I received a cry for help on Facebook the other night from a dear friend of mine who plays village cricket in the heart of Somerset.
Charlie - who opens the batting for his local team - is a quite incredible man: A huge cricket enthusiast who has worked wonders as a coach with players with physical disabilities. Charlie finds that his game is suited to playing faster bowlers but struggles against the wily, experienced medium pacers who land it consistently, with no pace, on a length.
He was struggling against the “silver haired foxes”.
Many village or club teams have a fox in their starting XI. They are often the life of the club game and many bowling attacks have been organised around their steadiness over the years.
Fight fox with fox?
The greatest silver-haired fox, Duncan Fletcher, always says that
“batting is all about geometry! If you understand angles then you can bat!”
This statement was normally followed by a clip to the side of my head, a dig in the ribs and a knowing wink!
So after watching Charlie play against my medium pace dobbers for a few overs I applied this theory is Charlie’s batting.
I asked Charlie to take either middle and off or off stump guard for 20 balls. The other intention that I gave him was to play his usual, conventional cricket shots and to see to see what happens. This intention was to create an angle on the ball that would enable his normal array of shots to access different parts of the ground, often into the less heavily guarded on side.
Charlie started to drive middle stump deliveries to the right hand side of mid-on, he accessed both back foot and fuller middle and leg stump deliveries backward of square on the leg side instead of patting the same delivery back down the wicket. It was great to see Charlie picking up a new approach/skill and his face was a picture.
Charlie was playing the same game as normal, he was just playing it from a different position. This in turn was creating a different angle and getting a different outcome as a result.
Other players who do this brilliantly include AB de Villiers and Jos Buttler. Now, both have more expansive games than Charlie, but the principle is exactly the same. They both use geometry and angles to access different spaces on the ground.
AB does this brilliantly with his step across, way outside the line of off stump to sweep the faster bowlers up over fine leg, often for 6. Whilst the shot is more expansive that Charlie’s deflections and drives, the principle of creating a different angle to access a different space on the cricket field is exactly the same.
I then asked Charlie to make his own decisions about how he set up to receive each ball against my medium paced dobbers. Charlie randomised where he stood and therefore, made it really difficult for me to adjust my lines and to keep him quiet at the crease.
He tucked me here and there between mid-on and fine leg. I then adjusted my field so I had four men on the legside and he simply stood on Leg Stump and defended me repeatedly into the gap that he had just created on the offside, I tried to bowl a counteracting yorker and instead dished up a ½ volley that flew through cover for four.
This angles based strategy can be practised and then used against all manner of bowlers. It even works to spinners. Mark Waugh used to vary the depth and line of his guard to access different parts of the pitch with fairly conventional shots. He was a master of it.
So the next time you come up against a “Silver-haired Fox” in the opposition bowling line up, you may find yourself having a different way of causing him a problem or two.