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Botha steals second base for BBL tune-up

Veteran has been playing baseball with a suburban Adelaide baseball side in the lead-in to the Sixers' Big Bash season

Sydney Sixers allrounder Johan Botha has taken a left field approach to his preparation for the upcoming KFC Big Bash League season – literally.

As he approaches the two-decade mark of a unique playing career, Botha has taken up baseball in the lead-in to BBL|07 in a bid to refresh his vigour for cricket.

The former South Africa limited-overs captain, now an Australian resident, has played a handful of games in left field for reigning Adelaide division one champions West Torrens.

Botha connects during his stint with West Torrens // Tom Huntley
Botha connects during his stint with West Torrens // Tom Huntley

What originally started as a curiosity of how baseballers train and fine-tune their throwing skills turned into a playing stint, Botha explained.

"I just thought I'd mix it up a little bit, just try a different sport," Botha told cricket.com.au this week.

"They're so much better throwers than we are and I just wanted to see how they do it. 

"My initial thoughts were just to go in there to have a look at the fielding and how the guys build their arm up, look after their shoulders. 

"While I was there I actually spoke to Dean Woodford who was our fitness trainer at the Redbacks when I played there and he said to me, 'why don't you just have a go at batting and play a little bit?'"

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While his top-notch fielding has translated seamlessly to the baseball outfield, batting has proved a challenge. 

The different technique required to hit home runs as opposed to sixes has been difficult even for the skilled Botha, whose "shanks" have been routinely picked off by infielders as canny pitchers mix up their speeds.

Botha straddles boundary to wipe out Whiteman

"Batting is definitely a lot harder than it looks," continued the 35-year-old, who is gearing up for his third BBL season with the Sixers. "It's a different swing.

"For us as cricketers you always go forward and you hit off the front foot. For them, it's about holding back and sitting back.

"I found that difficult, especially when guys take pace off the ball, you want to go forward and hit through the ball.

"I suppose like any sport you watch the professional guys do it and you think, 'Oh they just hit home runs for fun' but it doesn't happen that easily."

Botha, who says he's made no firm decisions on his intentions to play on after this edition of the BBL, expects to continue his cross-code experiment with West Torrens when he returns to Adelaide. 

Given the obvious parallels between the two sports, numerous cricketers have tried their hands at baseball with varying degrees of success.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell also represented his country in baseball, having played both games extensively as a junior alongside his brother Greg.

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West Indies Test opener Kieran Powell gave away cricket in 2015 as he pursued a professional contract in the USA, earning tryouts with Major League clubs New York Mets and Milwaukee Brewers.

While a deal didn't materialise, Powell credited baseball with improved hand-eye coordination and power in his batting upon his return to the Windies side.

Captain Steve Smith last year threw the ceremonial first pitch for a Boston Red Sox match at Fenway Park after a tour of the Caribbean, while members of Australia's one-day team practiced their baseball swings before a New York Mets game a month prior.

Smith gets into the swing with off-season switch

"It took me a little while to get into it, I was hitting the ball a bit more up, a little bit more like how a cricket bat should go," a typically self-critiquing Smith said at the time.

"But I think you've got to hit it a bit more 'down', to get the backspin on the ball to get some more distance.

"Unfortunately I couldn't get one over (Fenway Park's famed) 'Green Monster'."

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