Why everyone wants to bat in the middle order (and what to do about it)
photo credit: Tc7
I don't know what it's like at your club, but where I play almost everyone thinks they are best suited to batting between 5 and 8.
But someone has to face the new ball and someone has to bat at 11 (which they will strongly disagree with even if they don't say anything).
As captain, how do you deal with this?
For me it's a fine balance of politics, kidology and knowing your players better than they know themselves.
The benefits of being in the middle order
Although I have never taken a survey, I think the love of the middle order comes down to the following reasons:
- The bowling is usually easier as the ball is older and the opening bowlers are off.
- There is less time so you have licence to hit out.
- You don't have to be padded up and ready to go straight after tea.
Can you come up with any others?
Understanding these motivations make it easier for you to deal with the log jam of players wanting to bat in the sacred spots.
How to set a club batting order
Getting an order starts with you building the expectations of the players in your team. While it is a perennial problem to have players drop out from week to week, you can build some consistency simply by:
- Working out who fits best in each position
- Outlining that specific role to each player
- Only changing that role if it is not working or are forced to by team changes
That's just about it, although it can be easier said than done. Below is how I see each role. Sit down with your player list and see who best fits where based on your experience of each batsman's style.
- Openers. Traditionally your openers are the batsmen with the best defence and the ability to build a long innings. Sometimes this translates to players who bat too slowly because they have a good defence but lack the confidence to play shots. A better ploy is to open with a player who can attack when needed while still being able to see off the better bowlers on bad club wickets.
- Number 3. First wicket down is quite specialist. The position demands someone who is flexible as they may be in second ball or when there is over 200 on the board. Often this position is seen as the best batsman in the side so the player's confidence should be high just through that. Look for batters with a solid technique, especially in defence.
- Numbers 4 and 5. These positions are where to place your most attacking batsmen. They will have the aim of scoring freely around the top order players and have more licence to attack. This is because they are usually in later in the game when the bowling is easier. They should be your best players of spin.
- Numbers 6 to 8. Depending on your batting strength you could well find your teams tail starting in this section (although many club sides bat all the way down). If these players are getting in regularly they should be tactically aware enough to deal with the game situation. They may have to attack in the last few overs before a declaration or block out for a draw. If you have poor batsman at this point make sure they know how to bat defensively above being able to swing the bat.
- Numbers 9 to 11. You can make up the final three with players who are most likely to be bowling. Be careful about using your worst batsmen though. Their role is usually pretty simple: Save the game or hit the winning runs. In many ways these are the vital positions because they are always in at the end of the innings in close games. Nevertheless, very few players like batting at the bottom of the order so you will need to judge how you tell the players in question. This is where your diplomatic skills come in handy.
Playing the diplomat
By now you should have a solid order in mind for your team. Some people will be happy with their position. Others will be dead set against your decision. For example, you may move an experienced opener to number 3, or put an all rounder down the order to give some experience to a younger batsman.
This is where you need to sit down with players and explain the importance of their role, asking them to give it a trial to see how it goes.
You need to use your judgement on how to tell players. Some prefer a strong leader and will accept the decision, while others need convincing or to feel like you have compromised in some way.
What remains the same is the need to give each player some stability and a feeling of unique importance. The openers are there to get the innings off to a good start without early wickets and the last three are there to win (or save) close games for you.
Get every player to buy into their role for at least a trial period and you will be most of the way to a settled batting order.
What if you get it wrong?
There will be times you misjudge a player. A young batsman might lose his confidence up the order for example. Learn from this error and make the changes as soon as you realise it.
As long as everyone involved understand the change then disruption should be minimised and you can get back to your masterplan.
OK, so you can't get everyone in the middle order as they want, but with a little work you can help people feel comfortable in the position you give them. Not that you can win them all, but the good captain can negotiate in the bar afterwards if all else fails!