:
The most eye-catching of all drives, played straight down the ground.
The batsman may choose which drive to play on a particular good length ball, but emphasis definitely lies on getting to the pitch of the ball.
It is the more risky of shots, but also the most yielding against spinners. It needs to be played with the spin, otherwise could lead to the batsman’s downfall, as a result of a top edge. The traditional sweep shot is played to a delivery on or around the leg stump, in the direction behind square on the leg side.
The front-foot should stretch outside the line of the ball and bent, while the back-foot is lowered parallel onto the ground. The head and front shoulder should lean forward towards the ball. The bat should come down from a high back swing, and should counter the ball in front of the pads. If not playing in the air, the wrists should be rolled, so as to keep the ball on the ground. The follow through should finish over the leading shoulder.
It is important to judge the length of the ball, to perform a commendable sweep shot. It should be played preferably off good length deliveries, as trying to deal with a short ball with this shot would risk a miscue. It is also vital that the stumps are covered while playing the shot, so that in case one misses the shot, chances of being clean bowled are avoided.
In modern day cricket though, various other sweep shots have come into being, as a result of need for innovation to use in one-day cricket. The paddle sweep is played very fine off a ball wide outside leg stump, while the slog sweep is played by opening oneself up, and thrashing the ball over mid-wicket.
The front-foot leg glance is used to hit the ball in the direction of mid-wicket, because the bat will meet the ball head-on; as compared to the back-foot leg glance is used to hit the ball behind square.
The use of wrists and the angle of the bat at the point of impact are of utmost importance. The head should be on top of the line of the ball, and the weight of the body shifted on the front-foot, which should be slightly bent. The bat should be brought down as straight as possible, with the angling coming only at the point of contact in front of the pads, and not before, which could lead to a leading edge.
The shot can be controlled using the bottom hand, as well as the wrists.