This is part of the specialist fielding series of articles, for the full list of fielding positions covered click here.
You can tell how well regarded the short leg position is by a simple fact: The most junior member of the side is the first choice to go in there.
But when it’s done well it’s as important a position as the wicketkeeper. So why wouldn’t your team train someone up to do it properly?
Why have a short leg?
Tactically, the close fielding position on the leg side is crucial for both spin and seam bowlers.
The key at club level is that it adds pressure to the batsman. Just like when the wicketkeeper stands up to seam bowlers. The batsman feels closed in, and finds in much harder to tuck the ball off his or her legs for easy singles.
You also have a key role in taking wickets at short leg.
On a pitch with extra bounce you can catch balls fended off from the seamer. Spinners can also get in on the action with bat-pad catches.
Alert short legs can look for run outs from batsman who drags his back leg out.
Makes you wonder why it’s taken out so quickly and the man put at square leg doesn’t it?
Where to field
There are three main areas where short leg can field:
- Square: A rare (because it’s the most dangerous and least likely to work) position in the club game. The fielder stands close on the leg side directly behind the batsman level with the popping crease. The closer you can get the more the batsman feels your presence. Be prepared to be well armoured, have no fear, a fast recovery from bruises and the ability to make yourself small when the bowler drops it short.
- Forward: On slow wickets (or with slower seamers) the ball can pop up in front of square, so moving in front of the popping crease can lead to catches. You may also be useful at short mid on or short midwicket.
- Backward: Moving behind the popping crease, you can position yourself at orthodox backward square leg, leg gulley or leg slip. These positions require excellent anticipation as you see the ball late, but if you can catch the ball well, balls tucked off the hip in the air become fair game.
How to field at short leg
Phil Tufnell, former England spinner and well-known coward, says that fielding at short leg is like doing the washing up. You only have to break all the plates once and they never ask you to do it again.
However, for the more team minded man, attitude is more important than technique.
Because the job is hard to practice, not used very often and dangerous you need a certain mindset to be able to do it.
That mindset is to be totally focused on getting the ball or getting out of the way. You will take hits in the effort to get to the ball but you will also take catches if you are brave.
Technically, it’s important to get low by crouching (low as shark poop as someone once told me) and keep your head up and still. Some adopt an almost wicketkeeper-like stance while others go more for a slip type position. Choose whatever is comfortable but get your hands low and stay down as long as possible.
Get as close as you feel comfortable, remembering that the ball will travel further from faster bowlers, so the more pace they have the deeper you can stand and still be able to take catches.
If the batsman shapes to play a big leg side shot there is no need to be a hero. Make yourself small and do your best to get out of the way.
Instinct might dictate you put your hands over your head. I have always thought that to be silly if you are wearing a helmet but it’s not easy to stop yourself.
How to practice
If you have been allocated short leg duties (you must be the youngest member of the team) then you first need to ask yourself: how often do I field there?
In my club games we have short leg positions for less than 3 overs a game. Sometimes we go a whole series of games without using one.
If you are not going to be used there much it’s a bit silly to waste precious training time working on it.
But if the captain likes having a short leg you can spend a few minutes at every training session and warm up doing some specialist short leg training. The rest of the time you can work on your skills in the slips, where you are more likely to be.
But back to short leg drills.
One of the best drills you can do is getting a team mate to put on a boxing pad (the type you put on your hands for someone else to punch) and have someone feed the ball in at wait height. The person with the pad deflects it and you have to try and catch it. 5-10 minutes of this will sharpen you up.