This is part of the specialist fielding series of articles, for the full list of fielding positions covered click here.
If I asked you to name a great fielder who would you name?
Jonty Rhodes? Paul Collingwood? Ricky Ponting?
Chances are you would name someone who fields in the covers, the fielding position that requires the widest range of skills and the most dramatic and athletic performances.
These are the fielders that patrol an area on either side of the wicket known loosely as the ‘inner ring’: Point, cover, extra cover, midwicket and square leg:
These guys, especially on the off side, pull off the most dramatic diving catches and stops that impress everyone (except the batter).
Why have ring fielders?
Batsmen know the percentages. If they play straight in attack and defence they far are more likely to succeed. They are looking to it the ball in the V between mid on and mid off.
But not every ball goes there, even from straight bat shots and that’s where the covers come into play. Your role there is twofold:
- Stop the cover drive, square drive and flick off the legs going for a boundary.
- Prevent quick singles being taken from defensive shots.
It’s not all defence though.
You are also expected to take catches and hit the stumps with run out chances.
So the skills required are many: safe hands catching both high and flat chances, speed over long and short distances, accurate and strong throws and the full range of stops including diving, sliding and the good old long barrier.
How to field in the ring
After the basic skills, which I show you how to practice a little further down, fielding in the ring is really about being open and able to anticipate what will happen.
The quicker you can work out what the batsman is trying to do, the faster you can get into position to play your part.
For example, if you are fielding at point and you see the batsman step back and across, shaping to play a cut you know the ball has a high chance of coming your way quickly. You can set yourself early for the catch or diving stop and be ready to chase if it goes past you.
On the other hand, if the batsman shapes to play a defensive shot then you can start to move forward early in anticipation of the tip-and-run tactic.
And speaking of tactics, it’s also important to know what the team tactics are at the time to decide how you will field. You may have to be defensive or aggressive depending on the score, batsman on strike and philosophy of the captain.
Where to field
Cover and midwicket fielders need to stand close enough to discourage sharp single but far enough away to give yourself a chance to stop the ball that comes off the middle. This is somewhere between 15-25m from the bat.
Line yourself up in the covers with mid off and third man so you form a line that is the opposite of the batsman’s V. Don’t let mid on or mid off creep too close to the batsman as you will be forced to either close in or leave a welcoming gap for the batsman to exploit.
In certain situations you may drop deeper. For example if you want to subtly give a single to an established batsman to get a tail-ender on strike.
You might also drop to the edge of a 30 yard fielding circle when restrictions are in place. This might give away a single but give you more chance of stopping the boundary.
Keep an eye on the batsman’s style and technical weaknesses. That way you can adjust your position depending on how he or she plays.
Fitness is crucial to fielding in the ring. You need to be fast, agile, strong, powerful and have enough stamina to keep your energy up from first ball to last (even if that is 90 overs in a day).
Great ring fielders are always fit.
But this isn’t about long hours jogging or bodybuilding. It’s about being able to move in a smooth coordinated way; being an athlete.
You can learn how to do that easily on this online coaching course from county coach Rob Ahmun.
Ways to practice
But it’s not good being an athlete without becoming world class at the basic fielding skills.
And that means regular, intense and short practices that focus on developing technique first and technique under pressure second.
The skills you need to have to perfection are:
- One hand pickup and underarm throw
- Two hand pickup and overarm throw
- Chase, slide, pickup and return throw from the deep
- Diving stops
- Catching: High, over the shoulder, flat and diving
You might consider these basic skills but you would be surprised how even senior players make technical errors.
For example, next time you do an underarm pickup and throw drill look how many people turn their back foot sideways rather than keeping it point forwards. It’s only a tiny change but it can make a difference to the outcome and as it’s a run out it could cost you a wicket!
So practice these skills until you are perfect, even when the pressure is on.
The best way to do that is to put aside time at every practice session and pre-match warm up to do your drills. Look to be perfect every time.
If you can practice fielding skills every day you are in an ideal position. Most can’t but search out as much practice as you can.
You don’t need to spend too long on the skills. 20 minutes at most is enough to cover the skills you need. If you go on too long you lose technique and the practice becomes pointless.
A typical fielding session might be:
- 5 minutes warm up game
- 10 minutes working on a specific skill i.e. Flat catching
- 5 minutes team drill involving as many skills as possible. For example this one.
If you are a specialist cover fielder, or aiming to become one, how do you hone your skills?
Leave a comment and let us know.