Your team is full of talented all-rounders. Someone needs to fill the final place. What do you do?
This is a common question in club and school cricket. Good players tend to have two or three skills meaning your top six batsmen are likely to be your best two or three bowlers, plus a keeper.
That leaves a slot at eight or nine for a batsman, or a bowler who is unlike to get on because they are seventh choice.
These last few cricketers are reasonable people but they also want a fair go: How can you prove your worth batting at nine and not bowling?
No one wants to just fill a shirt, and no captain or coach should settle for it either.
There is an answer.
The good club captain is marked mainly by his man management skills: They are a great communicator.
It's no different in this dilemma.
There are a number of solutions to the problem but they are not perfect. What makes them acceptable is great communication of roles combined an empathy from the skipper that inspires people to be happy about things.
Without brilliant communication, players end up resentful at not getting a go.
They might even feel punished for good performance. Imagine you're an opening batsman who is batting like a dream in the reserve team. You get the call up one week for a go in the first eleven. The captain says nothing until the start of the game where he tells you that you are batting nine.
And fielding at third man.
Compare this to a small amount of communication and role management:
- The captain comes to the player before they are selected and says they noticed the good performances and thinks they deserve a go at a higher level.
- They chat about how the player might get a go in the team to see how they fit, but it might not be opening (the first team openers are going well). The player objects a little but understand the point.
- Immediately after selection the captain speaks again with the player, outlining their role, not as an opener but as a trial to see how they fit into the team culture. The captain reassures the player that the expectation is not to score a hundred, but to bat as well as possible and fight up the order from within the team.
- During the game, the captain makes sure the player gets time fielding in their favourite positions and helps make them feel part of the team as much as possible.
The player might still not be too happy; it's tough giving up a Saturday. They will mostly understand, especially if the overall context is placed in front of them. Most people understand the big picture if someone takes the time to chat about it.
Have role options
Good selectors are not satisfied with just good communication though. The bigger goal is to get everyone into the game.
That means taking a different tactical approach to fit cricketers in.
- Bring in a young batsman who can field well. They might not be fully ready at your level, but the experience is an investment. Tell them their job is to save as many runs as possible and field them in areas they can manage.
- Bring in a form player from a lower level and play them in their role. Openers open. Spinners bowl a spell, power hitters get a chance for a wack. It might mean dropping a star player down the pecking order a bit. You need good ego management!
- Give budding all-rounders a specific role. If the extra one can bat and bowl, let them know what they are required to do and tell them to relax about the other job. The big hitting spin all-rounder, for example, can be told to bat seven, look to go big and forget bowling this week.
Whatever tactical approach you choose, also take the time to rotate players through if they are doing a fill in job.
Most people will be fine with a lesser role in the side for a while, but not all season. Give them time at a level where they can be a key player and get more of a go.
The secret to this approach is to remember everyone in your team is a key player.
There are no shirt-fillers.
Even if someone is only there to field, they have to save runs and take catches. These moments win games as much as hundreds and five-fers.
Manage players roles and expectations, work hard to give them the best chance of success and stick together as a team.