If you are looking for something captivating, go on YouTube and search ‘Damien Martyn batting’. You won’t be disappointed. In a batting line-up full of superstars including Hayden, Langer, Ponting, Waugh brothers and Gilchrist, Martyn’s name somehow gets brushed under the carpet.
It is absolutely right to say that every batter has to find his/her own way but rhythm is something which is a common aspect among all best batters. And if you look at Martyn, he had it all. Setting himself up nicely, getting into a great position at ball release and then flowing into the shots with zero fuss. You could see how relaxed his body was when he played, which is a massive takeaway in all of this.
Being relaxed with your shoulders, arms is crucial. If you’re tense, your body will be stiff and there is no way you can let your hands flow through the shot. Shadow practice yourself by stepping into a cover drive position (with your head forward) and let your top hand ease through the line of the ball. Doing this in a crunch situation is totally another story, which then includes the state of your mind and how relaxed you are to focus on what is being thrown towards you.
To start off, Martyn looked very comfortable in his stance. Stood relatively sideways with his hands rested low on around the flap of his pads. The toe of the bat is resting not directly behind his right foot, which creates a bit of a rotary effect as he starts back lifting.
Martyn's bat-down at bowler's back foot contact
Martyn, alongside other Aussie batters at that stage, used a bat-down method. In simpler terms, they kept their bat low, near the ground and started picking it up as the bowler was about to release the ball. Keep an eye on the image above, how he keeps his bat on the ground as bowler's back foot makes contact with the ground.
According to Greg Chappell, this led to batsmen not being robotic and instead, synchronized the negative movement of shoulders with their feet. So if a batter with bat-down method leans into a forward defence, he’ll start picking his bat up as the bowler is about to release the ball and would time that back lift with his front foot unweighting.
Traditionalists like Chappell, Langer feel batters who stand up upright with their bat high in their stance tend to lose rhythm with the bat-up method. However, players like Kevin Pietersen, Jacques Kallis, Virat Kohli have scored thousands of runs with the bat-up method.
In the bat down method, the ‘hands’ (in essence shoulder rotation) would go back and the front foot will step into the ball, getting everything in sync. Martyn adopted a similar style as well, which made every single element i.e. head, feet and hands fall in a fantastic rhythm.
As the ball is released, his back foot slides a little bit towards the leg-side which pushes his head a slight bit to the off-side. Because he is not standing upright with the bat up at around stump height, this can affect his balance sometimes. As the bowler rolls his arm over, there is this 'getting in sync with the bowler action' as he starts picking his bat up (see below).
Getting ready for the contest
Just when the ball is released, Martyn starts picking his bat up (see first image). As the ball comes down, he realizes the length is slightly on the shorter side so there is an instinctive forward press from him (see second from left) and almost a rotary like action from his hands. After pushing off the front foot, the back foot starts its action by going back and across whereas his front side (left shoulder) turns into the ball. Think about a two-handed backhand in tennis and how a tennis player turns his front side to hit the ball. Stays fairly sideways on to allow his hands to flay through the line of the ball.
Martyn's sublime back foot punch
Let’s take another look at one of his shots, this time a signature cover drive.
Keep a tab on the 'synchronization'
Once again, keep an eye on how everything falls in sync as creams a full length ball through extra cover. Starts off with a more open chested stance with left-arm quick from over the wicket. As mentioned before, in the second image (from left) see how he ‘unweights’ his left foot and syncs that with his back lift. Re-aligns his swing (third image) and then nails the cover drive. Everything falling in the right place at the right time. According to Australia head coach Justin Langer, this is "that beautiful free-flowing fling" as the ball pings off the middle of the bat.
In essence, Martyn was an artist with the bat, making batting looking so easy and simple. The key takeaway after watching him bat was that how quickly he got into such great positions to hit the ball in a free flowing way.