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'You need to change the way the batsman plays'

Fielding up close to the bat isn't just about pulling off blinding catches and taking blows to the body

Interviews by Daniel Brettig and Nagraj Gollapudi

February 9, 2012

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Tony Greig fields at silly point to Vic Pollard, England v New Zealand, first Test, Trent Bridge, Nottingham, June 11, 1973
Tony Greig at silly point against New Zealand in 1973: "I quite enjoyed the idea of people trying to hit it at me" © Getty Images
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Allan Border introduced David Boon to the short leg position with the words "Right, you're it, I can't hide you anywhere else." But as Boon and others have proven, there is more to fielding right up to the bat than knowing when to duck. Close-in specialists have brought a unique blend of courage and anticipation to the role, either at short leg or silly point, and turned matches with their split-second skill. ESPNcricinfo spoke to three of the best - Brian Close, Tony Greig and Mark Waugh - about a vantage point from which they could see the whites of the batsman's eyes.

The key parameters

Tony Greig You need to have good hands, good reflexes, and then you need to learn the position. That only comes with experience, and you've got to clearly understand that in that position your role is more than just to take catches. You're changing the way the batsman plays, and that's something that I don't think is done enough. If you're up against any of the top players and you let them play the way they're comfortable playing, then you're asking for trouble. Especially when they first come in, what you've got to try to do is change the way they play, get them out of their comfort zone, and that's what silly point did to a lot of them. It definitely did for Sunil [Gavaskar], who only averaged 38 against England, and that was mainly because he had all sorts of problems with [Derek] Underwood and we really unsettled him.

Brian Close The parameters for a good close-in fielder are: good eyesight, not having the fear of being hit, and not being stupid like turning away.

Mark Waugh You have got to have good reflexes. You need someone with good hands, and a bit of courage too. When I fielded in there I never used any shin pads or a helmet - though I had the box on. So you need courage and you need anticipation and quick reflexes. You can't just put any mug in there. You've got to have a guy who can read the game well. Preferably someone from the slips - they're normally the guys that would maybe field bat/pad on the off side.

Positioning

Close When I was fielding close to the wicket, I used to have my legs bent, and my body was horizontal. You've always got to be on the balls of your feet.

It all depends on who is bowling and who is the batsman, because you do not want to be fielding too close to a batsman who is a pretty strong hitter, and to a bowler who is going to bowl one or two loose balls an over. I was probably somewhere within six feet to two yards away at most times.

The pace of the pitch also determines where you stand - if it is a fast bowler you would stand a little back and vice-versa. When you are very close to the wicket it is generally to slow bowlers, because quick bowlers get edges off the bat that go to slips or backward short leg. It is the slow bowler that encourages the batsman to play bat-pad, and that is one reason for you to field close or in front of the wicket.

Greig It had more to do with how much pressure you were trying to put on the batsman - if you are trying to intimidate him. For me, with my height, I was able to intimidate a bit from silly point, the closer I got. I'd generally field with my left foot on the popping crease, and my right foot down the pitch. When you had guys like Vishy [Gundappa Viswanath] and Sunil Gavaskar, little guys like that, when I was bent in half, I was looking straight into their eyes.

 
 
"I watched the flight of the ball and got the length and width of the ball by just turning my head and watching the ball down the pitch. I'm not sure a lot of people did that - they just concentrated on the batsman" Mark Waugh
 

If the batsman was playing defensively, you'd come very close. That's one of the things that happened to me in the [Alvin] Kallicharran situation. I was ready to take the ball off Bernard Julien's bat, because he was dead-batting everything. The more that happened, the more you were inclined to come really close, and I was prepared to almost roll across the pitch if he dead-batted again. I didn't do anything like that, but I was very close and he pushed it past me. So I turned, chased it, and then I saw Kalli was standing in the middle of the pitch.

A lot depends on whether you have someone more inclined to get their way quite forcefully, like a Viv Richards. You wouldn't be quite as close then, but the dead-bat players, you'd come close.

Waugh Some batsmen play with soft hands, so you get a little bit closer to the bat. Some go with hard hands and they squeeze the ball out quickly at bat-pad, so you just drop back a little bit. You've got to adapt to who's at the crease. If the pitch is turning a lot you might go a little squarer, if it's not turning as much you'd go a bit straighter in there.

Anticipation

Waugh The first thing was, I always watched the bowler bowl the ball. It just gave me an edge. I could guess what the shot was going to be and I could get into a good position to duck out of the way or take a catch. I watched the flight of the ball and got the length and width of the ball by just turning my head and watching the ball down the pitch. I'm not sure a lot of people did that - they just concentrated on the batsman.

Close The ball just does not come to where you want it to be. You have got to find out where the batsman is going to hit it and how he is going to hit it. Quite a few people were caught off rebounds off my body and head. You watch the whole picture. You need to watch the batsman as to what kind of shot he might play. Everything the batsman does starts with him moving his body, feet and his hands, and by extension the bat.

Greig I watched the bat. For me, right from just after I left school I used that as a pressure position, right through club cricket, and always when spinners bowled. We won a tournament in Sydney when David Horn bowled at one end and I bowled at the other. I just sat under the nose of every batsman and got someone to do it when I was bowling offspinners, and it put a lot of pressure on batsmen.

There was no anticipation involved. The only thing you could do was go with the batsman if he went down the wicket. If he played forward a long way, you'd go forward a bit, but the chances always were the ball was going to come out at about 45 degrees if a guy was playing pad-bat. It wouldn't come out at right angles but at about 45 degrees, so your hand would be moving from the right angle towards 45. And you had to do that late, because if it came square it was quite hard to bring it back.


Brian Close dives at a chance offered by Roy Fredericks, England v West Indies, third Test, Old Trafford, Manchester, July 9, 1976
Brian Close dives for one against West Indies in 1976: "I got hit plenty of times but I got plenty of catches" © Getty Images
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The key to it was keeping still. I watched [Eknath] Solkar, who I think was probably the best short leg fielder I've ever seen. I saw him take a catch in Kolkata off a sweep shot Tony Lewis played, and I'll never forget it. The guy literally made himself a small target but never moved, and watched the pads through his fingers. Then he dived forward and caught what was basically a little bottom edge onto the pad. So keeping still was very important.

Courage

Close I never took cover. I never turned. If you turn you can get hit on the side of the head, which is dangerous, or other places. Of course, there is a helmet these days but there is still a danger of getting hit badly. Just face the ball front-on instead of turning for cover. The only place they could hit me was on my forehead, shoulders and legs. I got hit plenty of times but I got plenty of catches. I caught probably about five or six catches close to wicket, where the ball had not gone more than two feet off the bat.

Playing Kent at Gravesend once, we got to the last ten minutes of the match and we needed two more wickets. We had declared and set them a very reasonable total, giving them more chance of winning than we had, in some respects. But it was important that we kept them going. Don Wilson was bowling. They needed about 16 runs. I spotted Colin Cowdrey, the Kent captain, signalling from the pavilion to Alan Brown not to give anything away to Yorkshire, so to speak. Brown took a huge swipe. I was at silly mid-off. It hit me right on my forehead and went many a mile into the air and dropped in front of the pavilion steps. Next ball I went a yard nearer, and Brown tried the same stroke again but missed and got stumped. In came John Dye, who got out immediately and we won.

Waugh If you feel like you might be in danger, your natural reaction is to turn away. Sometimes I was sort of ducking away and then all of a sudden the shot wouldn't occur that I thought would happen and you had to react again. You need the courage but also the quick reflexes to adapt to what happens. There's not much time to do it in, but sometimes the ball might lob up and come slowly and you can adjust.

David Boon was pretty good. He was well suited to short leg. Built low to the ground and pretty intimidating in there, and he had good courage, which you've got to have on the leg side. That's the toughest position to field, I think, because you just wear so many balls there. He had plenty of courage and a good pair of hands. It's normally the youngest guy who goes in there. Quite often it's a shorter guy. But today you want someone who is very good in there, and they actually tend to field a bit deeper these days, for some reason. You need the right person in there; if you're scared then you've got no hope.

Greig Solkar was one who did short leg without any head protection, and that was very special, that's where you start to get into the serious courage area, because I think to field at forward short leg well for any length of time takes a lot of courage. A little different now, with all the protection they've got, and I guess it is a reason why all the youngsters always go there. I had to field there a bit of World Series Cricket because basically there was no one else, and I didn't enjoy it too much.

Quite often batsmen would try and play the ball at me square on the off side, and if they were trying to play square to a ball slightly short, there was always the chance of a nick to the keeper or slip. And I quite enjoyed the idea of people trying to hit it at me anyhow. Knowing that all I had to do was stand up and I'd be hit on the legs - that was a lot easier than short leg, where I always thought the batsman could flick it up.

Daniel Brettig and Nagraj Gollapudi are assistant editors at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by Natx on (February 10, 2012, 2:49 GMT)

Lovely. This is why test cricket is so special. Collection of special moments for cricket lover's treasure. Not sure if Twenty20 can produce these magic moments. All whack, whack, done!

Posted by rienzied on (February 10, 2012, 2:17 GMT)

Was hit by full blooded drive that would have gone for 4 over the weekend, in the groin. thankfully I was wearing a box! I do notice my voice is slightly higher!

Posted by MiddleStump on (February 10, 2012, 1:48 GMT)

Yes, Solkar is the gold standard for short leg. He also did not stand still. He averaged two catches per test without any protection. Greg was good at silly point. Sobers was generally good anywhere but Richards was also very agile in his early years.

Posted by Cobra0077 on (February 10, 2012, 0:44 GMT)

Yes Solkar was good in that position and so were a few more Indian players like Wadekar, Surti, Abid Ali. An article should also feature some great cover fielders like Lloyd, Sobers, Pataudi and Paul Sheahan. Sheahan was the best there although not a great batsman he saved enough runs there to be chosen in the Australian side then.

Posted by   on (February 9, 2012, 23:58 GMT)

I recently attended a program dedicated to Eknath Solkar and from the clips and the stories I heard he was simply the best. Tony Grieg talks abt the catch from Tony Lewis well the story goes eknath would go low as possible then put up his hands in front of his face as he turned his head. He would still be looking at the batsman through the gaps in his fingers. Tony Lewis went for a big sweep the ball hit his bad and bounced up in middle of the pitch. Eke was crouched and lept like a frog and dived to take the catch. Modern day player despite wearing a helment turn away and never look at the ball.

About getting hit, well eke got hit in the head of Viv Richards and Gavaskar joked since that hit Eknath actually became smarter.

Posted by MrKricket on (February 9, 2012, 23:58 GMT)

Roger Harper was pretty good in close. Saw him take one of the best catches ever against Australia in Australia but can't remember the series or the batsman! Just remember seeing the most 'reflex' catch I've ever seen.

Posted by Thesonofg on (February 9, 2012, 19:01 GMT)

The Garf aka Sir Garfield Sobers was the best at 'the back pocket' position. Legion is written of his exploits there.

Posted by   on (February 9, 2012, 17:59 GMT)

So who do you guys think are the best short leg and silly point fielders that are still playing.

Posted by Nutcutlet on (February 9, 2012, 17:20 GMT)

I remember those fearless days of unprotected 'suicide' short-legs very well! Brian Close clearly took it as a test of his manhood and was indeed an intimidating presence, not crouching, more leaning forward as I recall. His very presence may well have distracted - I would never use the word intimidated - Sobers at the Oval in '66. Close, recalled for the umpteeth time, this time as captain, "..waiting square in the leg trap, having directed Snow to try a bouncer." [This was Sobers' first ball] I continue:"Sobers tried to hook this gift, only to give his rival captain a simple catch." (Wisden 1967) It was all in the fearlessness - some may say sheer insanity - of the plan. Standing so close to Sobers, of all batsmen! Directing a bouncer! Fetch the men in white coats! The match was won in that instant. For athleticism, and again from my own memories, I would have Tony Lock as the greatest short leg I have ever seen, with Micky Stewart not far behind. Heroes all, to my dying breath.

Posted by   on (February 9, 2012, 15:13 GMT)

what about gus logie of the west indies.he was very good in that position.

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Daniel BrettigClose
Daniel Brettig Assistant editor Daniel Brettig had been a journalist for eight years when he joined ESPNcricinfo, but his fascination with cricket dates back to the early 1990s, when his dad helped him sneak into the family lounge room to watch the end of day-night World Series matches well past bedtime. Unapologetically passionate about indie music and the South Australian Redbacks, Daniel's chief cricketing achievement was to dismiss Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth in the 2010 Ashes press match in Perth - a rare Australian victory that summer.

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