Pitchvision Academy


What do you think of when you think of a cricket captain?

Perhaps it's calm authority, a steady hand on the tiller and someone who can coolly direct the fielders into position even under extreme pressure.

The week we discover how you can be that kind of captain too thanks to a three part series on how to captain your side in the field.

Also, with fitness increasing in importance every season, it also seems to become more complicated to know where to start. I take a look at the basics and come up with a few ideas on how to keep it simple. Plus the miCoach Cricket Show has a new presenter. Click here to listen.

Have a great weekend,


David Hinchliffe

How to captain your team in the field: Motivate and set the tone

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

A good cricket team has a certain attitude. They concentrate on every ball, show a never say die attitude and encourage each other in the right ways. However, this is easier said than done, especially in sides where the attitude has historically been different.

A good captain starts to build team spirit long before the side go onto the field. However once you are out there, you can continue to install a positive attitude. 

As captain you should take the time to tell the team what you expect of them while they are in the field. This can be awkward. Most captains are dealing with their peers who are playing perhaps their one game of the week (and giving up valuable time to play).

That said if players do lose concentration or go flat it's important to nip it in the bud. If you feel uncomfortable doing this, bring in the support of senior players you trust who back your opinion. A few well placed words at a drinks break or fall of wicket can gee a team up.

There are limitations to the 'rocket' though, so use it sparingly.


If you have a go at players too much it loses its effect as your team think 'here he goes again'. Generally encouragement and praise is more effective than a smack on the wrist.

This is especially true when a player makes a mistake. I played in a game recently where the philosophy of the captain was to admonish a player for their mistakes quite publically. He would shout at bowlers who dropped it short to pitch the ball up and told me off when I missed a run out from a poor throw. Admittedly I should have got the dismissal but it stung even more when I was treated like I had done it on purpose.

Nobody is trying to make a mistake and we all feel terrible when we do so.

I'm sure you know from your own experience how hard it can be to reset and focus on the next ball after you make a mistake. A captain can help his players feel better by making sure there are no recriminations when errors happen. If you go up to a player, pat them on the back and tell them they will get the next one it sends a message out and helps to build a better team.

This is doubled by applauding good work in the field too.

It's easy to forget to encourage players while you are thinking about field placing and bowling changes. That's where a good vocal keeper and/or senior players can keep your mind alert, chirping at the batters, supporting players who made mistakes and reminding you to congratulate good bowling and fielding.

Kidology and Enthusiasm

An exception to the general rule of encouragement is when a player responds better to a bit of hurt pride.

Mike Brearley is famous for getting more performance out of Ian Botham in the 1981 Ashes series by calling him names. This fired up Beefy. Keith Fletcher did the same thing to one of his seamers at Essex by telling the keeper to stand up to him.

The success of this strategy all depends on how a bowler reacts to your kidology. Some players will react more negatively so take care who you try this with and always use the tactic in an overall environment of positivity.

The final aspect to motivating players in the field is to keep them fighting until the last. A team with confidence will do this naturally, but it is easy to let your head drop when you see your side in a losing position with no clear way out.

You may already have played in a game that you snatched victory dramatically from the jaws of defeat. You only have to think back to the events of the 1981 Ashes series again to realise that almost any situation is recoverable with luck, skill and expert judgement. Instil this attitude into the players well and they will follow you.

It also helps to be the captain of a winning side. Strangely, motivation is much higher when you are achieving success!

In the next part of the series I go on to discuss how to choose the right bowlers at the right time. Click here to go to part two.

Photo Credit: gin soak


Want to be a better captain? Learn from the best with the interactive online course Cricket Captaincy by Mike Brearley.


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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


Want to be a better captain? Learn from the best with the interactive online course Cricket Captaincy by Mike Brearley.


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How to Captain: Placing the Fielders

This is part three 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.

Along with bowling changes, field placing is the other obvious part of captaincy in the field.

The simple way to look at it is to put the fielders where you think the ball is most likely to go (not always just where it has gone).

How do you do that without resorting to the stock fields that everyone uses?

Before we get into that, a word about orthodox fields: They are orthodox because they have been proven to work over the test of time. Slips remain in place because batsmen through the ages continue to edge the ball wide of the wicketkeeper. Mid on and mid off exist because even the most extreme Twenty20 specialists play shots with a straight bat sometimes.

That said it's important not to mindlessly follow what you consider the norm. Just because every captain in your club starts the game with a couple of slips, a gulley and a saving one field it does not mean you should.

For the basic theory of field placing take a look at my article here.

Once you have that in your mind, let's go back to the basic aim of field placing: Putting your players where you think the ball will go.

Where is the ball likely to go?

This starts with the batter. Each player is different. Variations in grip, stance, backswing and technique lead to the ball going in different places. It even happens at international level where sides employ full time analysts to pour over every glitch in a player's technique.

It's unlikely you will have an analyst to turn to, but you can still work players out from the moment you first see them. Here are some examples of tactics that have worked for me:

  • Tempting an aggressive batsmen to hit a spinner over the top by keep mid on and mid off up.
  • Two gulley fielders, a square point and a square third man to a player who plays shots with an open face
  • A shorter mid off or midwicket for players who play too square for the leading edge
  • Short extra cover and midwicket instead of slips on slow pitches where edges are not carrying. This puts extra pressure on the batsman too, especially if the keeper is standing up.
  • A deeper gulley in Twenty20 cricket for the off side 'slash', almost saving one.
  • A very straight mid on and mid off, and a straight deep mid off for the straight driver.

I'm sure you can come up with a few you have seen yourself. Each individual tactic has one of two methods: To cut off a scoring shot or be there when a mistake is made.

These two aims often work in harmony.

A batsman who has had their favourite couple of shots shut off from them will have to play shots they are not as comfortable with and make a mistake. This combination will lead to wickets.

This is where sometimes defence can be a form of attack. The modern term in limited over cricket is 'putting the squeeze on'. Where a fielding side aim to block off every run with tight fielding in the ring and few gaps where players can pick up one's and two's. Climbing run rates almost always lead to errors

As captain your aim should be to work out how to do this quickly.

You may already know a batsman's technique and can change the field right away, or they may be new to you and you might spend a few overs chasing the ball a little bit until you work them out.

If you are trying to take wickets, it's better to attack a little too much with your field than play too safe. This is not just for the sake of taking wickets, if you trust your bowlers by setting more attacking fields you are building their confidence.

For example, one commonly underused position is short leg. It's rare to see one and when you do they come out quickly (certainly in England). A good short leg can do more than take catches though. It puts the batsman under pressure and creates doubt, which can also lead to mistakes.

Beware of fielders who we call 'Wycombes': players who wander away from where you put them (in homage to the Wycombe Wanderers football club). Young players and those who daydream are notorious for this, so always do a quick check of every player before every ball.

Also beware of bowlers hang ups. For example, some will not feel right without a mid off, even if you want another slip (or third man). They may end up subconsciously bowling shorter to prevent the drive, which would defeat the object anyway. Bear these things in mind if a bowler expresses a concern about a field placing.

That said it's important not to set a field to bad bowling. Don't put a man out at deep square leg just because your star seam bowler has a series of rank long hops. Change the bowling instead.

Understanding angles

After understanding where the batsman wants to hit the ball, you also need to know about the angles the bowler uses and how that effects where the ball might end up.

Your field placing should reflect where the ball is more likely to go based on the angles in play:

  • Right arm in swing and off spin move the ball into the body of the right hander so the ball can be hit on the leg side more easily (and vice versa for left arm to left hand).
  • Out swing, leg breaks and left arm spin all move away from the right hander. This means the ball is more likely to be hit on the off side (and vice versa for off spin to left handers).
  • With a right arm bowler over the wicket slanting the ball across a left handed batsman, the hit will be more likely to go square off the face of the bat.
  • With left arm bowlers over the wicket to right hand batsman, the hit will also be likely to go square. Good left arm seam bowlers (and left arm spinners with good arm balls) can also swing the ball back into the right hander to make the hit go straighter.
  • Leg spinners variations need to be taken into account. Good leg spinners may have a googly (that turns in to the right hander) or several other variations. Each one changes the angle the ball might be hit.
  • Line is also a factor. A left armer bowling a defensive leg stump line will be very difficult to hit on the off side. A bowler aiming at a second or third off stump will not get much hit square or behind square on the leg side.

The basic rule is that the shot usually follows the angle of the ball and your field should reflect that.

In all honesty, an orthodox field will mostly do the job you need. However if you understand why you are putting a player somewhere you are bound to be more confident if you move that player. Your plan may not come off but at least you did it because of a plan and not because you didn't know what else to do.

This is the true art of placing your field, knowing in your own mind why you are doing things.


Want to be a better captain? Learn from the best with the interactive online course Cricket Captaincy by Mike Brearley.


Discuss this article with other subscribers

Fielding Drills: Close catching relay game
Purpose: To practice close catching technique under pressure.

Description: This is a competitive game between two or more teams of any number of players.

Player 1 is the feeder and throws the ball to each player in his team for a close catch. Once each player has caught the ball and returned it cleanly, player 1 runs to the position of player 2. All the other players move along one place so player 4 is now the feeder.

Barbells in the winter: The simple guide to off season training for cricket

What does a cricketer do when the season draws to a close?

If he or she is serious about improving, they probably hit the gym. Let's face it, there is not much else to do when the cricket finishes.


About PitchVision Academy

Welcome to this week's guide to playing and coaching better cricket.

I'm David Hinchliffe and I'm Director of the PitchVision Academy team. With this newsletter you are benefitting directly from over 25 Academy coaches. Our skills include international runs and wickets, first-class coaching, cutting-edge research and real-life playing experience.


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Issue: 12
Date: 2008-09-12