International players and coached these days are always going on about how they “performed as a unit” – fielded, batted, bowled.
Lurking in the depths of this moribund press talk is a grain of truth we can use at any level.
You see, whatever level you play, from first-class to under-11, we all have something in common.
We are all human beings.
And human beings all share the need to feel part of a group, to belong to something greater than their individual selves.
Even the most selfish people crave that feeling.
That’s where we can use the idea of a ‘unit’ to make us play the game as a team, rather than a group of individuals (which is always the danger in cricket where the focus is bowler vs. batsman).
Knowing your unit
If you don’t know what your job is, how are you supposed to know if you did it or not?
With that in mind, a ‘unit’ is just an extension of individual roles: It packages up a bunch of roles and puts them into a team within the team.
So the batsmen become a unit, with jobs to do and ways to do it. As do the bowlers and of course there is a fielding unit.
Players love this idea. If you are a bowler and that batsmen collapse, it’s up to you and your unit to clean up the mess. You still have that belonging without taking the blame.
But enough theory, let’s look at how to make these units work in practice.
The batting unit
Although there are different tactics and styles within the batting unit, the aim is to score runs.
So to be a unit, the top batsmen should assume the bowlers are not going to score any runs at all.
It’s all about taking responsibility as a group (and that group could be anything between 2 and 8 decent batsmen).
It’s in the nature of all of us to try less hard the bigger the group. Psychologists call it ‘social loafing’ – assuming someone else will make up the slack.
Having a clear batting unit with a clear run goal is a simple way to overcome this proven act of laziness.
Want an example?
Say you are batting first in a one day game. In the conditions you think on a good day your side is capable of 200 in your 40 overs. You have 5 top line batsmen in the side (lucky you if so, many club and school sides have just 1 really good batter and a few reasonable ones).
The top 5 have to take the responsibility for scoring every one of those runs. You could break it down any way you like:
- Every player is looking to score 50-100 when they go out to bat
- When someone fails, it’s up to whoever is left to take up the slack
- Every player is looking to be there at the end. Be a ‘finisher’ from your first ball
- Every pair considers the scoreboard to be ‘reset’ at zero when they come in and a partnership needs to be built from nothing
The bowling unit
We have all heard the line that bowlers hunt in pairs, or even packs. That’s the root of a good bowling unit.
A bowling unit is looking to either take wickets or keep the run rate down (or both). That’s done by applying pressure from both ends without letting up.
Of course there are different ways to do this. A combination of a wild strike bowler and a miserly medium pacer offer different challenges to the batsman but end up with the result you want even if the figures are 4-40 and 1-17 respectively.
To be a good unit you need 5 bowlers capable of doing to job of keeping the pressure on the batsman (through wickets or maidens). You might get away with 3-4, but any less will mean a gap that can only be made up by some exceptional bowling.
Bowling units also trust each other even when things go wrong. Anyone can have a bad game but a good unit doesn’t blame, it makes sure everyone else takes greater responsibility. You can read more about how to do it in this article.
The fielding unit
As an identity, fielders are the least likely to feel part of a unit.
Fielding is what you do when you are not performing your main skill (strike specialist wicket-keepers from that statement) and so we feel it’s a chore, a lonely one at that.
But when fielders do work together it’s an intimidating moment for batsmen who feel surrounded by 11 people all against them. And we all know how pressure makes wickets fall.
So make sure you are in a unit when you are fielding too:
- Talk to fielders around you about the batsman and decide what fielding tactics would work best.
- Keep encouraging the bowler and other fielders, especially when things are not going as planned. Remember it only takes one ball to take a wicket and change the game.
- · Relax between balls and overs but keep talking to fielders around you to keep the overall feeling of a buzz about you.
- Think of yourself as part of a team with the bowler, squeezing batsmen into mistakes.
- Think of the wicket-keeper as the focus of the fielding unit. Get the ball to him or her frequently to keep up the impression of being the fielding leader. A good ‘keeper with a lively personality makes a huge difference to the atmosphere.
Overall, a unit is not something you need to think long and hard about with endless planning. It’s a loose knit group of people with a common goal (be it to score runs or take wickets).
If you think your team doesn’t have clear units, then it probably doesn’t. You need to work a little harder to get people thinking as one. It’s just a matter of introducing the idea of a unit and sitting back to let human nature take over.
And if you do that the overall team performance will improve too.