It may come as a shock to the England cricket team coaches, but startling new research has shown that the best batsmen take their eyes off the ball before knocking it for six.
It takes just half a second for a fast ball to reach a batsman. Yet within 200 milliseconds of the ball leaving the bowler's hand, the batsman is already looking ahead to the point at which he has calculated it will bounce. This enables him to prepare his shot.
The findings were made by University of Sussex neuroscientist Professor Michael Land and Dr Peter McLeod, an experimental psychologist at the University of Oxford, after analysing eye movements of a professional cricketer, a good amateur and a "Sunday morning enthusiast". Each wore special head-mounted cameras during sessions in the nets, when balls were delivered at 50mph from a bowling machine.
The three players were found to make the same eye movements, but the professional player's gaze shifted more quickly to the bounce point - a crucial advantage for high-speed balls - while the least experienced player followed the ball's trajectory for longer.
"I think batsmen will be horrified to hear they take their eyes off the ball," says Prof Land. "It certainly surprised us." He added that what happens to the ball after the bounce is also calculated according to the player's experience. Professionals are better at "mapping" the pre-bounce speed of the ball onto its post-bounce behaviour.
Professor Land, whose previous research work has involved studying the eye movements of drivers and pianists, said the accepted view was that batsmen took all their information from what is known as image expansion, which is the brain's calculation of speed based on an object's changing size. But this was an inappropriate theory for cricket because the ball approaches in an arc and changes its speed after the bounce.
These latest findings are published in the December issue of Nature Neuroscience Journal.
Notes for editors
For further information please contact Professor Michael Land on Tel 01273 678505, or Jacqui Bealing or Alison Field, Press Office, University of Sussex, Tel. 01273 678888, Fax 01273 877456, email J.A.Bealing@sussex.ac.uk or A.Field@sussex.ac.uk.