Diving saves, run outs, brilliant catches: A top fielder changes cricket matches.
Some seem destined to fielding brilliance, while others will always be compared to Monty Panesar: Someone who tries and fails to get any better.
Before we start, let’s work out what we mean.
What makes a "gun" fielder?
We all know a gun, or brilliant fielder who can do amazing things. Those players are certainly top cricketers. If you think, I bet you can also come up the names of a few solid, reliable fielders. The ones who drop very little, do everything right and hardly ever stray into the spectacular.
Which one is better?
There isn’t one way to go about fielding. You have to do the best you can with what you are given.
That might mean you are athletic enough to be the spectacular fielder. It might mean you know your limits but push hard to get as reliable as possible.
The fact is, fielders with the best impact can do it in a number of ways.
And worse - or better - different situations demand different styles of fielding: A terrible outfield, a hard hitting batsman, a weird boundary, a hard “seeing” ground, 40-4 or 200-1...
Fielding success is as much about adaptability as it is planning.
You need to find your way. And that's not as easy as a few drills.
Lock your fielding game tight
If fielding is a bit more complicated than just taking a few more catches in the warm up, how do we lock down those skills?
- Realistic, open ended practice
Before we get into details, you may ask about technique.
Technique is important to learn, but has limited value if you are not practicing it in an environment like a game. Injury-prevention aside, it doesn’t matter how you catch, throw, dive, pick up and stop. It just matters that you do. A coach can help with technical stuff, but you still need to try it in an open situation as soon as possible.
Open practice is any drill that works your fielding skills without being too closed.
Here’s an example drill.
It’s chaotic to practice this way, but also much more realistic to cricket. You can’t set yourself against a specific type of ball. You may get a catch, stop, or nothing.
You will find you make a lot more errors too, but as we know, errors are fine because they teach you to adapt.
Make it even more focused by keeping score and competing with your team-mates to find out who is best, and who is improving quickest.
Games are also a great place to improve your fielding because it is the most realistic.
Bear in mind that, on average, you will only get three or four chances to perform a fielding skill during every cricket match. It’s not high volume, but it soon teaches you the importance of doing it right first time.
Some may say a big game is not the place for development, but I would argue you are always looking to improve, even during the Grand Final. If you make an error there, you certainly learn something for next time!
This brings me on to the final point.
You have to love - and I mean love - developing your fielding. You can’t do it by numbers. You have to work, make practice as hard as you can tolerate and be ready for failure so your can learn.
If you do that, the drills barely matter because you are going in with the aim to improve.
- Good fielding is not drills. It's about adaptability and knowing your game.
- Practice in realistic ways that are about quality and learning your method.
- Have a mindset to enjoy it and try to improve your cricket with better fielding.
- There are no shortcuts or tips, just plenty of practice!