Cricket is played in the mind – or ought to be

CONTENTS

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PREFACE

INTRODUCTION

THREE BASICS

CRICKET STROKEPLAY

16 COACHABLE STROKES

WHICH STROKE TO PLAY

FORWARD OR BACK?

SOME GENERAL PRINCIPLES

PLAYING DIFFERENT KINDS OF BOWLER

THE GOLDEN RULES OF RUNNING BETWEEN THE WICKETS

SCORING RATES

BUILDING AN INNINGS

BOWLING

FIELDING

CAPTAINCY

PREFACE

I originally conceived this pamphlet in 1976, having coached Clifton for seven years jointly with the superb Jim Andrew (the professional). I think my motive was one of frustration more than anything. Here were – frankly – well-coached though inexperienced young cricketers who all too often were getting out for modest to middling scores for reasons which had very little to do with their technique. That was sound to excellent. They just weren’t using their brains. Not only that, but the same mistakes were being made in the same circumstances by different young players. They didn’t have the experience to react differently in different circumstances. Worse, they couldn’t understand or at least respond next time when we kept explaining it at post-mortems, a recurrent feature of our 1976 season, with potentially a strong side.

That was why I wrote this document which is aimed very much at 16 to 19 year olds. Not necessarily at one sitting!

The guidance is mostly NOT about technique but there is a small amount. There is, I think, only one technical point with which modern coaches may disagree (wrongly, in my view, of course). That is the grip. In a piece written by the legendary Tom Graveney only a few years ago, but reproduced here with his kind permission, he explains but laments the reason why professional cricketers changed their grip to what is now known as the “strong” grip.

Read Tom Graveney’s piece here.

Similarly, another legend of the golden period of English post-war cricket, Ted Dexter, has given me permission to reproduce his piece which talks about modern batsmen using techniques “against every known precept of the game”.

Read Ted dexter’s piece here.

I realise that the young may need to ask their coaches who on earth Tom Graveney and Ted Dexter were, but hey! They’ll learn something.

I coached cricket at Clifton for 35 years, 29 of them as Master in charge.

Finally, you are welcome to reproduce anything you find useful here, in whatever form you like.

INTRODUCTION

Coaching books and coaching practice rightly concentrate on technique; that is, how to execute particular batting strokes or how to improve the bowling action. By contrast, this document concentrates primarily on the psychology of the game; that is, which strokes to employ against which kinds of bowler, and similar tactical notions. This is usually acquired by players only through very considerable experience. Alas, by the time they have acquired the experience, they often don’t have the physical ability to carry out what they have learned.

The techniques are also included in outline, but only as an aide-memoire. The writing assumes that the techniques have been coached, practically, in the nets.

In my experience, batsmen get out relatively rarely when they have played the right stroke but have simply executed it imperfectly (with, perhaps, the exception of tail-enders). Far more commonly, batsmen have their tactics wrong rather than their stroke-playing – although, of course, in saying this I am assuming a considerable degree of technical competence such as you would expect to find in school 1st X1 cricket.

Ultimately, of course, technique and tactics cannot really be separated but I hope that these notes may help to put an old head on young shoulders. Batting, is, after all, an art where the two most important parts of the body are the wrists and the head.

THREE BASICS

It is impossible to overstate the importance of these, to the extent that even Test players get out because they get them wrong. At a lower level, you can tell immediately whether somebody can bat or not before a ball is bowled at him (or her). All three basics can go disastrously wrong very quickly (at any stage in life or career) because people develop bad habits. This is because all three are to some degree unnatural.

GRIP: Top hand pulling the blade from the front, NOT pushing from the back; back of the hand facing mid-off or even the bowler, not gulley. Palm of the bottom hand pushing the blade, NOT closing the face. This really has to be checked physically by the coach who will also explain the reasons, which are mainly: 1) all batting must be controlled by the wrists; 2) for most strokes, you need a full pick-up and follow-through to hit the ball really hard; 3) you are trying to hit the ball with the full face of the bat (‘the maker’s name’, as we say) and 4) you are trying to minimise the risk of being caught.

STANCE: If it bends, bend it: ankles, knees, hips, elbows, wrists, neck, even your shoulders; start the ‘cradle position’. Above all, get your eyes level. Plant your feet firmly on the ground, evenly balanced.

When the coach get you into the right place (especially after doing the forward defensive properly for the first time), it feels very strange and quite difficult if you have been doing it wrongly. If you are standing correctly, you are likely to feel a twinge on the left side of your back and a slight crick in your neck.

PICKUP: Blade goes directly above the keeper’s head, NOT towards gulley; the face opens because you cock the wrists and the blade is therefore pointing towards square cover.

CRICKET STROKEPLAY

There are about 16 definable and coachable strokes in cricket. They are listed below in order from third man to fine leg. You must aim to build a repertoire of strokes which you know you can play correctly. When you get out in the middle, you should play only those strokes which you know you can play well, and avoid those which you can’t (unless you are in a strong position, in which case by all means use the opportunity to extend your range). Needless to say, the front and back defensive strokes are the two which you MUST learn to play perfectly, because they will not only help you to stay in, but the technique for both forms the basis of several other attacking strokes.

There are, of course, various ‘cheat’ strokes like opening the face on the off-drive, working the ball on the leg-side with plenty of bottom hand, cowshot over midwicket, and ‘giving yourself room’ to play a square cut to a ball which is not really wide. But these should only be employed either when you are in a strong position or alternatively have to score off almost every ball (which comes to the same thing, in practice).
Driving on the up does not mean hitting the ball in the air; it means driving along the ground. You play the ball well after it bounces and get right over the top of it; it is a special technique which requires special practice. It is not the same as a lofted drive which by definition goes in the air and over the fielders. The only lofted shot which is normally safe is one where there is no fielder (normally only straight ahead) although, in practice, lofted shots may be safe elsewhere.

However, coaches are in the business of developing strokes which are safe in almost all circumstances; and you should remember that the only reason for hitting the ball in the air deliberately is either that you are going to hit the ball for six or alternatively you cannot score by more orthodox means. In whatever game you are playing, you should aim never to hit the ball in the air unless you are in a strong position, except in really exceptional circumstances.

The principal criterion which determines the shot to play is whether you can play the shot correctly; after that, the question is where the ball pitches. There are other thoughts on the matter to be found in the more detailed notes on batting.

16 COACHABLE STROKES

8 strokes from third man to fine leg on the front foot

All straight bat, top hand in control, left elbow up

1) Forward defensive
2) Off-drive from half-volley (varying degrees of opening face)
3) Off-drive from good length ball on the up (but along the ground)
4) Straight drive
5) Lofted straight drive
6) Lofted straight drive with chassée (ie moving down the wicket)
7) On-drive (varying degrees of closing face)
8) Leg glance

4 strokes off the back foot: straight bat, top hand in control, even more left elbow up

9) Back defensive
10) Forcing shot off back foot (offside)
11) Forcing shot off back foot (onside)
12) Leg glance off back foot

Back foot crossbat shots – bottom hand in control, left elbow down

13) Late cut
14) Square cut
15) Pull
16) Hook

[2009 note: there has been an exponential growth in batsmen “playing on”, ie bowled after he/ she has hit it. The commentators – not even Geoffrey Boycott – NEVER point out that this is ALWAYS because batsmen are caught playing what we orthodox coaches call the “halfway shot” – neither vertical nor horizontal but, well, halfway. Check the replays.]

[Further 2009 note: it is crucial to use what I call the “cradle” position. Stand upright, bend forward slightly, and clasp your hands in front of you; gently rock the baby keeping as straight a line as possible between your elbows. This is the ideal position for every orthodox shot in cricket. I feel 16 pictures coming on.]

WHICH STROKE TO PLAY – some preliminary thoughts

Ideally, of course, you will play all strokes perfectly. In practice, not even the greatest players do so. You must therefore employ the strokes you can play well, and avoid the strokes you play badly. Obviously, coaches will try to increase the repertoire of strokes you play well, but you must analyse your own game, capitalise on your strengths, and try to hide your weaknesses.

The back and forward defensive strokes are the two which you must learn to play extremely well at the first opportunity. Even the hardest-hitting batsman is likely to play a defensive stroke, say, five times as often as an attacking one. Remember, too, that the ‘leave’ is the safest defensive stroke of all to a ball that is going to miss the wicket. School batsmen are far more often out to defensive strokes played badly than to attacking ones.

Analyse your own game: how were you out the last ten times? The two defensive strokes are the key to scoring runs. We can all hit the bad ball easily enough – but are we there long enough to receive it?

Almost all the thoughts below suppose that you can recognise what kind of ball is coming (e.g. an offbreak or a legbreak). You must learn to pick out what kind of bowler is bowling, and when he bowls something different (e.g. the offspinner’s ‘arm ball’ or the legspinner’s ‘googly’).

Lefthanders have to translate thus: offspinner = slow left armer
legspinner = chinaman bowler (very rare)
Otherwise, inswingers or outswingers stay as they are – an inswinger or outswinger to you, away from or into you.

SOME GENERAL PRINCIPLES

There are some general principles of batting, that is the tactics of batting rather than the individual stroke, which most people would agree with. Many of them might not apply after you have scored a hundred or so, but then you need hardly worry about anything. You can, of course, break the rules; but it is dangerous to do so unless you play the stroke extremely well.

1) play with the spin (or even swing), not against it. This applies particularly on the front foot, and particularly to any shot played with a horizontal bat. Do not cut an offspinner, and do not ‘lap’ a legspinner.

2) always go right forward or right back – never halfway or walking.

3) keep your head and eyes as still as possible, not jogging them up and down as you move to play the ball. Move them smoothly into the line of the ball. Above all, watch the ball all the way onto the bat – it sounds easy, but is actually very difficult: most batsmen tend to stop looking at the ball after it has reached about halfway down the pitch.

4) do not move at all until after the ball has been delivered. It sounds obvious, but again, most batsmen tend instinctively to move as the bowler delivers the ball. They thus move their eyes unnecessarily, and commit themselves in what may well be the wrong direction. The longer you wait (particularly to fast bowlers) the slower the ball will seem to come. Wait until you have judged the line and length, and then move.

5) beware the really bad ball (rank long hop or high full toss): it takes more wickets in school cricket than twenty good balls. The reason is that the batsman’s eyes light up, and he lifts his head to hit it for ten: he thus takes his eyes off the ball with the result that it goes in the air or you miss it completely.

FORWARD OR BACK?

Ask a dozen famous cricketers for their views on this, and you will get a dozen different answers. Some will stick to the front foot on almost all occasions (e.g. Tom Graveney); others will play mostly off the back foot (e.g. large numbers of West Indians and Australians). Others will use a mixture. Much depends on your own abilities, but much also depends on the kind of wicket you are playing on. What follows on this topic is very much a suggestion which must be modified depending on these two factors. It was W.G.Grace – amazingly – who introduced the notion that batsmen should be able to play both forward and back with equal facility, and his is the example we should aim to copy.

1) a good length ball is by definition one to which the batsman is in doubt about whether to play back or forward. Normally you will play back to a short ball and forward to a half-volley. The yorker (one which pitches on the crease) or the full toss can be played with relatively little movement of the feet (which is what playing back or forward implies, of course).

2) to defend against a good-length ball coming into you by spin or swing, play FORWARD.

3) to defend against a good-length ball moving away from you, play BACK, unless you can be sure to play the ball almost immediately after it bounces, ie is nearly a half-volley, in which case you can play forward.

4) if the wicket is reasonably fast, but the ball is doing strange things – ie coming through at variable heights – if in doubt, play FORWARD.

5) if the wicket is very slow, and the ball is stopping, if in doubt play BACK. In particular, do not try to score by driving, because you will be caught at mid-off or mid-on. Look to turn off the back foot, to force on the offside, and to pull.

[2009 note: what follows was written in an era when the primary aim of bowlers was to get batsmen out, and only later to defend. In an era of (far too much) overs cricket, the same principles should apply, but all too often don’t. How do you stop the best batsmen in the world from scoring very quickly? Get him out when he first comes in].

PLAYING DIFFERENT KINDS OF BOWLER

Very fast bowlers

They tend to rely on sheer speed rather than nagging accuracy or movement. Most of their fieldsmen are likely to be behind the wicket. Use the speed of the ball. You do not need to drive the ball as you do with a slow bowler.

to defend leave everything that is going to miss the stumps. Do not be frightened into hanging out the bat at everything outside offstump. If you’re going to play the ball there, you must either get right on top of it and cut it through slips and gulley, or flash very hard. Slips will never sniff it. The key principle is to keep absolutely still as long as possible, and then move your head and eyes into the line of the ball. Play right forward or right back.

to attack look for the half-volley or full toss which you steer or punch (ie not much backlift) rather than drive into gaps probably either squarish or behind the wicket, becoming straighter as you get used to the pace, and the bowler tires. Do not try to hit the short ball unless you can hook or cut well. Either leave them alone, or steer them for a single.

Medium-paced bowlers

They tend to rely on nagging accuracy and movement in both directions. They are waiting for you to get yourself out by despairingly trying to score off a ball which you should be defending against.
If the ball is moving, they are the most dangerous bowlers. If the ball isn’t moving, they are the most easily hit – particularly by sloggers near declaration time.

to defend very firm and definite forward defensive, bat close to pad (particularly at the knees). If the ball is moving both ways, play FORWARD with the bat steeply angled to kill the ball dead.

to attack good running between the wickets is the key to breaking the medium- pacers’ stranglehold. Once you take a few quick singles, a worthwhile calculated risk, most medium-pacers will lose their accuracy of length, which will mean that you wait for half-volleys to drive, and short balls to turn for a single, cut or pull.

Offspinners:

They are normally trying to bowl as wide outside offstump as you will play, because they are trying to make you play against the spin (q.v.) into the covers, which is difficult and dangerous, except to a full-toss which should always be four runs. There has been a tendency for some years for offspiners at County or League level to bowl at leg-stump with a packed leg-side field* (*see later). Since this ploy has still not reached school cricket, I have ignored it in these notes.

to defend immaculate forward defensive: NO GAP BETWEEN BAT/PAD

to attack look for the full toss which goes through the covers for four, or the short ball which can be pulled anywhere in an arc from mid-on to fine leg (depending on how straight it is). Or the straight ball (which will thus miss leg-stump) which you can come down the wicket to, or (a half-volley) drive off the front foot anywhere in an arc from mid-off to midwicket. Hit it ALONG THE GROUND AT LEAST UNTIL YOUR EYE IS WELL IN.

watch out for the arm ball – one which does NOT spin in to the right hander, but drifts away towards slip;
the very slow ball this is usually high-flighted in order to tempt you to slog. Resist the urge.
the short, faster ball. Do not try to cut, or you will be caught by the wicket- keeper or slip.

Slow left-armers/leg-spinners:

are normally trying to pitch the ball on middle stump and hit off, or slightly wider if they think you’ll chase it. They too want you to play against the spin (q.v.) but they also have an army of fielders in the covers waiting to catch the mis-timed drive.

to defend if out of reach, play BACK defensive;
if you can reach the pitch, play FORWARD defensive, but really angle the bat to squeeze the ball down, and play with very soft hands.

to attack look for the short ball, which you can despatch most safely off the back foot through the covers, or, more dangerously, into the wide open spaces on the legside.

look for the full toss (especially from legspinners) which you can hit for 4 on the legside. Don’t slog!

DO NOT DRIVE ON THE OFFSIDE unless it is very definitely a half- volley. Even then, it is not a safe stroke until you are very well in.

A useful unorthodox theory which works if done confidently:

One of the most dangerous situations for batsmen is when the wicket is wet or (even worse) drying, and a slow left-armer (or offspinner to LH bat) is making the ball turn and lift. In such a situation, the bowler is likely to be bowling to a 7/2 offside field, and it seems almost impossible to score runs because you are bound to lift the ball in the air to the waiting fieldsmen. In this situation – or even against such bowlers in ordinary circumstances – a useful ploy is to move your guard well over towards off-stump, and to play the ball entirely onto the leg side, leaving any ball which appears to pitch straight and thus will turn to miss offstump. You aim most of the time to play the ball between mid-on and mid-wicket, and you play it from a position almost outside the line of the ball, off the front foot. This needs coaching and practice.

What happens is this; if the ball does turn, you are playing it down the line after pitching. If it does not turn, it may well hit your pad, but you are unlikely to be given out LBW. The other thing is that it frustrates such bowlers, because they are accustomed to seeing people push the ball out on the offside towards their army of fieldsmen. When you do the opposite, they tend to get very irritated and start muttering about your technique. Smile quietly. The principal exponent of this shot used to be Viv Richards, who employed this technique almost regardless of the circumstances.

Some important cautions

1. All the above remarks imply not just that X or Y is an offspinner or whatever, but that you know that the individual ball is going to spin in at you or away from you. You have to learn, therefore, from the bowler’s hand movement and/or the flight of the ball what it is going to do. If you are ever in doubt play RIGHT FORWARD.

2. Most bowlers (particularly spinners) try regularly to bowl the opposite of what they normally bowl in order to trap you into doing the wrong thing. Offspinners and slow left-armers bowl an arm ball, which swings ‘with the arm’ rather than spins. Legspinners bowl a googly (an offbreak not a legbreak) or a topspinner which spins towards the wicket and thus hurries onto you after pitching.

Most unimaginative bowlers tend to bowl such a variation (if they can) once an over, about fourth ball usually. Cleverer ones will vary their bowling much more wildly – perhaps six googlies an over and then none for ten minutes, so that the batsman is kept guessing and worrying.

3. Slow bowlers will often bowl a much faster ball very wide. Batsmen feel an uncontrollable urge to flash at it and get caught at the wicket. LEAVE IT!

4. All kinds of bowler will from time to time bowl a very slow ball, trying to tempt you to lift your head and slog. DON’T!!

Some general points

1. It is usually much easier to play a ball coming into you rather than going away from you. So if you have a r/h batsman playing with a l/h batsman, each should try, by and large, to stay at the ‘easier’ end.

2. Slow left armers and legspinners are the most dangerous bowlers to right hand batsmen. If you see one coming on to bowl, tell your left-hander(s), preferably a hard-hitter, to pad up immediately to go in next and take him apart. With any luck the captain will take him off and not bowl him again. The same applies to a good offspinner. It may be worth promoting the team slogger to make sure that he gets taken off.

3. Fast bowlers cannot bear being driven for four: it is an affront to their dignity. If you get a half-volley, punch it hard through the covers. There probably aren’t many fielders in front of the wicket, and the slips won’t sniff a catch if you really try to hit the ball. After this, the average fast bowler will bowl too short – which is much easier to play.

4. If you’re going to flash outside offstump, FLASH HARD; don’t limply hang out the bat to dry.

5. On a bad wicket, most captains will try to ring the bat and get you out from catches off the glove or other false strokes.Your first priority is to remove the close fielders, since it won’t be long before you get an unplayable ball. Remember that if the fielders are all round the bat, they cannot also be further out, saving runs or catching mishits. At every opportunity – ie to any ball which will not hit the wicket, you must hit the ball hard. It doesn’t really matter if it goes in the air; there aren’t any fielders to catch it. The average captain will then start dropping fielders out, so that you are in far less danger from the rising/popping ball.

6. On a good wicket, you are less likely to have fielders round the bat, and as long as you play correctly down the line of the ball, there is no reason why you should ever get out. THUS, IF IN TROUBLE: on bad wickets, you must hit (send in your slogger!); on good wickets, you can occupy the crease and squeeze yourself out of trouble by occupying the crease, and gradually regain the command, returning as soon as possible to good strokeplay and, above all, good running between the wickets.

7. When conditions are wet, it is much easier to bat than to field. Bowlers cannot hold the ball, nor can they stand up.The ball is also difficult to field and catch.

8. If you are playing deliberately defensively (eg just before lunch, or for a draw) try to disguise the fact as long as possible – ie by appearing to look for runs. Otherwise an astute captain will have a ring of fielders around your backside in no time at all, and you’ll do something silly under the pressure.

9. The game is essentially about taking the initiative and dominating the opposition. There should be an answer to the apparently ignorant question ‘who is winning?’ In whatever circumstance, you may have to defend at some point, but your aim must be in some way to regain control. Luck goes to the dominating side: it is mainly because, when you are in command of the game, you have the right psychological balance of concentration (or alertness) and relaxation. The right balance is what is known as temperament: some people have it almost all the time, and that is why they may often do consistently better than people who appear to have more talent or technical skill. When it is wrong, you don’t. It’s as simple as that. ‘And blest are those whose blood and judgement are so well-co-medled that they are not a pipe for Fortune’s finger to sound what stop she please’; Hamlet would have been very interested in cricket.

10. Almost all the rules can be broken by good batsmen who have their eye in. But if you want to score a hundred rather than twenty or thirty, you must learn to concentrate – to be thinking about which strokes are safe, and which aren’t. This will depend not just on some of the rules of thumb given above (with which many great players might well disagree) but on the state of the game, the state of the pitch, the degree of risk you can afford to take, etc. etc.

These ideas are not offered as GOLDEN RULES. They are intended as a starting point for you, to get you thinking about your own game, your own technique, and developing your own rules. They aim to put an old head on young shoulders.

THE GOLDEN RULES OF RUNNING BETWEEN THE WICKETS

Aims: not merely to score more runs, but also to gain the initiative, feel more confident, to rattle the fielding side, and to unsettle the bowlers – thereby making it easier for you to score runs by orthodox strokeplay.

Your attitude should be less ‘I shan’t run unless I obviously can’ than ‘I will run unless something stops me’.

1. A run is never worth a wicket. If in doubt, don’t run!

2. Never give up; it makes it too easy for the fieldsman.

3. Do NOT run unless it is a very easy run for the following:
a) a misfield
b) a mishit which spoons up in the air
c) a well-hit drive

All these are dangerous since, for different reasons, batsmen feel an instinctive urge to run whether it is safe to do so or not. BEWARE!

4. Run every run as fast as possible, but particularly the first one. At the end of each run EVEN IF YOU THINK ANOTHER IS UNLIKELY, always turn to look for another, and call WAIT (see below). Don’t continue your triumphal progress past the wicket.

5. Change the bat from right hand to left etc., so that as you touch the bat down, you can look up to see the fieldsman (rather than have to turn round). Do not keep looking as you run – it slows you down.

6. If you have misjudged a run and may be run out, run your bat in almost parallel to the ground – the extra few inches may make all the difference. Otherwise just dab the bat down and turn.

7. The striker must run straight at the bowler – the non-striker is the other side. Do not run down the wicket – it won’t improve its quality. Be careful when bowlers bowl from the ‘wrong’ side.

8. CALLING: The striker calls for a ball hit in front of the wicket
The non-striker calls for a ball hit behind.

After the first run, it is for the man running into danger (normally to the wicket-keeper’s end) to call.

9. NO ALWAYS MEANS NO (from either batsman) – whoever is supposed to do the calling (see rule1).

10. There are only three calls, all of which should be shouted:
YES
NO
WAIT
‘wait on’ is meaningless; ‘wait there’ really means no and is thus ambiguous; ‘not now’ (later, perhaps?) is merely an admission of incompetent calling.

A perhaps unexpected call (eg. NO after second thoughts, or YES for very cheeky run) should be very loud indeed.

11. WAIT means: go as far as you possibly can out of your crease but can get back if the fieldsman throws down the stumps. The caller (see 8) should call WAIT almost immediately after the ball is played – for action, see above – followed by either YES or NO. The non-striker should reckon to back up 7 yards. It follows that the one place the batsman should never hit the ball is straight back down the wicket (unless it is either very hard – 4 runs – or very soft – 3 yards).

12. Do not commit yourself to a run until the caller has called YES.

Follow these rules and you will virtually never be run out (nor will you run out anybody else); your individual score and the team’s score can be doubled by good running between the wickets. It’s also something that anybody can do well – however good or bad his batting may otherwise be.

SCORING RATES

Before you go out to bat either as a team or as an individual, you ought to make at least a vague assessment of the scoring potential of the ground, and the kind of scoring rate required at different stages of the game. For example, on the Clifton Close on a wet day at the end of April (with the grass still quite long) the average scoring rate is not likely to be higher than 2 – 3 an over, or 40 – 60 an hour; in an innings of 3¼ hours, a good score would be 150-180. However, on a sunny day in July, a fast pitch and outfield etc., the average scoring rate is likely to be about 80 an hour, or 4 an over. This is a total of 250 in 3¼ hours. Chasing against the clock, a side with wickets in hand could probably quite easily score 120 in the last hour, or 6 an over.

This is all based on the obvious fact that when it is dry the ball can be more easily driven, the ball travels faster to the boundary, and you score lots of fours, whereas on a wet day, even if you could play the same shots with the same power you would be likely to score only twos. It is also because – with the ball travelling faster over the infield – the fielders ‘saving one’ have to be rather further away from the bat to have any chance at all of stopping the harder drive, and consequently are vulnerable to the intelligent batsman who merely pushes plenty of quick singles; if the fielders then come in really close to save these, he smashes the ball past them for four!

The tempo of the innings is established by the opening batsmen. Unless the team loses wickets, the tempo should increase markedly as the innings progresses. The normal ratio for an innings of 250 might be:
50 in the first hour (2½ per over)
70 in the second hour (3½ per over)
90 in the third hour (4½ per over)
40 in the last 15 minutes (8 per over)

This is, of course, based on what should be an average of 20 overs per hour [2009 note: alas, rarely so]. If it is slower than this, you would have to score a little faster.

If you lose wickets so that you cannot afford (in your view) to risk meeting these targets, then time comes into the reckoning (if you’re batting first). You may have to occupy the crease until either you can accelerate the scoring rate or until the time/runs ratio has reached a point where you can set a difficult target for the side batting second: anything over a run a minute becomes at any rate something to give your bowlers a chance, in any conditions. In fast conditions, it would normally be necessary to set a much stiffer target to have a good chance. One cannot give more detailed guidance than this, since every match will be different and it is up to the batsman to weigh up the situation and play accordingly (possibly the captain will give explicit instructions). Perhaps one could give a very rough guide, and say that the following targets/declarations are fairly common on fast grounds;
250 in 180 minutes
225 in 160 ”
200 in 140 ”
175 in 120 ”
150 in 100 ”

A captain should normally find himself declaring about 5/10 minutes after half- time, setting this sort of target. By convention, it is reasonable for him to go on longer than this if a) he was put in by the other side, b) the batting side got into serious trouble and squeezed itself out. Nevertheless, declarations are made to win the game, not to give it away. On the other hand, on a good pitch, your best chance of winning is when the side batting second is chasing a target. Ideally, the captain will arrange matters so that the target is always just beyond them, so that they chase the runs (and thus play some dangerous shots), but the fielding side always feels in control. Once the side batting second decides to play for a draw, you bring the fielders right in; this has the effect of putting pressure on the batsmen, but it also gives them quite a lot of runs, so that they may think again about going for the target.

The great advantage of batting first is that you set the targets for both sides. By dictating the terms, you can control the match. If you decide to bat second, you give away this crucial advantage. The shorter the game and the better the pitch, the more there is to be said for batting second, particularly if you have a strong and hard-hitting batting side. You are unlikely to be bowled out, and so you can only win or draw. The other occasion is when the pitch (but not the outfield) is wet at first, and is likely to dry out and thus get better later in the day. But beware: if it is very wet, it may well get worse, if the top comes off. You will then have to bat, possibly chasing a difficult target, on a wicket where the ball is flying round your ears. The reason for putting the other side in is that you think you can bowl them out cheaply. You will have to do so to have a reasonable chance of winning.

BUILDING AN INNINGS

The change from Colts and even 2nd X1 cricket to 1st X1 cricket is enormous, and it takes even the most talented players a year to get used to it. Virtually no batsman does consistently well in his first year in the 1st Xl, and there are many reasons for it. The pressures are enormous, both because the bowling and fielding are faster and more accurate, and because psychologically the younger player feels he is ‘playing for his place’ which of course he is. But probably the biggest single factor is the difficulty of concentrating for a very much longer period. In an afternoon game, the side’s innings will last about 2 hours, and the individual player may feel satisfied if he scores 30 or 40. 50s or 70s are fairly rare even in 2nd X1 cricket (unfortunately) and so the batsman comes mentally unprepared to bat for 2 hours or more himself, where the side’s innings should be about 3 hours – half as long again as all the games he has played in before.

The 1st X1 batsmen from numbers 1 – 6 (at least) should want and expect (given the time) to bat for at least 2 hours and to score 100. Unless his aim is high, he will fail to concentrate and be out time and time again for 20s and 30s. What he has to do is to learn to concentrate for long enough.

The dangerous periods are these:

a) when you first go in, because you have not had an opportunity to sight the ball, and the bowler has just been encouraged by a wicket falling;

b) when you have been batting for about half an hour, because you are seeing the ball well enough to relax (ie fail to concentrate), but not well enough that you can afford to (you might reach that stage when you have scored 120);

c) immediately after you reach a landmark (your 50 or 100, say) because you suddenly relax and fail to concentrate;

d) when the batsman at the other end has got out after a reasonable partnership – because such a breakthrough lifts the bowlers and fielders whereas you may have settled into an unthinking routine;

e) after a break for whatever reason – drinks or a meal – because you either don’t really
concentrate or because you try to carry on where you left off, even though you really need to play yourself in again.

When you first go in, your first consideration is to play yourself in – that is, to get a sight of the ball and a sense of the pace of the pitch. But you must not get so bogged down and obsessed with playing yourself in that you allow a bowler to bowl maiden after maiden at you and thus retain the initiative (bear in mind that every time a wicket falls the fielding side gains the initiative for the moment, which has to be won back). Bear in mind too that the batsman at the other end has been in longer than you and will usually therefore be ‘seeing it better’. Your principal aim, therefore, is to take a single where possible and give him the bowling. The same aim may also be adopted by opening batsmen, even though the reasons are not the same (and frequently less laudable!). This will give you confidence, keep the run-rate going, and help gain the initiative. There may be odd exceptions to the wisdom of this strategy (eg. if it is safer for you to take the bowling – see above), but in general play yourself in by taking singles.

Once you feel you are playing well enough to try and dominate, then you must set yourself to play and play and play. You must stop the good ball, hit the bad ball (though not with head in the air), and look to turn or push the average or indifferent ball for a single, bearing in mind always the runs per over required. If you hit two full tosses for 4, do not be surprised when the captain is angry with you for getting out trying to do the same thing next ball to a good length ball moving off the seam. Never mind the heroics – turn it for a single if you can, or just play it into the ground.

A RUN A MINUTE IS 3 PER OVER. ANYTHING MORE THAN THAT AND YOU ARE DOING BETTER THAN EXPECTED (until the last half-hour or so). Keep your batting under control. By all means occasionally take a bowler apart if that is the wise thing to do, but do it within the limitations of the risks you think you can afford to take. It may be fair enough for a right-hander to hit 24 off an over from an offspinner at 140 for 1, but less sound to attempt the same against a slow left armer at 24 for 4 (except in very special circumstances – see above). By and large it is not a good idea to take apart a bad bowler, because you want to keep him on. It is the good bowler that you might think of taking apart, so that he is taken off. If all this sounds complicated, it is. The understanding of this kind of thing is what people call experience.We all like to think that we know what we are doing, but the truth is that even at the highest level, most players just play the game without ever thinking very clearly about what they are doing from ball to ball. Never forget that cricket is played ONE BALL AT A TIME. Just concentrate on that next ball and on nothing else.

Make your targets easily accessible – 10, then 20, then 30, then 40, then 50! then CAREFUL – don’t lose concentration at this point; now to 60; now to 70; NO RUSHES OF BLOOD!; now to 80: now to 90: now to 100: STILL CONCENTRATE! now to 110 etc., until you are 175 not out at the declaration! But do not get bogged down in the 40s or the 90s, or within sight of any target. The old players always say – we’ll get them in singles, and that’s the way to do it. The key to batting is not fours, but ones.

BOWLING
Some general considerations:

1) Control of line and length are of paramount importance, but in order to take wickets on a good pitch against good batsmen you also need a) to move the ball either in the air or off the ground;or b) to vary the speed and/or flight of your bowling to deceive the batsman into playing a false stroke.

2) You take wickets more often by the variation in bowling rather than by the brilliance of an individual ball; such an effect is gained also by the captain changing the bowling.

3) A batsman is usually more vulnerable when he has to play forward rather than back. Keep the ball up, especially on a slow wicket.

Technical Points – all kinds of bowler:

A good action consists of the following:

1) A smooth, economical run-up, increasing in speed as you approach the wicket, with weight forward.

2) A conspicuous leap before the delivery stride, to ‘coil the spring’.

3) A straight left arm, with open palm thrown up high towards fine leg.

4) A marked leaning backwards with the head looking down the wicket from behind the left arm.

5) For medium-pace bowlers especially, a full follow-through with the right arm.

6) The back foot should land as close to the stumps as possible, with a variation of bowling as wide as possible. Most bowlers bowl permanently halfway out.

7) Control of the wrist; without sacrificing line or length, you should be able to bowl i) by pushing the hand forward at the moment of delivery, or ii) holding the hand right back, or iii) pulling back on the seam or iv) pushing the seam forward (ie offbreak at any speed or legbreak, which is more difficult).

Pulling back on the seam keeps the ball steady in the air (cf a spin pass in rugby) and also has the effect of cutting the ball back in the opposite direction to the swing. Thus an outswinger pulled sharply back is an offcutter, and an inswinger pulled back is a legcutter.

To make the ball cut more, exaggerate the line of the seam – ie turn it even more in the correct direction.

To make the ball swing more, hold the wrist back and pull back only slightly (enough to keep the seam in position). If you do this, then the ball will continue moving in the same direction as the swing.

8) Bowl to your field. Most bowlers in most situations will be bowling on or just outside offstump with a predominance of offside fieldsman; a defensive ploy for offspinners or inswing bowlers is to bowl at legstump with a packed legside field. Do not try to bowl at middle stump with a split field; there aren’t enough fielders.

Offspinners

a) normally bowl wide outside offstump. The two most important fielders are mid-off and backward cover (about 10 yds behind square).

b) especially to defend, bowl flat at leg-stump with a 3/6 legside field.

Slow left-armers & leg-spinners

a) aim to pitch middle and hit offstump, bowling to a 6/3 or 5/4 offside field (depending on how accurate you are).

Variations:

a) an arm-ball which swings in the opposite direction to your normal spin
b) a much faster ball, probably wider
c) a much slower ball held back by being delivered at an earlier moment than usual and given more air
d) a high full-toss!
e) (leg-spinner) a topspinner and googly.

Medium-pace bowlers (do not bowl short)

a) concentrate on accuracy of line and length
b) experiment with different grips to provide different kinds of movement in the air and off the pitch
c) make constant small adjustments to your pace.

Fast bowlers

a) build up your strength to bowl really flat out; warm up in the nets so that your first ball is really good.
b) do not waste the new ball by bowling wide or short.

FIELDING
General

1) There are only 3 categories of fielder;

a) up for the catch
b) saving one
c) saving four (and indeed two)

2) Do not field in ‘no-man’s land’ except in special circumstances (eg. an exceptionally long boundary).

3) If you are ‘saving one’ you really should manage to do that if the ball is pushed in your direction.

Close-catching

1) The golden rule is STAY DOWN & STAY STILL. Do NOT flinch or rise as the batsman plays his shot.

2) Be in the correct position (little fingers and sides of the palm touching, otherwise spread as wide as possible) just before the bowler bowls.

3) Slips should not stand in a curving arc, but in a straight line from first slip towards cover point. In this way, 2nd slip is in front of first, 3rd in front of 2nd etc. Then both players go for the ball between them, first slip going behind second etc etc. First slip should normally stand with his left (for r/h batsman) foot down the line of the return crease.

4) When catching the ball, move your feet if necessary rather than dive.

5) As with all fielding, use BOTH HANDS if you possibly can.

Longer Catching

1) If you have to move, move fast and then stand still. The only exception to this is when you are fielding on the boundary: give yourself a moment to judge the position of the catch; do not come charging in automatically only to find the ball soaring over your head for FOUR!

2) Get your hands under the ball

3) For a high catch get your hands together (as above) and raise them high above your head so that you can watch the ball into the big bucket.

Ground fielding

1) You must decide whether you are attacking or defending just before you pick up the ball. You should attack if there is a fair chance of a run-out but defend if there is not.

2) To attack you run fast into the ball, pick up off your right boot if right- handed (with BOTH HANDS) and fire the ball over the stumps in one movement.

3) To defend, you keep still (or stop before the ball reached you) and from a LONG barrier; this is much safer, though slower.

4) Do not fire the ball at either end unless there is a good chance of a run- out; just return it with reasonable crispness and neatness to the keeper (to make it dead).

5) If fielding in the covers (to RH), you attack everything to your right, while the man on your right defends behind you.

6) Ditto on the legside (to RH), but read left for right; for LH batsmen also reverse.

General fielding – you must either be close catching, saving one, or saving four; never halfway.

Saving one: you do not have to be a good fielder, though that is desirable. The important thing is that the batsman thinks you’re a good fielder. You can prevent many runs by swooping on the ball with a great clatter of your feet and flapping of arms for the grand effect.

As the ball comes towards you, you must instantly assess whether you are attacking or defending. You are attacking if there is a good chance of a run-out; in which case you swoop in as fast as possible and fire the ball in overarm as hard as you can either at the bowler’s end or the keeper’s; but keep your eye on the ball. You are defending on all other occasions; in which case, make absolutely sure you stop the ball, and then throw neatly but not violently back to the keeper.

It is a good ploy, especially on a fast ground, to start relatively close in and impress the batsman with your speed to the ball; after that, you can gradually retreat a bit to give yourself the best chance of cutting off the well-hit shot, and with any luck the batsman will have been so impressed that he will not dare to run. Do not ‘cut the corner’. The cover fielders should arrange themselves in a straight line. Each player always rushes at any ball between himself and the bowler’s end; if he doesn’t reach the ball, the next man along stops the ball normally (see above). Some unexpected run-outs can be achieved like this.

Saving four: your principal task is to make absolutely sure that you stop the ball going for four by a magnificent long barrier position. When you have done that, return the ball to the keeper with as flat a throw as you can. If it is a very hard ground, it is often better to let the ball hit the ground first rather than go full toss; it’s quicker. You will rarely have the chance of a run-out, but watch out for one batsman running conspicuously faster than the other.

Catching: keeping still to make the catch is the best recipe. Race into position and then stand still is better than jogging and still moving while attempting the catch. But obviously, you must go for absolutely anything. Better to give away four runs if there is any reasonable chance of a wicket (normally).

For the catch which is going behind you, it is probably better to turn round and run fast rather than run backwards, unless it is really not very far. You will have to catch the ball over your shoulder, but if you run backwards, you probably won’t reach it at all and might well fall over and look ridiculous.

For boundary catches, be very cautious about rushing in. It is a very tempting reaction, but often you find that you misjudge it and run in too far.

CAPTAINCY

The captain is a vital player, whether he scores runs and takes wickets or not. Many teams have had as captain a man who was not exceptionally distinguished as a player; but his captaincy has made his team successful. Ideally, of course, he will be personally successful as a player; but a captain must not feel he is failing simply because he is not doing that. In a paradoxical way, his own failure on the day can spur him further in encouraging the other members of the team, which is his principal function as captain.

Before and after the game

You are responsible for the conduct and appearance of your team. Do not tolerate lateness, sloppiness, dirty kit, boots with no spikes etc; that sloppiness will be reflected in your team’s performance. Do not be afraid of a sharp word here or there: people will respect you for your desire to bring out the best in the team. Coolness in most adolescents is very superficial; they are mostly very keen to be successful, because that is cooler than anything else (eg failure). The apparently casual air of Viv Richards conceals the fact that he trains and practises very hard indeed; you can only afford to relax when you have already worked hard.

Be punctual at the ground to receive your visitors. Explain any special arrangements, and show them to changing-rooms etc. When at home, take the initiative about tossing the coin (make sure you have one!). Toss well before the start of play (say, ¼hr before).

At meals, invite the opposition captain (in advance) to sit beside you. Ensure in advance that your team expect to intermingle, and not sit at one end hogging the food and drink. At home, make sure that all the team help with waitering; we have neither waitresses nor fags in the pavilion!

After the match, thank the umpires, scorers, tea-ladies, opposition master i/c, pro, and anybody else you can think of; any thanks is never never never mis- placed or unappreciated. Inform visitors of supper arrangements and accompany them where applicable; make sure other members of the team do the same. Before leaving the ground, make sure that any mess (deck chairs, tea urns etc) is dealt with by your team and not left for somebody else. Finally, see the visitors onto the coach.

The toss

Normally the home team captain tosses the coin (letting it fall on the ground) and the visitor calls. Unless there are good reasons for not doing so, winning the toss gives you the opportunity to do the difficult bit first (ie bat). In that way, by declaring (you hope) when you want to, you can control the match (see notes on batting). If you do decide to field first, then the opposition have no obligation to declare for your convenience, and it is no use grumbling about a late declaration. Unless you are already a confident batting side, most teams find chasing targets against the clock a difficult business and perish in the attempt.

Going out and coming in

Having had a brief warm-up round the wicket-keeper, and perhaps a few stretching exercises etc., you should take your team to the dressing-room for perhaps a few brief words and general pep-talk, and then you should go out together as a team. Arrange in advance the field for the first over at least. Lead your team out briskly and efficiently.

Regardless of the final outcome, or just for an interval, you should lead your team to the pavilion. Occasionally, a bowler taking 8-27 should lead you in, but not for 3-75.

Attitude to your team

Leadership is a difficult business. To lead other people, you have to be, to some degree, aloof. People under you must know that when you say something you mean it. The best leaders achieve this without ever having to enforce it, but there must be an element in you which people recognise as authority. Ideally, it means that people do things because they respect you and, at worst, know you will enforce it if you really have to.

Beyond this, the main thing which your team requires of you is your confidence in them. Cricket is a game of confidence above all, and it is your primary job to give every player in your team the feeling that you think he is really good. For every one player who needs a kick up the backside, there are 49 who need you to tell them they’re wonderful in order to bring out the best in them.
Your lack of confidence will show: the bowler whom you never choose to bowl, or only allow a couple of overs, or for whom you immediately spread the field round the boundary; the batsman whom you consistently put well down the order; the fieldsman whom you banish to fine leg at both ends; the chap who misses one catch and you despatch him immediately to third man or make him swap with the well-known worst fielder on the ground You will probably not think twice about it; but he will, several times.Think about it. However, on occasions, you must be bold: put your Boycott down the order if slogging is needed; take off your star bowler when he has just taken two wickets in an over if your leg- spinner should come on; and so on. Experience has to dictate this kind of thing.

Placing the field

Details of this appear under notes for bowlers; but some general points:

1) Think in advance where to place your field. Don’t wait until the new bowler is ready.

2) You are responsible for the field, not the bowler (but ask him).

3) CHANGE takes wickets:of bowler, of pace, of turn, of swing.

4) Put pressure on the batsman whenever you can possibly afford to do so. Par for the course on the Close in dry conditions is, say, 3 an over. Even if the batsmen have been there for an hour, you can afford men round the bat to get them out if this or less is their scoring rate; the faster they are scoring, the more you have to have men saving runs rather than trying to get them out DON’T LEAVE DEFENCE TOO LATE !!!!!!

5) Don’t waste fieldsmen: if the ground is slow, you probably don’t need long leg/third man. And if the other side is about to declare, you don’t need 3 slips and 2 gullies! Ask yourself every over whether each fieldsman is performing a useful function; they only do two things – get people out or save runs. Which is the most important?

6) Start by thinking in terms of ratio: 7/2, 6/3, 5/4 etc. Brief thought will produce the answer that a slow left-armer on a sharply turning wicket to a RH batsman will certainly need 6/3 or even 7/2 although watch out for sneaky batsmen like DCH etc who deliberately do the opposite of what you might expect, for very good reasons (see batting notes). In broad terms, you will rarely go far wrong in any circumstances with a 6/3 offside field, and if you need a bit of breathing space before you come up with the right answer, go for this.

7) Avoid the rent-a-field general dispersal of the troops with everybody saving one. Either the batsman is new and nervous or he is becoming confident or he is grossly confident. In the first case, the fielders should be all round the bat, and in the last case they should be all round the boundary. But DO be alive to the subtleties and changes; when a wicket falls, even the other batsman is suddenly vulnerable, and certainly the NEW batsman is. The poor captain is the one who lets things drift. You will never be criticised by cricketers for thinking; only for dozing.