What is the back-lift?
The process of lifting the bat up before bringing it down to meet the ball is called the ‘back-lift’.
When does a batsman start lifting the bat?
Ideally, just before the bowler releases the ball.
How high do you lift the bat?
The height of the back-lift is dictated by the speed of the bowler. The slower the bowler, the higher the back-lift.
So do you need to adjust the back-lift according to the bowler?
This is very case specific. Still, most batters adjust their back-lift not only to the bowler but also depending on the stage of their innings. You tend to lift the bat a lot less and even a fraction earlier while facing someone like Brett Lee. Similarly, most reduce the height in the early part of the innings or when the ball is reverse swinging, to ensure that they’re not late.
On the contrary, you tend to lift the bat a lot higher while facing a spinner like Vettori, who flights the ball more than others. But while facing someone like Kumble, who’s quicker in the air, you’d use a slightly shorter back-lift.
How does one lift the bat correctly?
Lifting the bat involves three components, the arms, the hands and the wrists.
You have to use the entire arm to lift the bat with the forearms bearing most of the load. The arms must also be close to the body (almost brushing) to ensure that the bat doesn’t go too far away from the body. This gives the batsman more control over the bat. The further the arms are from the body, the lesser the control you have over the bat.
You have to use both hands to lift the bat but the top hand, the left for the right-handed batsman and right for the left-handed bat, should be the dominating hand.
Some players like Ponting and Sehwag cock their wrists at the top of their back-lift, adding more height to it. It also helps to accelerate bat speed in the downswing. The common mistake players make while cocking their wrists is to cock it too soon, which results in their not using their entire arm for lifting the bat.
What direction/angle should the bat come from?
Ideally, the back-lift should come from anywhere between the off-stump and first and second slip.
The beauty of the downswing
What I’ve done here is basically explain the basics of lifting the bat but as the keener observers of the game might have noticed, almost every player has a different back-lift. Some take it a lot higher while others don’t lift it too much. Some take it a lot wider than 2nd slip and yet, are equally successful. So the obvious question then, is why and how can everyone be equally successful with so many different methods. The reason lies in the downswing (the swing of the bat coming down to hit the ball). Regardless of where the back-lift is coming from, the mantra is to bring it down straight in the line of the ball and of course, at the right time. People like Lara and Yuvraj, who have a very high back-lift, have to start their downswing a lot earlier than Symonds or Collingwood, who have very short back-lift.
People like Dravid, who take the bat a lot wider than second slip make a loop at the top to ensure that the bat comes
Watch carefully next time and you’ll figure this out.