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Can you make your team luckier?

This week's main article examines the question and proves that luck is something you have more control over than you might think. We also look at how off spin bowlers get wickets, what causes injury in fast bowlers and examine some finer points of the Laws of the game.

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Have a great weekend,


David Hinchliffe

Why most winning cricket teams are lucky (and what to do if you are unlucky)

You could say England's 1st Ashes Test victory was the result of a great deal of luck; especially if you are Australian.

Ponting out caught off the pad, Hughes out caught just off the ground (where TV replays look dubious) and Katich out caught off a no-ball that wasn't given: A bad few days at the office.

It's not unusual. Ask cricketers at any level and you will find the most successful teams are usually the ones who get the rub of the green. The umpires always seem to give them the benefit of the doubt and the ball always goes to hand.

The natural reaction is to put it down to that mysterious force: Luck. The lucky teams will say otherwise. As the cliché says: The harder you work, the luckier you get. So is it more than coincidence?

The Luck Factor

Psychologist Richard Wiseman certainly thinks so. And he should know, he has dedicated over 10 years of research into what makes people lucky or unlucky. With the conclusions he wrote a book called The Luck Factor showing us how we can be lucky simply by changing our mindset.

Wiseman's studies found out that luck is not an external force that comes to some and avoids others. He found that lucky people behaved in certain ways that unlucky people did not. The same applies to cricket teams: The lucky sides do more, unconsciously, to be lucky.

The amazing thing is that you can increase your luck by changing how your team thinks and plays. To really understand how powerful that is I recommend you buy The Luck Factor, it's an easy read with some practical steps which I summarise here:

Make the most you your chances

During a cricket match we are presented with a great deal of opportunities to be lucky.

I recently played a game where I was batting against a young leg spinner. He packed the off side field, putting nobody behind square on the leg side. The pitch was bouncy and he had a loopy style meaning I quickly worked out that even good length balls would bounce over the stumps. Knowing this I could premeditate the pull shot even to length balls by getting right back in my crease. I hit the first couple of shots in the air but they were safe and went for boundaries. By the time deep backward square leg was in place I had found my timing.

Had I played 'properly' with a straight bat I would never have scored the runs: I made the most of the situation.

There are many more examples in every game. The luckier players notice them and take advantage. The unlucky ones don't realise the chance is there until it is gone.

The first key to being lucky, then, is to be able to spot these opportunities and respond to them. Unlucky people miss them because they are too tense and focused on something else. Wiseman's research is riddled with stories of people who do things like find money on the street just because they are open to the idea of it being there rather than driving on, head down and focusing on something else. So learn to relax on the field and you will get luckier too.

Trust your hunches

If you have ever been a captain for any period of time you will be very familiar with two feelings:

  • Thinking about moving a fielder on a hunch, deciding against it and watching the ball pop up there right away. Disaster!
  • Thinking about moving a fielder on a hunch, moving him there and watching the ball pop up there right away. Great captaincy!

Lucky captains have a habit of doing the latter more than the former. The key is to move the fielder based on common sense and to do it right away. You may not be 100% sure as to why you are making the change but something inside you thinks it's a good idea.

What is happening is that your subconscious mind is telling you something that your conscious mind has not quite worked out yet. This is not some kind of voodoo. Our subconscious is very good at reminding us of past experiences we may have consciously forgotten. This leads to something that feels like a hunch.

Perhaps you have played against this particular batsman before and last time he got out it was top edging a cut to third man. You can't really remember it, but a hunch tells you that fly slip would be handy now. How clever will you look if it goes to hand?

Again, the essential element is to be relaxed enough to let your subconscious do the work. Learn to clear your mind and get back to zero quickly then act on that hunch before it's too late.

Expect to be lucky

Another common element of lucky people (and teams) is the confidence that they will be lucky, even with a slim chance of success. Amazingly, this increases the chance of being lucky by becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In an example given by Professor Wiseman, teachers were told certain (randomly selected) students were destined to go on to great things. Over the next few months the teachers unwittingly began to give these students more attention which ended up in them doing well.

To draw on the power of this, you need to set your expectations to success. The easiest way to do this is to set realistic but achievable goals for yourself and the team. As you achieve these small steps you will find yourself expecting success rather than fearing failure.

Turn bad luck around

The final piece in the luck puzzle is the ability of lucky people to turn their bad luck around.

Take for example if your side finished second in your league. You could call it unlucky that you got so close to winning and failed. You could also call it lucky that the team who finished third couldn't catch you up: Same result, different perception.

You may even go so far as to say finishing second was better than first because everyone in the side will train a bit harder next year to go for the win.

However, it's not just a matter of looking on the bright side. Teams and players who experience bad luck are able to learn from it and put it aside quickly so it is less likely to happen next time. For example, if a star bowler got hit round the park on a flat batting track in one game (despite bowling good line and length) perhaps he will work on some variations to improve his ability on good wickets.

As Mike Brearley says, think how awful the alternative may have been.

To find out more about what luck is and how to turn around bad luck we recommend The Luck Factor by Richard Wiseman.


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Classic bowling dismissals: Off spin

This article is part of the 'Classic bowling dismissals' series. To go to the start, click here.

Traditional off spin bowling is somewhat out of fashion at the top level, but don't let that deceive you. Off spin can be destructive at any level given the right conditions. The off spinner can't blast out the opposition so it becomes all about guile and teasing out a batsman.

How does the off spinner tease a player out?

Through the gate

Perhaps the most satisfying and certainly the most emphatic dismissal for the off spinner is hearing the death rattle through the gap between bat and pad as you can see from the stills taken from this video:

The chance of getting this dismissal increases the more the ball turns and dips. Having a helpful wicket is always handy to the off spinner, but the real key is to get maximum revolutions on the ball by spinning it hard and having a good pivot. This will make it dip and spin much more.

If the spinner has good control the key to this wicket is setting it up over a series of balls. For example, two or three balls could be bowled straighter with less turn. Then follow up with a slightly fuller big turning off break to encourage the expansive drive. Here is another good example.

Arm ball/top spinner

The ball that goes on with the arm with little visible change of action is a deception and a wicket taking variation. The ball follows the same line as an off break, ideally drifting away in the air, but is slightly quicker and does not turn on pitching. The batsman, playing for the turn edges to the wicketkeeper or first slip:

The top spinner is almost exactly the same although it may skid on a little more.

Again, this can be set up over a period of a few deliveries, especially against new batsman not yet used to the turn. A couple of off breaks that draw the batsman forward can be followed by a fuller arm ball or top spinner. It works very well when bowling around the wicket at right handers as the line is naturally across the batsman.

Building pressure

The canny spinner doesn't need a massive ripping off break or deceptive top spinner to take wickets though. Accurate bowling with small changes of pace and flight can be very effective. This method is often employed in limited over cricket where the pressure of time makes batsmen play more shots and be more likely to get out. If a few dot balls are bowled the batsman may look to manufacture a shot and get out.

The tactics are to place boundary fielders on the leg side with others in a one-saving ring. This cuts off the runs for both tip-and-run and big hits. In some circumstances close in fielder can put pressure on a new batsman: slip, silly point and short leg are all effective at least in making the batsman play differently.


It's unusual at recreational level to see the bat-pad catch as happens in Tests. The ball tends to turn and bounce less at lesser pace. This stops the fielder at short square leg from taking catches that are edged onto the pad and loop up. Add to this the lower quality of umpires and even if one does fly off the bat it may not be given out.


To south-paw batsmen the ball is turning away. The off spinner effectively becomes a mirror of the left arm spinner to a right hander. The classic dismissals in this circumstance are caught at slip or bowled by the arm ball. Most off spinners will go around the wicket to left-handers to make sure they can still get LBW (bowling over the wicket often means pitching the ball outside leg stump which can't be LBW).


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Laws of Cricket: Playing without bails and obstacles on the field

This edition of Laws of Cricket, in association with the International Institute of Cricket Umpiring and Scoring, covers some more tricky questions of the Laws.

Many times on the pitch (and after the game) we have come to discuss whether a controversial situation should be allowed or not. There are precious few players with a deep enough understanding of the laws for our arguments to be resolved, but many times it's the players who also act as umpires. Now we can consult a team of expert experienced umpires for the answers to those tricky questions.

You can submit your own questions to the umpires here.

Playing without bails


"We were playing on a very windy day – so the bails had been removed. During one passage of play a fielder shied at the wicket trying for a run out, which was not given. The stumps were knocked askew and the batsmen carried on running. Another fielder then picked up the ball, threw it and hit one stump, with the batsman out of his ground. The stump was left standing, but doesn’t a stump have to be removed completely from its position for him to be given out – as he was?"


No. The batsman was indeed out Run out. When the umpires have agreed to dispense with bails it is not necessary for a stump to be knocked out of the ground. It is only necessary to decide that the ball struck the wicket, or part of it, for the wicket to be considered as broken.

Law 8.5 The wickets (Open Learning Manual Page 25)

Obstacles on the field


"Red triangular plastic wedges, displaying an advertiser's logo, are placed over the boundary rope. One of the wedges is displaced and not put back in position. It was left lying some feet inside the boundary rope, on the field of play, leaving a gap between it and the actual boundary rope. What happens if the ball hits the plastic but does not go onto the boundary rope? What happens if the ball is hit and lands first bounce between the plastic wedge and the boundary rope? Is it a six? And using the same scenario: If a fielder catches the ball in the gap between the plastic wedge and the rope, is the striker out?"


The question of the way the boundary is marked is determined by the Laws of Cricket, and will be subject to match regulations, especially for Test matches. In the situation that has aroused interest; the relevant bits of Law are Laws 19.1(c) and 19.2(e). The latter says that, if the boundary marker is disturbed during play it should be restored to its original position as soon as the ball is dead.   To speculate what might happen if that is not done is to try to argue a case based on a dodgy premise. Once the Laws have been ignored, it is difficult, often impossible, to try to use those same Laws to resolve a problem. However, there are a number of things that can be said. 

It is possible to argue that, if the rope is the boundary, the 'wedges' become obstacles. If they detach from the rope and are within the field of play, they remain obstacles and are covered by Law 19.1(c) which says that the umpires will award a boundary if the ball comes into contact with the obstacle, provided that has been decided by the umpires before the toss (or is in the regulations). It does not say that the obstacle becomes the boundary, simply that it shall be regarded as a boundary. The logic is similar if the 'wedges' are the boundary and the rope is the obstacle. It is not unlike having a tree within the field of play. It is normally surrounded in some way by a boundary mark and is itself beyond the boundary, yet the area of the field of play between the tree's boundary and the rope (or whatever marks the ultimate boundary) is still part of the field of play. In the end, though, the fact remains that the situation under discussion is brought about by an umpiring error and the argument cannot easily be progressed beyond guesswork.

Law 19 Boundaries (Open Learning Manual Page 57)

Want more tips on how to umpire? Get instant access to The Umpiring Survival Guide on PitchVision Academy. Now with a free bonus 91 page quizbook.



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How to cause pain and injury in a fast bowler
How's your back Mr. Fast Bowler?

I'm betting it's sore. More bowlers are reporting to their coaches with a niggle or problem, especially in the lower back. Fast bowling coach Ian Pont says he has never seen so many young players with so many problems.

Cricket Show 38: Mental toughness

The theme of the show this week is mental toughness for cricket, inspired by the epic battle between England and Australia in the first Ashes Test. Ian Pont is back to talk about fielding for fast bowlers and David and Kevin talk about the pressures of playing. We also discuss:


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: 56
Date: 2009-07-24