Unweighting

Hey look there’s no point in pretending life/business/relationships/quality of backhand are islands of independence from each other; no point. On the contrary, as I am about to prove, even if your nature is to quietly shriek pallid protest against activity in all its wondrous forms – ya wuss – you cannot deny the power of sport and the need to be ready.

Preparation? Everywhere. Man in sport there’s a spooky amount, an industry – an absolutely sexsational amount of ‘ready positions’ like, for starters. Tennis the currently obvious one; receiver with knees bent, weight slightly forward, hands in front, gusset slightly exposed. Rugby (backs); hands out in front, attracting the ball, offering a target, inviting that moment of caress, of possession.

The talk in coaching is deliciously loaded with this stuff. And the transferability of these sopping metaphors is meaning frankly Frankie, you ain’t got no escape; not in the office, not in ‘sales’, not in bed, much less out-on-the-park. And yet, amongst the daft-punk dribbles, the cod-psychology… there’s some really byoodifull stuff man.

Take fast bowling. It’s an admittedly staccato dance that grippingly, thrillingly transcends its technically-heavy brief. (Sheesh – did I nick that from Ronay?) Whatever, lately think Anderson ‘when it’s coming out nicely’. Jimmy – aka The Burnley Express – in his pomp, does deal in majestic simplicities; purring in, expressing repeatedly creamy smooth bursts; simples.

Simples but superceded surely, by the intoxicating Michael Holding at his peak, ‘pace’ being then at that perfect moment where something beyond words was, really, momentarily described. And during that alarmingly fluent Caribbean blur, amidst the ecstatic barrage from Marshall, Walsh, Garner et al, we strain for … sentences like that last one… where words transparently fail. Or maybe we simply concede, smiling, and not a little awestruck, (that) that was bloody unplayable.

And now we find ourselves marking out the run-up to some truth; particularly if we think of the batter .

Take my word for it here that when you face fast bowling you are shitting your pants. No question. For maybe only a few minutes, but parping like a good’un, nonetheless. So, with apologies to Jessica Oosit Parker in “Sex and The City” mode, if, say Michael Holding is that challenging, that much of an extreme test; How do you get ready for that?

Unweighting. Ian Chappell – yes! Aussie skipper and general arse.

Extraordinarily (and, sharing a birthday with I.T.Botham, I ask no forgiveness for the implied anti-antipodeanism here) Ian Chappell formulated the following really rather beautiful and insightful concept.

Simply put, unweighting is a process necessary for a batsman to enable ‘survival’ against quick bowling. So this usually happens most – and most obviously – at the beginning of an innings, or when the dreaded or lusted after new ball is taken. (See what I mean? Sopping). Pre-delivery or ‘trigger’ movements occur in the batsman, either consciously or not, in order to facilitate, to cope, to avoid getting hurt or out. Because the ball may come down fucking hard and fast. Batters may open their eyes wider/crouch intently whilst setting their neck/flex their knees/give up and dollop one.

Generally coaches identify two movements of the bat before hitting the ball, at that crucial heart-thumping moment when (godforbid), Holding is unleashing. There is bat-lift and then bat-swing; the former involving simply raising the bat from the ground, the latter the judgement and immediate subsequent execution of how much or little you’re going to swing the bat. The minutiae of both can naturally – and I use the word advisedly – vary from player to player but Chappell’s view has been that these ripples of the wrist or micro-steps or other habitual or rehearsed or coached movements are key. Likewise the momentum or freedom engendered by the transfer of weight from one foot to another. Unweighting.

Thus, sagacious reader, the batter’s ready position against extreme pace has to be an exquisitely timed and balanced and consistent and fluent and enabling stance for that which may be unplayable. So can you move instantly (in a balanced etc. etc. way) forward or back? Can you withdraw from the stroke? Can you duck? Can you look in control and not give the bowler and the infield signs of encouragement? Are you, in these milliseconds, rhythmical and composed and absolutely at the top of your game? Man it’s a wonderful, frightening test.

And how do we transfer its richness, its poetry and its latent dynamism to work… to life… to relations(hips)… to bed?!?

Can you find it, this unweighted state? Are you ready? Are you?

June 24th 2011.

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