How to captain your team in the field: Placing the fielders
Along with bowling changes, field placing is the other obvious part of captaincy in the field.
The simple way to look at it is to put the fielders where you think the ball is most likely to go (not always just where it has gone).
How do you do that without resorting to the stock fields that everyone uses?
Before we get into that, a word about orthodox fields: They are orthodox because they have been proven to work over the test of time. Slips remain in place because batsmen through the ages continue to edge the ball wide of the wicketkeeper. Mid on and mid off exist because even the most extreme Twenty20 specialists play shots with a straight bat sometimes.
That said it's important not to mindlessly follow what you consider the norm. Just because every captain in your club starts the game with a couple of slips, a gulley and a saving one field it does not mean you should.
Once you have that in your mind, let's go back to the basic aim of field placing: Putting your players where you think the ball will go.
Where is the ball likely to go?
This starts with the batter. Each player is different. Variations in grip, stance, backswing and technique lead to the ball going in different places. It even happens at international level where sides employ full time analysts to pour over every glitch in a player's technique.
It's unlikely you will have an analyst to turn to, but you can still work players out from the moment you first see them. Here are some examples of tactics that have worked for me:
- Tempting an aggressive batsmen to hit a spinner over the top by keep mid on and mid off up.
- Two gulley fielders, a square point and a square third man to a player who plays shots with an open face
- A shorter mid off or midwicket for players who play too square for the leading edge
- Short extra cover and midwicket instead of slips on slow pitches where edges are not carrying. This puts extra pressure on the batsman too, especially if the keeper is standing up.
- A deeper gulley in Twenty20 cricket for the off side 'slash', almost saving one.
- A very straight mid on and mid off, and a straight deep mid off for the straight driver.
I'm sure you can come up with a few you have seen yourself. Each individual tactic has one of two methods: To cut off a scoring shot or be there when a mistake is made.
A batsman who has had their favourite couple of shots shut off from them will have to play shots they are not as comfortable with and make a mistake. This combination will lead to wickets.
This is where sometimes defence can be a form of attack. The modern term in limited over cricket is 'putting the squeeze on'. Where a fielding side aim to block off every run with tight fielding in the ring and few gaps where players can pick up one's and two's. Climbing run rates almost always lead to errors
As captain your aim should be to work out how to do this quickly.
You may already know a batsman's technique and can change the field right away, or they may be new to you and you might spend a few overs chasing the ball a little bit until you work them out.
If you are trying to take wickets, it's better to attack a little too much with your field than play too safe. This is not just for the sake of taking wickets, if you trust your bowlers by setting more attacking fields you are building their confidence.
For example, one commonly underused position is short leg. It's rare to see one and when you do they come out quickly (certainly in England). A good short leg can do more than take catches though. It puts the batsman under pressure and creates doubt, which can also lead to mistakes.
Beware of fielders who we call 'Wycombes': players who wander away from where you put them (in homage to the Wycombe Wanderers football club). Young players and those who daydream are notorious for this, so always do a quick check of every player before every ball.
Also beware of bowlers hang ups. For example, some will not feel right without a mid off, even if you want another slip (or third man). They may end up subconsciously bowling shorter to prevent the drive, which would defeat the object anyway. Bear these things in mind if a bowler expresses a concern about a field placing.
That said it's important not to set a field to bad bowling. Don't put a man out at deep square leg just because your star seam bowler has a series of rank long hops. Change the bowling instead.
After understanding where the batsman wants to hit the ball, you also need to know about the angles the bowler uses and how that effects where the ball might end up.
Your field placing should reflect where the ball is more likely to go based on the angles in play:
- Right arm in swing and off spin move the ball into the body of the right hander so the ball can be hit on the leg side more easily (and vice versa for left arm to left hand).
- Out swing, leg breaks and left arm spin all move away from the right hander. This means the ball is more likely to be hit on the off side (and vice versa for off spin to left handers).
- With a right arm bowler over the wicket slanting the ball across a left handed batsman, the hit will be more likely to go square off the face of the bat.
- With left arm bowlers over the wicket to right hand batsman, the hit will also be likely to go square. Good left arm seam bowlers (and left arm spinners with good arm balls) can also swing the ball back into the right hander to make the hit go straighter.
- Leg spinners variations need to be taken into account. Good leg spinners may have a googly (that turns in to the right hander) or several other variations. Each one changes the angle the ball might be hit.
- Line is also a factor. A left armer bowling a defensive leg stump line will be very difficult to hit on the off side. A bowler aiming at a second or third off stump will not get much hit square or behind square on the leg side.
The basic rule is that the shot usually follows the angle of the ball and your field should reflect that.
In all honesty, an orthodox field will mostly do the job you need. However if you understand why you are putting a player somewhere you are bound to be more confident if you move that player. Your plan may not come off but at least you did it because of a plan and not because you didn't know what else to do.
This is the true art of placing your field, knowing in your own mind why you are doing things.
Want to be a better captain? Learn from the best with the interactive online course Cricket Captaincy by Mike Brearley.