Why everyone wants to bat in the middle order (and what to do about it)


Creative Commons License photo credit: Tc7

I don't know what it's like at your club, but where I play almost everyone thinks they are best suited to batting between 5 and 8.

But someone has to face the new ball and someone has to bat at 11 (which they will strongly disagree with even if they don't say anything).

As captain, how do you deal with this?

For me it's a fine balance of politics, kidology and knowing your players better than they know themselves.

The benefits of being in the middle order

Although I have never taken a survey, I think the love of the middle order comes down to the following reasons:

  • The bowling is usually easier as the ball is older and the opening bowlers are off.
  • There is less time so you have licence to hit out.
  • You don't have to be padded up and ready to go straight after tea.

Can you come up with any others?

Understanding these motivations make it easier for you to deal with the log jam of players wanting to bat in the sacred spots.

How to set a club batting order

Getting an order starts with you building the expectations of the players in your team. While it is a perennial problem to have players drop out from week to week, you can build some consistency simply by:

  1. Working out who fits best in each position
  2. Outlining that specific role to each player
  3. Only changing that role if it is not working or are forced to by team changes

That's just about it, although it can be easier said than done. Below is how I see each role. Sit down with your player list and see who best fits where based on your experience of each batsman's style.

  • Openers. Traditionally your openers are the batsmen with the best defence and the ability to build a long innings. Sometimes this translates to players who bat too slowly because they have a good defence but lack the confidence to play shots. A better ploy is to open with a player who can attack when needed while still being able to see off the better bowlers on bad club wickets.
  • Number 3. First wicket down is quite specialist. The position demands someone who is flexible as they may be in second ball or when there is over 200 on the board. Often this position is seen as the best batsman in the side so the player's confidence should be high just through that. Look for batters with a solid technique, especially in defence.
  • Numbers 4 and 5. These positions are where to place your most attacking batsmen. They will have the aim of scoring freely around the top order players and have more licence to attack. This is because they are usually in later in the game when the bowling is easier. They should be your best players of spin.
  • Numbers 6 to 8. Depending on your batting strength you could well find your teams tail starting in this section (although many club sides bat all the way down). If these players are getting in regularly they should be tactically aware enough to deal with the game situation. They may have to attack in the last few overs before a declaration or block out for a draw. If you have poor batsman at this point make sure they know how to bat defensively above being able to swing the bat.
  • Numbers 9 to 11. You can make up the final three with players who are most likely to be bowling. Be careful about using your worst batsmen though. Their role is usually pretty simple: Save the game or hit the winning runs. In many ways these are the vital positions because they are always in at the end of the innings in close games. Nevertheless, very few players like batting at the bottom of the order so you will need to judge how you tell the players in question. This is where your diplomatic skills come in handy.

Playing the diplomat

By now you should have a solid order in mind for your team. Some people will be happy with their position. Others will be dead set against your decision. For example, you may move an experienced opener to number 3, or put an all rounder down the order to give some experience to a younger batsman.

This is where you need to sit down with players and explain the importance of their role, asking them to give it a trial to see how it goes.

You need to use your judgement on how to tell players. Some prefer a strong leader and will accept the decision, while others need convincing or to feel like you have compromised in some way.

What remains the same is the need to give each player some stability and a feeling of unique importance. The openers are there to get the innings off to a good start without early wickets and the last three are there to win (or save) close games for you.

Get every player to buy into their role for at least a trial period and you will be most of the way to a settled batting order.

What if you get it wrong?

There will be times you misjudge a player. A young batsman might lose his confidence up the order for example. Learn from this error and make the changes as soon as you realise it.

As long as everyone involved understand the change then disruption should be minimised and you can get back to your masterplan.

OK, so you can't get everyone in the middle order as they want, but with a little work you can help people feel comfortable in the position you give them. Not that you can win them all, but the good captain can negotiate in the bar afterwards if all else fails!

© Copyright miSport Holdings Ltd 2008

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Comments

I am one of the few. I complain mightily when my skipper tries to be nice to me and puts me anywhere other than eleven. This largely because I am inept and couldn't hit a beach ball with a tennis racquet. I know my place (in the nets, practising).

However, I take your point about the importance of the lowest positions at the end of an innings. Maybe I will be more willing in future.

LSNDuck, it's good you know your limits. I would be bold and think about putting you at number 8. It's quite hard to do damage there by being last man out and you might get a chance to close your eyes and have a swing when we are looking for a declaration.

Of course numbers 9-11 would be mortified.

100% agree with the tactic of opening with one attacking batsman and one defensive.

If all goes well, you are seeing off the new ball, while also scoring runs at a good rate and (maybe) taking advantage of fielding restrictions if there are any in the league you play.

Plus if openers remain the same through the season they grow an understanding which leads to more quick singles stolen.

Usually i'm understandable about batting down the order. But this season in juniors i have a feeling that i'll be still down there when i feel that some players in front of me don't deserve to be there. It's got to do with our team having a few all-rounders at the top of the order (and rightly so they are our best bats) meaning players that are playing as batters even though aren't the best at it bat between 8 - 10. What are you supposed to do? You want to win matches but you want to give players a go. So because i'm a bowler i have to bat 11.
It's frustrating because i believe i can be a good batter but i'm just not getting the oppurtunity out in the middle.

[...] nipped in the bud by a captain who sets his players expectations with his own theories. Just like you did with your batters, you have to play the diplomat and tell your bowlers what roles you expect them to [...]

How do you think this changes in shorter formats like 20 or 40 overs? My experience is that the best way to win a game is simply to have your 3 batsmen most likely to score a run a ball 50 at the top of the order, and then responsible, flexible batsmen in the middle order who can either get you over the line or dig you out of trouble.

There is very little value in playing out the new ball for 15 overs. All it does is hand all the momentum to the opposition and puts impossible pressure on the middle order. The less you leave for your middle order to do, the more likely you are to win the game.

If you're aiming for 200 off 40 overs, where would you rather be after 15 overs - 40-0 or 80-3? I'd take 80-3 all day long.

You have to reframe the question to see the value of those extra runs: Whats the easier chase: 6.4 an over with the opposition full of confidence and swarming round the bat, or cruising at 4.8 an over with 7 wickets in hand and the opposition tired and deflated from leather chasing and the field relatively spread?

Scoring at 6.4 an over for 25 overs is very, very unlikely. Your only chance is a 10 wicket win - in this scenario 1 wicket will probably bring 5 or 6.

Asking your middle order to cruising along at 4.8 an over isn't too much of a challenge.

I think there is a case for both approaches. It's as much about the situation as it is about the tactics. For example, if you are playing a 40 over match where the ball is hooping around you are not playing the odds well if you go out with aggression. You may be 40-3!

In a bowler-friendly situation I would look to have at least one guy in the top 3 who is a sheet-anchor. You need to be clear about setting his goals though - rotate the strike often rather than just holding up an end waiting for the four ball.

I would say 40-0 can still see you up to 200 if you have a good back-end when the bowlers are 2nd string and the field has gaps to exploit (or your slogger comes off).

That said, attacking up front is a well established tactic as well. Certainly if you have attacking players then use them. That said, if you have a slower guy then it may be best to get him in earlier rather than flail at the death.

"I would say 40-0 can still see you up to 200 if you have a good back-end when the bowlers are 2nd string and the field has gaps to exploit"

This is the thing - the tactic of a careful start followed by a 20 over slog is dependent upon the other team having some ropey bowling between 20-35 overs - but teams seem to have figured this out in our league, and now have either decent bowlers the whole way through, or even save their best bowlers for that period, knowing that the orthodox batting strategy is to tippy tap away against what should be their weak links, and then their best bowlers will come on and clean up as the middle order become increasingly desperate when they realise the hole their openers have inadvertently dug them into.

I'm not saying it can never work - I'm just saying that bowling tactics have caught up and it seems to work a lot less often now than it used to. Even in my team, we often keep our quickest bowler back for the 2nd half of the innings.

It's dependent on situations of course. My experience is that the best bowlers are usually on first because they can exploit the new ball far better. If you told our quickest bowler he was coming on after 20 overs he would just take the new ball and bowl anyway!

I'd say both methods are equally as likely to backfire as they are to go to plan. The aggressive team plays silly shots and loses 4 wickets in the first 10. The defensive team waste half the innings by playing too safe.

But I think we are saying the same thing; there is no "default" tactic. Look at your team strengths, the oppositions plans/bowling and the conditions then decide your approach.

Yes - in particular it depends on two things:

If the opposition have one/two great opening bowlers and then "the rest", and you have a couple of superstar batsmen that you rely on for your runs, then its sensible to sacrifice a few runs at the start to protect your superstars, because you know they will cash in later, whereas if they get out early then you're done for.

Alternately:

If the opposition have a deep consistent bowling attack all of similar quality, and you have a reasonably deep batting lineup, then the best time to attack is right from the start, because batting conditions will stay roughly the same through all 40 overs. Grab the momentum in the first over and don't give it back.

It seems to me that the second scenario is becoming more common nowadays, where everyone is encouraged to be an allrounder from a young age. Maybe its just the league I play in, I don't know, but we sometimes have 6/7 decent bowlers in the team and 8/9 reasonable batsmen.

I think your experience is common, I also think there are many sides with 2 really good bowlers, 1 star batter and everyone else a little below standard. We certainly see it a lot where I am, teams can lean on their pros heavily.

I agree that the trend is certainly towards aggressive cricket though. And I like that.

I captain my clubs 3rd XI (out of 4). This year we are struggling to get players playing which has resulted in up to 8 changes to the side each week. Not having a solid core of players means that you have to outlay the expectations each week and quite often those expectations are different because players are batting in different positions. One week a player would bat at #5 and the next week at #9. When I set the batting order I try to take a lot of things into consideration (skill, where they want to bat, how much they have been involved in the game). I also have to contend with players being dropped from the team above so have to balance their position with established members of my team. Normally I get away with it with only a few moans and groans but I always tell the players if they perform well then they give themselves the chance to move up the order (it annoys me when a player is given a lower order spot and they complain then last 4 balls before getting out to playing across a straight one). Communication is key – outlining the vision and reasons as a captain and listening to players, understanding their goals and helping them work to achieve them.

I agree, good captains at any level understand the motivations and desires of players and work hard to see beyond the immediate needs of the game. People play cricket, they need to be treated like people and not skillsets!

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