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Friday, May 07, 2021

Explained: Why front shoulder is the key to Faf du Plessis’ success

Off-side play is seen as a limiting factor in Faf Du Plessis' batsmanship. The South African, however, has stuck to his hands wide-apart grip, which experts believe limits his ability to play through the off. Yet he has found a way to be more effective.

Written by Sriram Veera , Edited by Explained Desk | Mumbai |
Updated: April 30, 2021 8:10:01 am
Faf du Plessis of Chennai Super Kings plays a shot during the Indian Premier League 2021 (PTI Photo/Sportzpics for IPL)

What’s the perception about Faf du Plessis’s batting technique?

That he would rather prefer the leg-side and gets into trouble, especially when it’s a tad wide outside off. It came up even in the game against Sunrisers Hyderabad on Wednesday. The broadcasters showed his recent dismissals where he was seen reaching out to well-outside off deliveries and scooping them to fielders.

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Why do they feel so?

It’s the way he holds the bat. His hands are wide apart, with the bottom hand seemingly taking control. That unique bat grip leads to the assumption that he will be stronger on the leg side, dragging the ball across. It can upset his bat-swing flow when he tries to thread the offside.

Is that a fair assumption to make?

Let’s put it this way; it’s something he has heard from the coaches over the years. “My first coach in Chennai Super Kings, the Australian, big-name successful coach Steve Rixon also said, ‘your hands are so far apart. You are going to struggle to hit it through the offside’,” du Plessis told T20stars.com. “I said to him, ‘it’s one of my strengths to hit to the offside. He said, ‘Nah … with that technique, and bottom-hand grip, you won’t be able to manoeuvre’.”

How does he adapt?

His main focus is on his left shoulder. As he did in the game against Hyderabad. The position of the left shoulder determines his shape, and he tries to hold it as long as possible before he gets into his shot. Else, he gets into trouble.

“For me my left shoulder I find that when I open it up or lift it up too soon, my whole body pulls my hands up because my hands are so wide apart. If I am pulling out of shot, either open or up, it pulls my whole shape completely apart,” du Plessis said. “For hitting late, I have to make sure I hold my front shoulder a bit late so that the ball comes to me … I always knew that I am a hands player. I had an extraordinary technique that every coach tried to coach out of me. My hands are too far apart (on the handle). But for me, it was possible (to hit on the offside).”

In many of the dismissals shown by the broadcaster, that shoulder was the problem. As the commentators pointed out, an outswing bowler or a left-arm pacer angling it well away from him isn’t a bad idea as it might make him lift his shoulder up or open up too early as he stretches out to reach. But over the years, he has worked it out how to use his wide-hands approach aligned with the shoulder position.

He would tilt the front shoulder a bit down – “a small dip, a bit off centre”. It gets his hands in a higher position and allows him to get his bat down smoothly. If the shoulder is up and the hands down, it upsets his rhythm as he must get his bat up first and then bring it down. That can throw off his balance a bit.

Has he tried other tinkering recently?

Last year, he had worked on his knee flex. It got a bit more pronounced as it allowed him to rock back quickly and cut it to the offside. And allows him to flick short of length deliveries to the on side much better. It has helped him push back and forward that much easier.

For the main part, though, it’s his left shoulder that determines his success rate.

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