You’ve come in to bat on the final day of a tightly contested test match. Chasing a massive target of 328, your team is now at 167/3 with around 50 more overs to go. You realise there is an opportunity to chase down the target and win the game for your team. While you take the middle stump guard, you notice an off-spinner getting introduced into the attack. You look around the pitch and notice a few cracks and foot marks in front of your batting crease. Sensing an opportunity to take wickets and close the game quickly, the opposing team's captain brings his fielders in close catching positions. You realise there is a long tail ahead and your wicket will be the key to tilt the outcome of the game. Your mind is now wandering between 2 options: 1) Play defensively for a few overs 2) Go attacking with a few lofted shots to pull the fielders back. What would you pick?
Cricket is a game of tactics. Unlike many other team sports, the nature of the gameplay shifts dramatically between phases. When you are fielding or bowling, your focus will be continuously on how to cut short the runs and grab the wickets through smart bowling and effective field placements. While batting, your objective will take a perpendicular shift and focus on maximising the runs or chasing down the target. A single error of judgement on the pitch and you as a batsman will be back in your dressing room.
Whatever the option you pick for the above game scenario, you need to gauge the field placement to gain an upper hand in the game of tactics with your opposition. While you have the entire 360 degrees of the field to play with, your scoring opportunities will depend on how well you play in the area not cordoned by the 9 fielders (excluding bowler and wicket keeper). Once you are comfortable middling the ball, here are some ways to analyse the field placement.
1. Attacking or Defensive field?
Attacking field is when you have most of the fielders near you, in the catching zones, and prying for your wicket with every ball being bowled. Teams typically opt for attacking field setups when
- a new batsman is in the crease
- a new ball is being taken
- the target score is less to defend
- the play resumes after a break, to shift the momentum
- there is a help from the pitch or weather
- the batsman is under pressure
- the lower-order is batting
- when the batting team is playing for a draw
Defensive field is when you see the players widely spread out to curtail your run scoring opportunities. Teams typically opt for a defensive field when
- the batsman is playing well
- the batting team is in an attacking mode
- there is no help from the pitch or weather
- to slow down the overall run-rate
- the bowlers are not piercing enough to take wickets
- to wait for the batsman to make a mistake
Analysing the fielding setup will help you to manoeuvre your shots. You can switch between attacking and defending modes to manipulate the bowling attack for your advantage.
2. Which of my “V” is open to play?
You can easily divide the field of play into 3 zones of V, based on your shot types: 1) Straight V Zone 2) Offside Zone 3) Onside Zone. Understanding which zone is tightly packed will help you to decode the line and length planned by the bowling team.
Traditional / Straight V Zone:
This zone typically covers your straight, off and on drives. Since it is a high scoring zone for a batsman with good technique, it is also one of the consciously guarded areas on the field of play. This zone involves a lot of shots on the front-foot with the full face of the bat. Based on the fielding placement, you can decide between lofting the ball or playing on the ground.
The offside has scoring opportunities through cover drive, square cut, and late cut. Offside play depends heavily on the line of attack from the bowling unit. Since off-side bowling is relatively easier, teams often pack fielders in these regions to prevent run flow.
You can pull, hook, sweep, or play glance on the onside. Onside typically provides quick scoring capabilities and hence fielders are placed often based on the hitting zones of a batsman.
3. Where are the best fielders?
This is an important factor to consider, especially when playing against a team with a tactically sound captain. Usually, the location of the best fielders will give you an indication of the line and length planned for taking your wicket. Good bowlers will often prepare a plan for the batsman and want their best fielders cordoning the planned region of play. Based on the fielding placement, you can quickly analyse the broad bowling plan.
- Is the line of attack predominantly going to be offside or legside?
- Will the bowling length mostly be full or short-pitch?
At times, the best fielders are positioned only to contain the run flow when the bowling team opts for defensive field setting.
4. Is there an attempt to bluff?
Occasionally, the bowling team’s captain may try bluffing by placing fielders with the intent of creating a sense of doubt on your batting technique. It is a deliberately used tactic, especially against a new batsman at the crease or when a new bowler is being introduced.
For example: You might sometimes encounter fielders standing in short legs and in slips, even when there is hardly any turn from the pitch. Another often used tactic is to place fielders in deep square for a fast bowler to prepare the batsman for short pitch length, but then deceive him/her with a yorker.
While bluffing can last only for a short term, it is an important factor to accommodate in your analysis for batting tactics.
Maximizing Outcomes through Smart Batting:
Identifying your hitting zones is a step towards preparing your mind for a long innings. It will help you to align your guard, stance, footwork, and bat swing angles to maximise the outcomes from your shot. When you regularly pierce the field, you will soon gain a tactical advantage over the opposition, and start to dictate the field settings to your liking.
Quiz: Could you remember a match similar to the one mentioned in the article? Tell us in the comments below.