The best batsmen don't watch the ball

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The Independent Online

The best batsmen break one of the golden rules of cricket by taking their eyes off the ball for a fraction of a second before trying to hit it, according to research published today.

The best batsmen break one of the golden rules of cricket by taking their eyes off the ball for a fraction of a second before trying to hit it, according to research published today.

A study of cricketers has revealed that they move their eyes to where they expect the ball to bounce rather than attempting to track it during its journey from the bowler's hand.

The findings will surprise batsmen and their coaches, who have for generations believed that the correct way isto watch the ball closely before deciding which stroke to play, if any. "I think batsmen will be horrified to hear that they take their eyes of the ball. It certainly surprised us," said Michael Land, a professor at Sussex University, who did the study with Peter McLeod, an experimental psychologist at Oxford University.

It takes just over half a second for a fast-paced ball to travel the length of the pitch, giving a batsmen about two-tenths of a second to decide on what action to take. Using small head-mounted video cameras, the scientists accurately monitored the eye movements of three batsmen of varying skills to see how they make the split-second judgements necessary for a good shot.

A professional batsmen will watch the ball closely until it leaves the bowler's hand, at which point he moves his eyes rapidly to the part of the wicket where he expects the ball to bounce before picking up the trajectory again.

"We found that the time of the delivery, the time of the bounce and the position of the bounce provides enough information for a batting response," Professor Land said.

Good amateurs also follow the same pattern of eye movements, although they are not able to move their visual field quite as rapidly as professionals, the scientists report in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

The scientists calculated that the eye and brain would be unable to process visual information fast enough if the batsman made a judgement based purely on the movement of the ball in the air. As Geoffrey Boycott once said: "In a perfect world, you will see the ball early and play it late."

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