Most people think you need a demon pace bowler with pace or a wily spinner to run through a team. The real way to destroy things is to use the wrecking ball in the opposition's head. Batting collapses are mental.
Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have studied the reasons behind team collapses and have found that most of the reasons lie not with the tactical or technical brilliance of the bowling but with the loss of what commentators call 'momentum'. Or in other words: negative thinking creeping in and the assumption things are going wrong.
So how do you encourage that?
1. Take advantage of your luck
My club side recently played a match where a single stroke of luck turned the game. We were fielding after setting a decent total but the opposition were cruising to victory and well ahead of the rate. A bad ball led to a brilliant catch. This changed our attitude and the momentum of the game. Suddenly we were bowling brilliantly and backing it up with good fielding. The solid opener who was there to support the more aggressive players got stuck facing a series of maidens and the efforts to push the score along at the other end just lead to more wickets.
As research has shown, there is no real difference in the amount of luck we all get. It's just the lucky ones know how to take advantage.
2. Put batsmen in a tunnel
One of the key things the Swedish researchers found about team collapses was poor communication. Or to put it another way, the more trouble they got into the more players got confused about how to deal with it. You can add to this by further distancing the batsmen in the middle from reality.
In strong teams, everyone knows their role and knows how to adapt to changing situations. However, in most teams this is not as clear as it should be and you can add to that feeling by squeezing the batsmen in the middle. You outnumber the opposition 11 to 2 out there, so take advantage:
- Cut off the batsman's best shots and field with passion so they feel they have no get-out shot.
- Keep talking to each other in the field with enthusiasm and energy. Although you can't fake it, a side that seem all in it together against a batsman can be very intimidating.
This will encourage the kind of blinkered negative thinking that leads to more pressure and worse shots.
3. Speed the game up
If you have a team under the pump, rack the pressure up by getting through your overs as fast as you can. Batsmen will feel under more pressure if the balls are flying by and they are getting further away from the game.
This works best when you have spinners with short run ups on, but you can still be quick between over and avoid dallying about field placings when the seamers are on (which also adds to the energy in point number two).
4. Cause confusion
Former England player Ed Smith calls it the 'bad pitch mentality'. I'm sure you recognise the symptoms: A couple of good balls leads to wickets falling and confidence dropping as you lose faith in the wicket or assume the bowling is just too good. Before you know it you are all out for a below par score.
With hindsight the situation was not as dire as you thought at the time.
When you are in the field you can add to this mentality in subtle ways against the new batsmen:
- Talking loudly to your team mates about how much the ball is swinging, seaming or turning today. Or discussing how you can take advantage of the difficult bounce in the pitch as a new batsman takes his guard.
- Asking a batsman if he is ready to play the big match winning innings (especially good against tail-enders).
- Placing fielders in very obvious places and making sure the batsman knows you think the fielder is there for his weakness. Or moving a fielder away from a position and being clear it's because you think the batsman can't hit it there.
- Do something unexpected with field placings or bowling changes that will throw the batters off their rhythm some more.
You can also set the tone while you are batting. My side had a game on a difficult pitch once and the captain caused great confusion in the opposition merely by declaring about 5 minutes early. We had a low score but the captain felt it was enough so why wait?
5. Play well
Finally, the last four tricks are of no use unless you put in a good performance in the field. You must bowl, throw and catch at a good enough standard. That is 90% of the secret of crushing an opponent. That said you don't need to put in a brilliant once-in-a-lifetime bowling spell to cause a collapse. Just good standards back with proven psychological methods.