How to captain your team in the field: Choosing the right bowlers | Cricket coaching, fitness and tips

How to captain your team in the field: Choosing the right bowlers

This is part two of a series on how to captain in the field. To go to part one click here. To go back to the introduction click here.

To paraphrase Andrew Flintoff, captaincy is all about changing the bowling every now and again and telling people where to stand. Although he was half joking, I sort of see his point. That's the obvious stuff everyone sees.

Is there an art to managing the bowling or is it just a matter of rotating now and again once you are in the field?

In most situations you are trying to take wickets in some way or another. That means the art of choosing the right bowler is down to picking who is most likely to take wickets at any given point.

With the new ball it's usually pretty simple. Your best and fastest bowlers can extract the most from that situation. Traditional swing bowling is also excellent early on. Things start to get more complicated as the game unfolds.

A big part of this is your ability to read the pitch and conditions then predict how it will play throughout the innings and match. This can be difficult but not impossible with experience. Sometimes you will get this wrong despite your best efforts.

It's best to have at least two bowlers ready to come on first change based on what you see early on. Be mindful of how much time a bowler needs both to get ready to bowl and find their line and length. Some can drop in on the spot first ball, others need a few overs to get going.

Bear this in mind when telling a bowler to warm up. You might need to give some more warning than others.

You also need to consider the makeup of your bowlers. Some will do anything for you any time, others only perform in conditions they consider to be perfect for them. Most lie somewhere between the extremes. To counter this, it's best to give players some idea of your plans and when you think they will be bowled. They should also know your plans could change any time.

Sometimes you can use minor mind games to play these extremes off of each other. Ex-England captain Nasser Hussain describes in his autobiography how he used to deal with his opening bowling partnership of Caddick and Gough. He would build up the weak confidence of Andy Caddick by telling him Gough was being a prima donna and refusing to bowl into the wind. This made Caddick feel important while doing the donkey work. Meanwhile Hussain was telling Darren Gough he was the star, plumping the confident player's ego even more.

So while bowlers need to be flexible, you need to be sympathetic to their needs as much as the game situation allows.


Handling spinners is slightly different. They will still need to understand your plans ahead of time as they may be on early or have to wait a long time before bowling. Your reading of both the pitch and the game situation are critical to when you use spin.

Generally it's better to let spinners have long spells. They take longer to get wickets than seamers and need time baffle a batsman with what Phil Tufnell calls F&G: Flight and guile. Most spinners prefer to take a few overs to settle in with a more defensive aim before using variations to attack and take wickets.

Remember spinners get tired too. They can and should bowl longer spells but if you over bowl them they could lose effectiveness, which can cause you to miss out on winning matches.

This is because in club games, spinners tend to be better at getting tail enders batting out for the draw. An ideal situation would be 20 overs to go with 4 wickets in hand and you have a couple of spinners who have just come on. If they have already bowled lots of overs they will find the tail hard to get out. If they have 10 overs each most tail enders will lose concentration at some point.

It's also worth mentioning that for all types of bowlers you should not be afraid to work on a hunch. You may feel a certain bowler will just do something, especially if things have not gone your way in the match. Act on it rather than regretting it later.

If you are looking at the end of a limited overs game, a set batsman, or a side hitting out for a declaration your tactics will change from wicket taking to reducing the run rate. Bowlers who work well in this situation tend to be able to bowl straight with variations such as slower balls and yorkers. At higher levels bouncers are also an option.

Changing the bowling isn't quite as simple as Flintoff might make out. Psychology, tactics, hunches and downright luck all play a massive part, but you do need to give it some thought if you are going to get the best from your bowlers.

In the next part of the series I tackle the complex world of setting the field. Click here to go to part three now.

Photo credit: Alister667


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or pick the batting and bowling order out of a hat like we did today and still win!

Serendipity is a wonderful thing.

Had to make a damn tough call at the weekend. We were defending 157 on a tricky pitch with the opposition on 125-6 with 10 overs to go. I had 2 overs left from my best quick bowler that I was planning on saving to the end, but we hadn't taken a wicket for a few overs and were getting edgy, so I wanted to bring him back straight away to finish the opposition off before it was too late... the only problem was, if I brought him back early and the gamble didn't pay off, the bowlers wouldn't work out right and we would have to turn to part-timers to bowl the last couple of overs...

What would you have done?

I would have taken the gamble. You have to go with who is most likely to take wickets and the strike bowler was best for that. If you had waited there is more chance his overs would be pointless.

Depends how much faith you had in the guys bowling at the time I suppose.

What did you do?

I went with the gamble - and he bowled like the wind and took 3 big wickets - all clean bowled - and we ended up winning by 12 runs when we trapped the last man lbw a couple of overs later.

I told the 2nd string bowlers in the pub afterwards that they would have had to bowl the last over had it gone the distance and they went a little pale at the prospect!