A good cricket team is made up of different personalities and skills. Helping make the right blend of these elements starts with the captain and the team he or she selects.
Selection at club or school level is different from the top tiers. There is very little concern about picking the extra batsman and the like. In fact for many captains the only selection issue is whether you can raise 10 other players!
The other main consideration not seen at the top level is to give everyone a game. As captain of a recreational side its part of your job to give your players the best opportunity to enjoy the games they play for you, even if you are serious about winning. A good captain can find a balance between the opposite stools.
Those differences mean you can't learn selection tactics by copying the ideas of your local first class team. It's a different game and requires a different approach.
The basic template
There are many options available to you but at club level a good general template is:
- 5 batsman capable of scoring 50 or more
- 5 bowlers (including 2 spinners) capable of taking wickets and bowling a decent number of overs.
- 1 wicketkeeper
This gives your side a balance to allow you to adapt to almost any situation.
It's possible and sometimes necessary to break from this template. However, before choosing to go in with just 4 decent bowlers consider what would happen if one of them pulled a hamstring in the first over and another bowled badly. You might have to make do with 2 good bowlers and some rather average fill in bowling.
The spinners are most important for games with a possible draw. Good spinners are vital at club level for getting weaker batsmen out. You can still use 2 spinners in limited over format games but they have a different job.
5 bowlers allow you to operate with 2 spinners without having to over-bowl them. There is always the risk that a spinner can be punished against a set batsman and they can't be as well protected if they are part of a 4 player attack.
A common problem with this selection is there are more all-rounders (of variable quality) at club level than first class. Often this means your 5 good batters and 5 good bowlers are the same people. This can cause problems: Bowlers do not get enough overs or batsmen are forced down the order.
Selection is the time to carefully consider such situations. Avoid them where possible. That said, you can still give people a game with some thought. For example, weaker batsman can be pushed up the order above your star players. They may be out first ball or they may rise to the challenge. Either way they will feel they have had a game and you will have probably lost nothing.
Selection is also the time to consider specific tactics for the coming match.
Take some time to find out some information about the game: the layout of the ground, the strengths and tactics of the opposition (local paper reports and last year's scorebook can help with this), the way the wicket might play and the weather forecast. Each element can make a difference.
For example, on a well known true batting pitch with the weather set fair. Will you really need 6 or 7 top quality batters or will a bigger choice of bowling be more important?
Whatever tactics you decide on the day, choosing a team is more than just picking the best 11 players. You have to strike a balance. This balance is not restricted to batsman, a wicketkeeper and bowlers. Your team needs to reflect closely the tactics you have for winning the match. That's where roles come in.
The role of roles
One of the joys of cricket is the diversity of its roles within the team. From tall bowlers to short batters and everything in between there is a role for everyone. There are tactical roles too. You may have a bowler whose role it is to bowl defensively and hold up an end while expensive strike bowlers operate at the other end. It may also be an experienced opening batsman who may score slowly, but always gets you off to a good start in a longer match.
Shane Warne and ex-England international turned sport psychologist Jeremy Snape are big advocates of ensuring you and your players are clear in their roles. It gives the players confidence to go out and do exactly what is asked of them.
It's equally important to match your player's skills and personalities to the roles you want filled. A hitter may struggle to graft out runs for example. A wild fast bowler may never be able to fill the stock containing role. Be cautious when you define these roles, especially if you are changing something that someone has always done. Talent may restrict you, as will the ego of the player if he feels he has been slighted in some way.
What if things change?
We all know how quickly selection ideas are lost in the middle as the game shifts. You can't account for that in selection but you can communicate to the players when your ideas have shifted. As long as players are aware what your plan is supposed to be and that you may change it any time there will be no surprises.
Image credit: Gary_T_W
Want to be a better captain? Learn from the best with the interactive online course Cricket Captaincy by Mike Brearley.