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My club had a meeting this week to decide who would captain the teams for the coming UK summer.

On a spur of the moment nudge from the bloke sat next to me I put up my hand to captain our 2nd XI and was voted in, so you read this week's newsletter from a man in a skipper's cap.

Obviously, I wrote about what happens next.

Also this week we start a series on how to exploit the weaknesses of batsmen by changing your tactics based on the grip, stance and backlift of your foe. Many players stick doggedly to one tactic but a few subtle changes can make all the difference.

Plus we offer even more bowling advice with an article inspired by Ian Pont and the vacant England bowling coach job, showing you how to hunt in a pack as a fast bowling unit.

Sorry batsmen, this week is for the bowlers. They are the ones that do all the hard work anyway.

Aren't they?
Have a great weekend,


David Hinchliffe

Hunt in a pack: How to become a stellar fast bowling unit

Bowlers win cricket matches. Because of this, the fast bowlers are a team within a team and need to put unrelenting pressure on the opposition.

In other words, you need to hunt as a pack.

What does a pack of fast bowlers look like?

When you think of a pack of fast bowlers the first thing that springs to mind is the great West Indian teams of the 1970's and 80's.

As you know, they worked together by bowling fast and accurately from both ends all day. Each bowler was slightly different: Marshall was slippery, Ambrose got steeping bounce, Croft was plain mean. Each bowler also knew his job was to never give the batsman a chance to relax.

It was a method England followed in 2004 and 2005. Guided by the then unknown Troy Cooley; Flintoff, Jones, Harmison and Hoggard formed a tightly bonded team that were greater than the sum of their parts. They went on to win several series in a row, culminating in an Ashes victory.

In both cases, the pack of bowlers work as one. When a bowler gets tired he is replaced, but the pressure remains. That's what signifies a tight knit team.

How to build pressure

It's all well saying you need to build pressure, but how do you do it?

  • Take wickets. Batting collapses are about the mindset of the batsman. Take wickets and you switch the incoming batsmen into panic mode.
  • Bowl maidens. If you can't get them out, stopping them scoring also ramps up the pressure. This is where the ideas of team maidens and focus balls comes in. It requires the bowlers to work together and the fielders to be totally switched on.
  • Sledge. Good sledging isn't abuse (abuse comes from frustration meaning you are not in control). Sometimes it doesn't even need a word to be said. A look or well placed comment shows you are the one in control.

Good individual performances can contribute to this, but it's rare a bowler wins a game single handed. That's why every bowler needs to feel like he is working for the team aim of building pressure on the batsman. That can only be done by feeling like you are in a pack.

The coach has an important role to play here. He can show a group of individuals how to play as a team within a team by leading them effectively.

What to do when it goes wrong

It's easy to work together when you are on top as a team. What happens when things are not going to plan?

Imagine it's 200-1 and the opposition are flying. Do you still feel like you are in a pack or are you looking at the other bowlers out of the corner of your eye and wondering why they are undoing all your hard work with poor bowling?

The good unit doesn't blame, it supports.

If someone is having a bad game, others are ready to work extra hard to take up the slack. Each bowler knows he may be in the same situation in the next game. It boils down to trust.

Even when the game is lost, and it is clearly been caused by poor performances, there is more than one way to look at it.

Good coaches can help players realise that each mistake is simply one step closer to getting it right. Getting angry about it is easy, learning from it and coming back stronger is much harder.

The best way to do this is to be in a unit of bowlers that work together, even in the toughest of situations. It may mean they criticise each other as well as gee each other up and take up the slack, but the critique is always constructive and never seeking to switch the blame. Responsibility rests with the whole unit.

A stellar bowling unit has skills and a tough but flexible mentality. It's greater than the sum of it's parts because it's members trust each other, and that's something any unit can achieve from the best internationals to the under 11's.

This article was inspired (with permission) by pages 94-102 of Ian Pont's book, The Fast Bowler's Bible. Ian's insight demonstrates what a coach can do to get the best out of a bowling unit, something that only comes with vast coaching experience and world-class interpersonal skills.


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How to exploit batting weaknesses: Closed off stance

This is part of a series on How to exploit batsman's weaknesses. To see the other weaknesses click here.

A "closed off" stance is one of the easiest weaknesses to spot and exploit because the batsman reveals his hand before he has even faced a ball.

It's also very common in club cricket. At the level I play I see it every weekend at least once, especially with lower order and tail-end batsmen.

How to spot the weakness

Being closed off is another way of saying the batsman is too sideways on when he takes his stance. This can be shown in either the feet or the shoulders like this:

Although this might look normal on first glace you can see the following technical points:

  • The head is slightly too far to the off side and not over the toes
  • The front shoulder is pointing towards mid off

Also, not shown in the picture, but often seen, is the front foot closer to the off side than the back foot, the opposite of an open stance, and so is called a closed stance.

Why is it a weakness?

Although the stance itself is not a weakness, it does lead to mistakes that you can exploit.

The closed off batsman gets his body in the way when playing on the leg side, meaning he finds it impossible to play straight on the leg side and ends up hitting across the line of balls that should be driven or flicked, as shown here:

front foot technical error: closed off

back foot technical error: closed off

It can also cause a secondary problem of tipping over.

Tipping over is where the batsman's weight falls to the off side and his body follows, meaning he or she is more likely to play at balls outside the off stump that should be left.

Option 1: Bowl outside off stump

The closed off batsman will favour the cover drive and on side square shots because it is very difficult for him to hit either straight or on the leg side.

Early in the innings you can combine his keenness to get going with a favoured cover drive with his lack of judgement of the off stump by bowling a 5th stump line:


Ideally this line will not be a standard length but either:

  • Slightly pitched up encouraging onto the front foot to chase a wide one and nick off.
  • Back of a length because the back foot movement means drives will be played away from the body and again bring slips and the keeper in for catches.

The field setting would depend on the game situation and the bowler but when varying from the standard remember:

  • A square leg position is vital, probably just in front of square.
  • Standard midwicket and mid on will have very little to do. You could hide bad fielders there, use them in close catching off side positions or have them in close for the leading edge.
  • Deep midwicket should be in your mind despite the outside off line, especially with off spinners or inswing medium pacers. This is because the batsman may hit out in frustration.
  • Place as many slips and gulley positions as you dare.

If the batsman hits a few boundaries and get his feet moving, don't persist with this line too much, perhaps only turning back to it as a variation.

Option 2: Bowl at the stumps and moving in

If you can move the ball in to this batsmen (swing, seam or turn) you can do two jobs in one:

  • Dry up the runs by cutting off all scoring options except square or behind square on the leg side.
  • Increase the chance of bowled or LBW as the batsman plays across the line of the ball in front of the stumps.

To do this, your target area (that is to say, where the ball is as it passes the stumps) is shown here:

The length will depend on how much bounce you are getting. The aim should be to hit the stumps as you can't get many bowled or LBW decisions without that..

When the batsman does hit the ball on this line it will be in an area between forward square leg and fine leg:

Set your field to cut off these shots and there will be nowhere to go.

As a variation (which in my view is underused) you can bowl around the wicket.

It might make it harder to get an LBW decision but bowled is still possible and it will tuck the batsmen up even more giving him even less room to score on the off side

There is also an option to bowl short on this line.

On a bouncier pitch with a faster bowler on, the closed off batsman will not be able to play the short ball well because he is playing around his body. That means bowling short and putting in leg side close catchers such as short leg or leg gulley.

Going around the wicket with a shorter length can also be used.

Want to improve your skills so you can bowl to these tactics or iron out your batting weaknesses? PitchVision Academy has an online coaching course to help you from the world's finest coaches.


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What's your first job as new captain?

Last night I took the job of captain of my club second team.

It's been a few years since I was in charge of a side, and what instantly sprung to mind was: What should I do first?

As new captain, a hundred ideas flash through your brain as you try to work out how to get the best from your inherited team.

Of course there are the practicalities to consider, like gathering player phone numbers for the inevitable last minute scrabble to get eleven players, making sure travel arrangements are clear, working out who is making the teas and putting on the covers on a Friday night: The normal rhythm of a club side.

But none of those things are the first job.

Here are the things I considered, I would love to hear yours if you have just been made captain of your club or school team:

Talk to the other captains

In a club structure there is always movement between teams. Most teams will have a core of ever-presents and some fringe players (either a bit too good, and able to move up or not quite good enough, and making up the numbers).

This means talking to the other captains in your club is vital to your success.

You need to know their opinions of players so you know how often your star batsman might be pinched by a higher grade team, for example.

Other captains can also give you an insight into the personality of players. I have only played for my club for a few seasons because I moved. The other captains have been playing since they were teenagers and so know a lot more about the make-up of the cricketers in the club.

Set your philosophy

From Test sides to occasional friendly pub teams, every side has a philosophy of some kind.

It's just an unspoken atmosphere in most cases, but it's always there.

And the captain has the greatest influence over it by the tone he or she sets.

That's not to say you can suddenly turn your village team into a well oiled professional outfit, but you can find out what the current unspoken philosophy is and try to influence it positively.

I'm lucky because the side I am inheriting has a philosophy close to my own anyway. We have a positive supportive team spirit, plenty of lively discussion and always look to control the game rather than letting it control us.

You may not be so lucky, but there are always tweaks you can make with the support of the team.

In my case I'll be looking to improve our consistency, foster an even greater team mentality and improve our run rate (so we can declare more aggressively).

Of course, this is just a paper exercise until the rest of the team back your plans, which led me to my last thought.

Find out how your players tick

As captain you want the side to be moulded to your aims, but to do that you need to know your player's personalities and aims.

A serious player who trains hard and plans ahead will need very different handling from the guy who turns up five minutes before play and warms up by smoking a cigarette.

Ideally, you will have a good idea who your core players are at least (if not your whole team). Most captains have a broad idea about the personality of those players too. So it's up to you to think how you will deal with each one.

As a way of helping you think this through, try the following exercise:

  • Write down your important players names in a list.
  • Write down what role you think suits them best in the team, for example: opening batsman, strike bowler, finisher or mops up the tail.
  • Write down what you think is the best way to get a good performance from them. Examples might be: public praise, a quiet word of thanks, being ignored, being wound up, being told what to do or being asked for advice.

Chances are no two players will need the same approach. Keep this in mind when you are trying to fit these players into their roles in the middle and motivate them to do better.

Use this as a template from which to build a profile of each player in your head. Of course, it's just a paper exercise, but it may help clarfiy your thoughts on your player.

It will take some trial and error to work out what influences them most, but there are also some tricks that work for everyone in building up trust and influence in your job as captain.

And for me, that is the first job of any new captain: To gain respect and trust.

In fact, its so important to your success that you can never take your eye off doing it. It's the first and ongoing job because if you don't have respect and trust nobody will listen to you and you can't make your tactics work.

So that's what I'll be trying to do, what about you?

image credit: Gary_T_W



Want to get off to the best possible start as a new captain? Learn from the best with the interactive online course Cricket Captaincy by Mike Brearley.



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How to be a remarkable cricket club

When did the bowling machine become a crucial bit of kit?

25 years ago, nobody had one.

15 years ago, most people still scoffed at the idea. "It's crazy. What would be the point?" they said. "We already have human bowlers".

10 years ago there were plenty of machines around and they started to think there was a benefit in having one.

Cricket Show 67: The dream is over

Get your hankies ready as Kevin tells talks us through how his championship dreams were crushed at the weekend.

Don't worry though, we have plenty of more positive stuff to look at too. Gary Palmer answers another batting question and we rummage through the mailbag for more reader's questions.


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: 85
Date: 2010-02-12