Effective ground fielding is a hallmark of the fine fielder. Knowing when to aggressively seek the run out and when to be more circumspect will get you the results your captain and team mates expect from you.
- Defensive fielding can build pressure by drying up the runs.
- Attacking fielding can lead to more run outs.
However, if you get it wrong it can end in failure with batting teams stealing runs they should never get and simple wicket taking chances missed.
I'm sure everyone has done it at least once. I know I have. You try to attack the ball at the thought of a run out and end up misfielding or misthrowing it totally, perhaps even giving away more runs.
Stories like this show that to the fielder wanting to impress, judgement of when to attack and when to defend is essential.
When to defend and when to attack
Most occasions call for a defensive approach. That is not to say passive or unaggressive, but the main priority is to safely stop the ball and return it accurately.
Generally speaking you would be more defensive in your approach when the batting team holds the upper hand such as with an old ball or during a big stand. Also, if the outfield is bumpy and unreliable.
When you are looking to defend you would pick the slightly slower but safer options:
- Long barrier
- Traditional chase and pickup
- Throws for accuracy
- Not risking 50/50 chance skied balls
On the other hand, attacking when the situation demands is riskier but carries greater rewards. The technique is useful in any situation but especially so when wickets are more important than runs. That way you can afford to give away the odd fluff in the attempt to get someone out.
I play and watch club games mostly and some of the outfields we have to deal with are terrible. Attacking on a poor outfield can be very risky. At worst a nasty bobble can harm you; at best you give away needless runs. For this reason we always talk about fielding strategy before the game to make it clear to each other what we expect.
- Pouncing on the ball with one and two handed pickups
- Sliding stop
- Throws for speed
- Risking 50/50 skied balls
It's vital to practice these time and time again: Not only with fielding drills but also in pressure situations. If you can perform the attacking skills under pressure practice you will miss less in a game.
Once you have a general principle in mind, feel free to switch at any moment you feel confident. You get this feel for switching from cues the batsmen and bowler are giving you.
Let's say you are fielding at cover point. You watch the bowler deliver the ball and see early it is short. In your peripheral vision you see the batsman shaping to play the cut shot. You have identified early the batsman is looking to play an attacking shot.
You set yourself low. Now you are ready to dive to save the ball, turn and chase anything wide of you or take a flat catch. You are in defensive mode.
Now think about the same situation but the ball is on a length. The batsman is moving forward, perhaps to drop the ball in front of him and stealing a single. Instead of setting up like before you make your walking in to a run and then a sprint as you attack the ball, pickup and shy at the bowlers end for a spectacular attacking run out.
I can just see your team mates calling you Jonty as they slap your back.
The difference was nothing to do with the game situation in that case. Instead it was your awareness of that ball. The first, an attacking shot, demanded defence first. The second demanded attack first. How quickly you pick this up from ball to ball will dramatically improve you fielding.
Another way of identifying whether to attack or defend is through your captain and team mates. I already mentioned it's worth talking about your overall strategy before the game. Perhaps certain players like to steal lots of singles so you would look to attack more. Others might like to hit fours and you can frustrate them out with a more defensive mindset.
As you field, talk to the fielders around you between balls.
- How are they thinking about conditions and the two batsmen out there?
- Should you try dropping back a couple of yards or sitting in closer?
- Are you better of closer together or further apart?
On such small things games can turn. I'm sure you have seen such in your own matches. I know I have.
The captain and keeper set the overall tone too. Take instruction from the first as the former has the overall plan in mind while the latter sees the batsmen and conditions closer than anyone else on the field.
If you want to be the type of fielder a captain turns to, practice is the main way of course. But once you are well drilled in the skills of attack and defence, take the time to engage your mind on your tactical approach too.
If you get it right you will be getting the chance to turn games. What captain wouldn't love you if you did it right for them?