Putting on the squeeze: How to take wickets in limited overs games
Is it pointless taking wickets in limited over games?
Victory simply requires you to score more runs than the opposition in the allotted time (usually 50 or 20 overs). Whether you are in the field first or second you job is to keep the score as low as possible. That means defensive tactics.
Should you be resigned to not taking any wickets as captain or bowler then?
Taking wickets in this situation does have its advantages. New batsmen need time to increase their scoring rate. It's just the conventional strategies and field placings of declaration games carry a risk. The more you attack, the more likely you are to get hit into the gaps.
Do you, as the gamblers say, stick or twist?
Taking wickets in the opening overs
The first few overs present a problem. On one hand, with the ball fresh in your hand and the batsman at their most nervous you have a golden chance to take wickets. On the other hand, attacking too much can see the opposition gets off to a flyer.
Most teams take the route of cautious attack. With the ball pitched up, hitting the top of off stump the field looks something like this:
The bowler who gets some movement in the air or off the pitch could bowl a great opening spell and end up with 2 or 3 wickets. Inswing/seam bowlers may prefer a short midwicket or square leg instead of second slip. Away swing bowlers could move point to gulley.
Consider any wickets as a bonus and look to defend the scoring areas as quickly as possible.
If fielding restrictions allow, a good tactic is get spin on early. Unlike the professional game, a club or school level player will be reluctant to go for all out attack against them. This gives the spinner more confidence and you can frustrate the batsman into an error.
That thought brings us nicely onto the key to taking wickets in limited overs games.
Born of frustration: Taking wickets in the middle overs
Eventually your early advantage will run out and we enter the middle portion of the game. If cautious attack was the plan initially, defence is the first and last consideration from now on.
Remember your aim is to restrict the opposition to a low score, not bowl them out. That means three methods of taking wickets:
- Luck. You are playing in conditions that are so friendly to your team you will easily outscore the opposition.
- Skill. You bowl a series of 'magic' balls that blow the opposition away.
- Frustration. You stop the opposition from scoring through defensive tactics and frustrate them into mistakes.
Most teams rarely are in a position to exploit the first two methods. However, almost all sides can use the third tactic.
This starts with what the professionals call the 'squeeze' field. It is so called because you are trying to squeeze the batsman's scoring rate by cutting off all their shots. There are no singles to be had and they have to be very precise to thread the ball through the small gaps in the field. There are several variations, depending on the type of bowling.
Using this field, the bowler pitches the ball on or around off stump consistently. Accuracy is the key. Length can vary slightly from back of a length to fullish, but line must be impeccable:
The fielders are set close enough to save a single. One mistake with this tactic was highlighted in an English county game recently: Essex against Northamptonshire in the 50 over competition. Northants had set an excellent target of 281 and Essex were going about knocking the score off with a well paced chase. The Steelbacks needed to put on the squeeze if they were to have any hope of success. Captain Nicky Boje kept fielders up in the 30 yard field restriction circle but made the mistake of placing them on the edge to try and stop the four. This gave easy singles and the odd boundary when Essex needed less than 6 an over to win. It just goes to show even professionals can make mistakes.
The squeeze field only works when you are stopping singles so get close enough to do it. Extra cover and midwicket need to be alert to tip-and-run tactics too. If you are leaking runs you can't frustrate the batter. Slower medium pace bowlers can bring fine leg and third man up to save the single too.
Apart from that you can experiment with what works best for your bowling against different styles of batter. You may find outswingers have no need for square leg for example.
You will find good batsmen will try and hit over the top to get out of trouble. This carries a risk and could get you wickets. If someone is having success hitting over the top you can place a boundary fielder in their scoring area. Most club players are limited to where they can hit over the top so you should not need many players out.
Spinners are excellent in limited over conditions because they have to be hit that much harder to go for runs. The batsman is forced to play more attacking shots and more likely to make a mistake. That said, if a player does get hold of spin bowling you can be hit to all parts.
This means the squeeze field for spinners has more men on the boundary but the tactic is the same: cut off the runs.
The key to this is to bowl on one side of the wicket and protect that area. Club batsmen are not good enough in most cases to hit both sides of the wicket effectively.
The off spinner who is getting turn to the right handed batsman will be hit into the leg side more often with the turn and has to defend the leg side boundary as shown here:
Again, extra cover and midwicket should be alert for tip-and-run tactics. If needed, deep gulley can be moved to short fine leg. This is especially effective with the off spinner bowling around the wicket.
The orthodox left arm spinner will be hit more with the turn into the off side. The standard tactic is to bowl around the wicket on or outside off stump and the double ring of fielders should cut off most shots:
It is especially hard to work the ball behind square on the leg side so this area can be left open unless you come across a very skilled (or unorthodox) player.
Dealing with the long handle: Taking wickets at the death
Bowling at the end of an innings is the least difficult time to take wickets. It's also the most likely time to get hit; so many bowlers don't like it.
The tradition at the top level is to use the faster bowlers at the end. This is fine at lower levels as long as the bowler is accurate. Spinners can also be used if they are doing a good job.
Tactics will remain similar with bowlers pitching the ball up, aiming for the stumps and not giving the batsman room to swing their arms. The field will depend a great deal on the style of bowling and batting. A good framework to work from looks like this:
Deep midwicket may perhaps be better at deep extra cover but it's unlikely you will need sweepers on both sides of the wicket. Square leg could be moved almost anywhere the ball is going.
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