September 9, 2010

The intricacies of setting a field

It's not as simple as having men in right places at right times, deliberate vacant spaces are just as important
32

The ball is turning square on a dry and crumbling Galle pitch. Muttiah Muralitharan licks his fingers, for he has already spun a web around the batsman. The batsman's legs are like lead, his mind frozen like ice. There's a slip, a short leg and a backward short leg to cash in on any mistakes. But why isn't there a silly point? A tentative prod off the front foot might just land straight into his lap.

There are many such field placements that make you wonder if something is amiss. Only later do you realise that the positions are all part of a bigger plan.

Here the close-in fielder on the off side is missing because Murali wants the batsman to go right across and play a defensive shot on the off side. This is to entice him and give him the confidence that he can use the bat and not get out. Little does the batsman realise that trying to play the viciously turning ball against the spin is to flirt with danger, and it's just a matter of time before the inside edge flies towards close-in fielders on the leg side. Also, by not having a close-in fielder on the off, the bowler might encourage him to flirt with the doosra.

So it's not only the fielders that matter, but also the spaces left vacant on purpose. It explains the fielding side's mindset and separates an ordinary captain from a brilliant one. Let's look over the play for field positions that almost always have a sub-text and hence make the game even more interesting.

For fast bowlers

On the first day of the Test match, on a track with some juice in it, you would ideally start with a few slips and a gully. The distance from the bat and in between the slips fielders is decided by the bounce in the track. The lower the bounce, the closer the fielders to the bat and to each other. For instance, we stood almost 25-30 yards from the bat in Australia and at not more than 15 at the Karnail Singh Stadium in Delhi to the same bowler - Ashish Nehra.

The pace also dictates whether or not to leave the first slip vacant. On slow surfaces in the subcontinent, you could do without one, but on tracks like Perth you definitely need the area manned.

On seaming conditions a short leg comes into the picture straight away. His presence is not only to remind the batsman about the upcoming bouncer, but also to make him tentative while coming forward, for there's always a chance of an inside edge when the ball moves sideways upon pitching.

For an outswing bowler like Ben Hilfenhaus, the mid-off region is left vacant to entice a straight drive. Since the lines are always going to be slightly outside off stump - to bring the slip cordon into play and get the maximum movement - the batsman will have to play against the away swing to drag it down the ground; unless of course it's an over-pitched delivery within the stumps, which should be a rarity.

For an inswing bowler, the covers are mostly left unoccupied for a similar effect, to make the batsman play against the swing. The mid-on fielder would be a lot straighter for an outswinger and a little wider for the inswing. The idea is to force a shot against the swing.

Similarly on tracks with bounce and pace, like in Perth, the point fielder will be a lot finer. His role is not only to protect the area where more balls are likely to be hit, but also to reduce the amount of time the batsman has to react if he wants to score off that region. In effect, to score, the batsman will need to hit a lot squarer and hit slightly early.

On slow tracks, the fielders at point and square leg are a lot straighter. Since there isn't much pace to work with, it's quite a task to play finer.

The dynamics change if the pitch is flat and lifeless. Mid-on, mid-off along with extra cover and midwicket stand straighter to cut off the deliveries played with a straight bat. Since the bowler is trying to pitch the ball within the stumps, one of the slips makes way for added protection in the front. The square, though, is left vacant to lure the batsman into playing across the line.

Then there are people like Matthew Hayden who rarely play the square-cut. I have seen teams leave that position empty as bait. Similarly for people who prefer to drive straight down the ground or fetch the ball from outside the off stump, like VVS Laxman does, we have often seen fielders placed almost next to the non-striker.

We may not have seen batsmen getting out solely because of these innovative field positions, but men in these positions have caused many dismissals when batsmen try to do something off the cuff or take on the challenge to get past these fielders.

A silly mid-off fielder is also an important position for a quick quick bowler to play mind games, on tracks where he would want to push the batsman on the back foot. It is unsettling for a batsman to have a fielder like that in his eye line.

For spinners

Field placements for spinners make for an exciting study and spectacle because spinners need to plan more elaborately since a majority of their dismissals are through catches. Turning tracks bring about a lot of attacking field positions, while a flat track will have a mix of both attacking and defensive options. An offspinner would happily leave the covers empty even when bowling outside the off stump. His idea is to entice the batsman to drive or cut against the spin, and back himself to not bowl a half-volley or a half-tracker. But you'll rarely see him remove the slip even if he doesn't bowl a doosra. He'll retain it to keep the batsman guessing, and to discourage him from playing too late.

Obviously the line of attack changes with the strategy in an ODI, where the priority is to save runs. The bowler pitches more towards middle and leg, so his field placements also change. A big turner like Murali would keep a short fine leg, a square leg, and a mid-on in the circle, unlike someone like Suraj Randiv who doesn't turn it much and hence prefers the long-on. All leg-side shots to Murali will go a lot squarer than intended so the region between deep midwicket and long-on needs to be manned. Unless you reach the pitch of the ball, all lofted shots will swirl towards that region. Also, in limited-overs, the field is mostly set with four on the off and five on the on-side.

A legspinner or a left-arm spinner will choose his close-in fielders depending on the amount of turn he is extracting off the surface. The silly point is placed a lot straighter if there isn't much turn and is moved closer to the popping crease if the ball is spinning. A gully may also come into play if there's turn and some bounce. While a legspinner will prefer a short leg if he bowls googlies, the left-arm spinner will usually ask for the position only if there isn't much turn. And both will leave midwicket vacant if there's vicious turn.

When these bowlers go round the wicket and bowl in the rough, the field positions change dramatically. In setting the off-side field, they will play around the batsman's strengths. If the batsman likes to reverse-sweep, they will have a point fielder, and if he prefers to step down the track to play inside-out shots, they'll have the covers manned.

In Tests, the men who take the ball away from the batsman prefer a six-three off-side field. Surprisingly the same bowlers choose a four-five field in shorter formats because they are required to bowl within the stumps. Daniel Vettori will have a typical offspinner's field while bowling to a right-hand batsman.

Setting in-and-out fields with close-in fielders in catching positions and others in the deep is another tried and tested strategy. The decision to keep the mid-on or mid-off fielder inside the circle will depend on which way the ball is spinning. The basic idea is to make the batsman go against the spin.

The play of fielders around the park is an intrinsic part of the act of setting up a dismissal. A batsman could use it as a clue to decipher the bigger plan, but he must tread with caution, for firstly it could be a trap to make him try different things and secondly if he gets too absorbed in the setting of the field, chances are, he'll play into their hands.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Beyond the Blues, an account of the 2007-08 Ranji Trophy season. His website is here, and Twitter feed here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • on September 10, 2010, 16:08 GMT

    As a balling captain it is your job to starve that batsman of runs. His average strokes should give him nothing whereas his smaching strokes should give him only singles. No drop & run singles be allowed at all especially against spinners towards leg side. Batsman should be forced to fight for his runs……………runs shouldn't be presented to him in kettle

  • on September 10, 2010, 16:04 GMT

    Teams should at all times keep short mid wicket and short covers in place in tests as well in ODI's especially against players like dravid who play orthodox cricket. whether spinner balling or fast baller. Aussies tried this tactic against DRAVID and his average in all such innings when this field is applied is less than 25….People have also applied this tactic against ponting………………………..

    By doing this u can save around 70 runs per inning

    1. Mid wicket rigion is often kept vacant every time ball goes in there there is a three or a four. (Runs saved 20)

    2. All the drop & run singles will be stopped. (Runs saved in match around 15)

    3. As a result u can keep mid off and mid on fairly deep bcz batsmen dont start running untill ball has gone past short mid wicket or short cover as it puts doubt in mind of batsmen. (Boundaries saved 3 (4*3=12 runs))

    4. Batsman now has to punch everyball hard as a result no soft hand played runs to other fielders too. (Runs saved 5)

  • on September 10, 2010, 16:01 GMT

    5. Since batsman is forced to play against his natural game and forced to hit hard he is likely to mishit or miss balls in a attempt to hit it too hard to pierce the field..resulting in airbourne shots caught at short covers and inside edge (resulting dismissals 2)

    6. Ballers can ball wicket to wicket less likelyhood of ballers giving room (boundaries through cut saved 4 runs saved 16) (as a result of wicket to wicket balling lbws and bolds dismissals achieved 3).

    Most meaning less position is short fine leg against spinner runs saved per match 10 …….1 wicket every 5 matches.

    ......Playing towards fine leg requires a high risk shot ie sweep or a fine leg glance where batsman is prone to lbw or top edges such a short should be encouraged. By keeping fine leg fin batsmen opt for more safer and natural short mid wicket drive or square leg glance. (runs given away at mid wicket and square leg 40). (likely wickets due to batters trying to play too fine ………missed = 2).

  • katochnr on September 10, 2010, 15:24 GMT

    excellent stuff as usual .. now if we could only just anatomize the wickets of the players

  • dyogesh on September 10, 2010, 12:20 GMT

    Aakash, The one complaint i've with all your articles is that some more anecdotes will spruce them up. You could also cite examples of very unusual field placings that were very situation & batsmen specific.

  • EXRampage on September 10, 2010, 6:04 GMT

    Well done AAkash...Please keep posting such articles..Brilliant

  • sjb550 on September 10, 2010, 2:34 GMT

    Well done Aakash, another excellent article. All are favourites on my computer - your insights about the modern game from one who has played it are invaluable to a teenage cricket nut such as myself.

  • on September 10, 2010, 1:21 GMT

    while the world agrees with Aakaash Chopra's theory of field placement, virender sehwag, viv richards and brian lara must be laughing to themselves.

  • Decorum on September 9, 2010, 23:14 GMT

    You're no doubt correct about these nuances and intricacies, Mr Chopra, but I do wish sometimes that captains would figure it all out a bit more quickly. Oh for the days when "Scatter!" would suffice in field settings!

  • BillyCC on September 9, 2010, 21:17 GMT

    Excellent article Aakash. With more and more flat pitches worldwide, field placings become very very important and innovative captaincy also becomes more important to get key wickets. On pitches which do a bit, it seems that techniques are getting batsman out, in which case, you should pack the slip cordon.

  • on September 10, 2010, 16:08 GMT

    As a balling captain it is your job to starve that batsman of runs. His average strokes should give him nothing whereas his smaching strokes should give him only singles. No drop & run singles be allowed at all especially against spinners towards leg side. Batsman should be forced to fight for his runs……………runs shouldn't be presented to him in kettle

  • on September 10, 2010, 16:04 GMT

    Teams should at all times keep short mid wicket and short covers in place in tests as well in ODI's especially against players like dravid who play orthodox cricket. whether spinner balling or fast baller. Aussies tried this tactic against DRAVID and his average in all such innings when this field is applied is less than 25….People have also applied this tactic against ponting………………………..

    By doing this u can save around 70 runs per inning

    1. Mid wicket rigion is often kept vacant every time ball goes in there there is a three or a four. (Runs saved 20)

    2. All the drop & run singles will be stopped. (Runs saved in match around 15)

    3. As a result u can keep mid off and mid on fairly deep bcz batsmen dont start running untill ball has gone past short mid wicket or short cover as it puts doubt in mind of batsmen. (Boundaries saved 3 (4*3=12 runs))

    4. Batsman now has to punch everyball hard as a result no soft hand played runs to other fielders too. (Runs saved 5)

  • on September 10, 2010, 16:01 GMT

    5. Since batsman is forced to play against his natural game and forced to hit hard he is likely to mishit or miss balls in a attempt to hit it too hard to pierce the field..resulting in airbourne shots caught at short covers and inside edge (resulting dismissals 2)

    6. Ballers can ball wicket to wicket less likelyhood of ballers giving room (boundaries through cut saved 4 runs saved 16) (as a result of wicket to wicket balling lbws and bolds dismissals achieved 3).

    Most meaning less position is short fine leg against spinner runs saved per match 10 …….1 wicket every 5 matches.

    ......Playing towards fine leg requires a high risk shot ie sweep or a fine leg glance where batsman is prone to lbw or top edges such a short should be encouraged. By keeping fine leg fin batsmen opt for more safer and natural short mid wicket drive or square leg glance. (runs given away at mid wicket and square leg 40). (likely wickets due to batters trying to play too fine ………missed = 2).

  • katochnr on September 10, 2010, 15:24 GMT

    excellent stuff as usual .. now if we could only just anatomize the wickets of the players

  • dyogesh on September 10, 2010, 12:20 GMT

    Aakash, The one complaint i've with all your articles is that some more anecdotes will spruce them up. You could also cite examples of very unusual field placings that were very situation & batsmen specific.

  • EXRampage on September 10, 2010, 6:04 GMT

    Well done AAkash...Please keep posting such articles..Brilliant

  • sjb550 on September 10, 2010, 2:34 GMT

    Well done Aakash, another excellent article. All are favourites on my computer - your insights about the modern game from one who has played it are invaluable to a teenage cricket nut such as myself.

  • on September 10, 2010, 1:21 GMT

    while the world agrees with Aakaash Chopra's theory of field placement, virender sehwag, viv richards and brian lara must be laughing to themselves.

  • Decorum on September 9, 2010, 23:14 GMT

    You're no doubt correct about these nuances and intricacies, Mr Chopra, but I do wish sometimes that captains would figure it all out a bit more quickly. Oh for the days when "Scatter!" would suffice in field settings!

  • BillyCC on September 9, 2010, 21:17 GMT

    Excellent article Aakash. With more and more flat pitches worldwide, field placings become very very important and innovative captaincy also becomes more important to get key wickets. On pitches which do a bit, it seems that techniques are getting batsman out, in which case, you should pack the slip cordon.

  • on September 9, 2010, 18:36 GMT

    Nice article again...good observations. Keep them coming.

  • vinvin2210 on September 9, 2010, 15:54 GMT

    An interesting and informative article which should become part of a compulsory training to budding youngsters, especially those in the under-15 and under-19 categories..

  • on September 9, 2010, 15:24 GMT

    totally agree with you .field placements nowadays matter alot.

  • on September 9, 2010, 14:39 GMT

    Great insight into the great cricketing shrewed minds. One wonders if Muhammad Yousuf had a clue about any of this stuff????? Also this makes a great case for cricket board not just being a board (like cardboard, bouncing board or bored) rather needs to be a cricketing institution where faculty like Akash make sure that future cricket cpatians, vice captains and players are formally trained.

    Thanks for the great article.

  • Jjerg on September 9, 2010, 14:11 GMT

    It's articles like this that will increase popularity of the sport, not a pink ball, cheer leaders, loud music, colored jerseys or midnight test matches. When new and young fans understand the beauty of the first class game, they will fall in love with a wonderful sport.

    Jj

  • GlobalCricketLover on September 9, 2010, 13:21 GMT

    very good one Akash......!

  • jakecricfan on September 9, 2010, 12:41 GMT

    Just one word - SENSATIONAL! Brilliant article explaining the nuances of field positioning.

  • sameer997 on September 9, 2010, 11:26 GMT

    Every single line in this article is so meaningful and great.You have given us such good understanding of this game.I realy think that you should write some book which tells us more about batting,bowling and fielding.Greatttt Articleeee

  • on September 9, 2010, 11:10 GMT

    Thank you for a great article. as well as illuminating all the subtitles of top flight captaincy I though it was also a great introduction for the novice. I have forwarded it through my Facebook and Twitter accounts to all my non-cricketing friends.

  • KAZabbar on September 9, 2010, 10:57 GMT

    This is a remarkable article. As the captain of a club team, this would certainly help me a lot. keep em coming Akash

  • Vikram_Rathore on September 9, 2010, 10:28 GMT

    Very good article Mr. Akash. It should be used a starting point by all the current and future captains... Congratulations on doing justice to the topic.

  • shirishdedhia on September 9, 2010, 8:47 GMT

    very informative , it should be read by all upcoming ranjii n state level players. Wel done .

  • saraschandra on September 9, 2010, 7:59 GMT

    @ krishys76 - totally agree with you..... i am a left arm spinner for my college, and this article has made me think quite a bit..... well written article.... tremendous insight..... please keep up the great work.....

  • Rooboy on September 9, 2010, 7:38 GMT

    Aakash, your articles never disappoint. You obviously have a great cricketing mind and it's a pleasure to learn more about the game by reading the insights you provide. 'The Insider' is by far my favourite section of this website, keep up the great work!

  • Murlax on September 9, 2010, 7:12 GMT

    Sensational article! Each and every sentence is thought provoking. I myself enjoy analyzing these small intricacies in cricket and is one of the main reasons I still love Test cricket. It shows the passion that people still have for this wonderful game. One of the greatest field setting I have ever seen was in a match when Mohammed Azharuddin kept a fielder halfway between silly mid off and point to Debashish Mohanty. He bowled a fullish outswinger on middle and off. The batsman tried flicking it past square leg, but got a leading edge instead and went straight to the fielder! Moments like this makes you wonder how much more research can be done on this complex sport...

  • on September 9, 2010, 6:40 GMT

    Good article Aakash. I was hoping to see more examples like the one you gave of Muralitharan. I think Dhoni's captaincy wrt field placing in the final of IPL3 where he had a mid on as well as a long on for Pollard was brilliant! Thats one place where i thought this guy is really good!

  • on September 9, 2010, 6:27 GMT

    One of the reasons India were sucessful during the tour to Australia under Sourav was due to you Akash. You pulled off some blinders at short leg. Those were half or some even quarter chances. I haven't seen good close in catcher in Indian team after you.

  • krishys76 on September 9, 2010, 5:36 GMT

    Fantastic article; wish I had somebody like you to help me with understanding field placings intricacies like this during my formative years as left arm spinner.

  • CricEshwar on September 9, 2010, 5:02 GMT

    Wonderful analysis and gives a lot of insight to the game. I have read your other takes on swing bowling and power hitting, you should be sitting in NCA giving lectures to budding cricketers if you are not doing it already.

  • vinjoy on September 9, 2010, 4:44 GMT

    Excellent insights Akash. I am already a an of your works on batting, bowling, fielding, and these inputs on 'field enhancements' have only enhanced your reputation. Your comments as "Similarly on tracks with bounce and pace, like in Perth, the point fielder will be a lot finer. His role is not only to protect the area where more balls are likely to be hit, but also to reduce the amount of time the batsman has to react if he wants to score off that region. In effect, to score, the batsman will need to hit a lot squarer and hit slightly early. " is definitely masterstroke.

    I would wait for all these articles compiled in a book, to be able to purchase it. Thanks.

  • UltimateCricExpert on September 9, 2010, 4:03 GMT

    Aakash, I bet if BCCI reads your articles regularly, you will be made as coach for Indian cricket team. They will not mind how many runs you scored in international level.

  • gkminty on September 9, 2010, 4:01 GMT

    Another wondeful piece Aakash.. good insight into the captain's mind. One example of setting up and bait was when I saw Waqar Younis brought 3 slips for Ganguly as he came to bat in after a wicket was down... Ganguly expected an outswing... Waqar slipped in a skidding inswinger to catch him by surprise and hit on pad.. plumb LBW first ball. The true talent of a captain is how he handles the field placings.

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  • gkminty on September 9, 2010, 4:01 GMT

    Another wondeful piece Aakash.. good insight into the captain's mind. One example of setting up and bait was when I saw Waqar Younis brought 3 slips for Ganguly as he came to bat in after a wicket was down... Ganguly expected an outswing... Waqar slipped in a skidding inswinger to catch him by surprise and hit on pad.. plumb LBW first ball. The true talent of a captain is how he handles the field placings.

  • UltimateCricExpert on September 9, 2010, 4:03 GMT

    Aakash, I bet if BCCI reads your articles regularly, you will be made as coach for Indian cricket team. They will not mind how many runs you scored in international level.

  • vinjoy on September 9, 2010, 4:44 GMT

    Excellent insights Akash. I am already a an of your works on batting, bowling, fielding, and these inputs on 'field enhancements' have only enhanced your reputation. Your comments as "Similarly on tracks with bounce and pace, like in Perth, the point fielder will be a lot finer. His role is not only to protect the area where more balls are likely to be hit, but also to reduce the amount of time the batsman has to react if he wants to score off that region. In effect, to score, the batsman will need to hit a lot squarer and hit slightly early. " is definitely masterstroke.

    I would wait for all these articles compiled in a book, to be able to purchase it. Thanks.

  • CricEshwar on September 9, 2010, 5:02 GMT

    Wonderful analysis and gives a lot of insight to the game. I have read your other takes on swing bowling and power hitting, you should be sitting in NCA giving lectures to budding cricketers if you are not doing it already.

  • krishys76 on September 9, 2010, 5:36 GMT

    Fantastic article; wish I had somebody like you to help me with understanding field placings intricacies like this during my formative years as left arm spinner.

  • on September 9, 2010, 6:27 GMT

    One of the reasons India were sucessful during the tour to Australia under Sourav was due to you Akash. You pulled off some blinders at short leg. Those were half or some even quarter chances. I haven't seen good close in catcher in Indian team after you.

  • on September 9, 2010, 6:40 GMT

    Good article Aakash. I was hoping to see more examples like the one you gave of Muralitharan. I think Dhoni's captaincy wrt field placing in the final of IPL3 where he had a mid on as well as a long on for Pollard was brilliant! Thats one place where i thought this guy is really good!

  • Murlax on September 9, 2010, 7:12 GMT

    Sensational article! Each and every sentence is thought provoking. I myself enjoy analyzing these small intricacies in cricket and is one of the main reasons I still love Test cricket. It shows the passion that people still have for this wonderful game. One of the greatest field setting I have ever seen was in a match when Mohammed Azharuddin kept a fielder halfway between silly mid off and point to Debashish Mohanty. He bowled a fullish outswinger on middle and off. The batsman tried flicking it past square leg, but got a leading edge instead and went straight to the fielder! Moments like this makes you wonder how much more research can be done on this complex sport...

  • Rooboy on September 9, 2010, 7:38 GMT

    Aakash, your articles never disappoint. You obviously have a great cricketing mind and it's a pleasure to learn more about the game by reading the insights you provide. 'The Insider' is by far my favourite section of this website, keep up the great work!

  • saraschandra on September 9, 2010, 7:59 GMT

    @ krishys76 - totally agree with you..... i am a left arm spinner for my college, and this article has made me think quite a bit..... well written article.... tremendous insight..... please keep up the great work.....