Knowing when to leave a fielder up or push him back is quite the art.
Do it too early and you give away easy runs or miss a chance to take a wicket. Do it too late and it costs you big.
Tactically aware bowlers seem to have this 6th sense, Jedi mind trick to know when to do it. But it’s more a conundrum to others.
So when is the perfect time?
Working in the grey area
There are times where it’s so obvious you don’t need to think about it. The bowler is on top and the batsman is playing in an orthodox way, for example. Or the batsman is whacking it to all four corners.
Yeah, you probably want to take the slip out in the latter case.
But there is a big grey area between those two examples.
Say, the batsman has been tied down for a few overs and is looking tense. Is he the kind of guy who is going to go for a big shot? And if he is, will he connect with it enough to get it over midwicket’s head?
At club or school level you may have seen the batter before. If so, you should know the answers to these questions.
At least, if you have been paying attention you should (as all good bowlers and captain’s do). You can react accordingly.
In our example you may want to subtly push the midwicket and mid on fielders back 5-10 metres because you know the batter will go for a shot and he rarely connects cleanly first time. On the other hand, if you know he can get hold of it you can put the fielder back right away.
But what if you are unsure?
When in doubt, hold your nerve
The golden rule here is simple.
Attack a little longer than you think; defend a little less than you think.
That mean’s holding your nerve when you get hit for a boundary and thinking about the situation rather than mindlessly putting point back on the boundary as soon as a the ball is cut.
The logic of attacking a little bit more is that you can probably recover from an extra boundary or two being hit, but it’s a lot harder to recover from a missed catch because you just dropped the man back.
So I tend to look at what has happened first.
Say a spinner has just been swept for a boundary down to fine leg. Chances are the batsman didn’t get hold of it, but you know he is looking to sweep.
You could put in a short fine leg, but the next time he sweeps he will probably get more on it, sending it squarer. A better position would be backward square leg.
If the ball is hit past with a sweep again cleanly it’s time to put someone on the square leg boundary. Its cost you eight runs to discover this, but it’s kept attacking the batsman which is important in any format.
So have the confidence to keep the field up for a little longer.
If it helps, keep track of how many runs it costs you in a season compared to how many wickets it gets you. You’ll find the ‘average’ of this tactic is pretty good.