Better fielding isn't about more drills.
We all love a fielding drill at cricket practice. That rush you get when you perform it well and take the catch or hit the stumps is real and satisfying. You can see your skills improve the more you do. What could anyone possibly have against a good-old fielding drill?
The big problem is realism.
A well-run drill is efficient, sees lots of touches of the ball for everyone and has a specific aim usually based on one skill or a series of skills in a set order. There are no decisions, no critical moments.
That is not what happens in cricket.
You barely touch the ball in the field. When you do get a chance to perform a catch, stop or throw it's preceded by a decision - "is this mine? Can I get there?" - and usually requires another decision based on the game situation - "which end?", "cover the bowler or keeper?", "run in or play safe?".
A drill works on the skill and technique with a lot of volume, but also removes the important bits:
- Tactical awareness
- The feeling of the importance of the moment
- Patience and focus
When you remove these things from fielding practice, you make it far less effective. Many would argue they are a waste of time completely for cricket skill development.
The fix for fielding drills
There is good news. This problem is easy to fix.
Add in decision-making to your drills.
This can be simple or complex, based on your needs, but the more you can add back these missing elements, the better your fielding will get in games.
- Start simple by making less accurate or more difficult feeds (like fielding on an uneven surface).
- Add a decision by having two or more fielders "live" in the drill and having to work together to see who performs the skill in the moment.
- Add another decision like backing up, choosing which stump to throw, batsmen calling as you field.
- Make skills more difficult by starting kneeling, lying, or spinning round. You can even just be off balance or out of position to make this work.
- Ask others to try and put you off with shouting, or silence. You can add distractions to slip catches.
- Force yourself to catch in unusual ways. Prefer to catch Aussie style? Spend a few minutes only catching English style.
You don't need to think too hard to add a little more decision to a drill. Each change adds more difficulty for sure, is harder to master and leads to a lot of failure. In the long run, you learn more and it sticks for longer than just repeating the same skill out of context.
While drills may not be ideal, you can still hang onto them.
Just apply the question "how can I make this closer to the real thing?" and you will not be wasting time at fielding practice. Quality trumps quantity!
Let me know how you go!