When a limited overs cricket match reaches a critical point, you’ll often hear coaches, players and commentators talking about how important it is to ‘have your best fielders in important positions’. A newcomer to the sport may struggle to understand exactly what that means! How do you know who your best fielder is? And how do you know what the important positions are? Also, do those important positions change depending on the situation of the match? These are some of the questions I’ll be answering in this post!
From personal experience, I know that getting your best fielders into vital positions is hugely important. When I was playing youth cricket, fielders were often rotated around all of the different positions to give everyone a chance to experience fielding in different places. During a bowling innings I would spend time at point, mid-on/mid-off and all the other infield positions. I would also spend quite a bit of time fielding on the boundary as I was a very fast sprinter and could cover the ground quickly. However, I do feel like this approach of constantly moving fielders into different positions ended up costing us a lot of runs and wickets as we ended up having players who were not great catchers in catching positions such as slip and mid-wicket, and players who weren’t that quick across the ground fielding in deep positions on the boundary. If players had been put in positions based on their skill sets, it may have increased the effectiveness of our team a little bit!
So, where should you be placing your best fielders in a cricket match?
In a game of cricket, your best all-round fielder should be placed in a position where a catch is most likely to be taken, or where they can cut off the maximum number of runs. This position will not always be the same and will depend on the game situation and the type of cricket being played.
However, as a very general rule, your best fielder will usually be placed in one of the following locations:
- The slips/gully
- Point/backward point
- Long off
- Long on
- Deep mid-wicket
Which position you put the fielder in will usually depend on whether your team is ‘attacking’ or ‘defending’. To explain exactly what I mean by this, it’s probably worth having a look at some examples!
When Your Team Is ‘Attacking’
There are certain points in all cricket matches where the bowling side will be on top of the batting side, making it much more likely that they will be able to build pressure and take wickets. During these game situations, the bowlers will usually bowl attacking lines and lengths, often around the off stump or just outside. They will also aim to seam/swing/spin the ball away from the bat. This means that the most regular type of dismissal during these moments come from outside edges that get caught by the wicket keeper or in the slip cordon.
Therefore, many teams will opt to put their best fielder somewhere in the slip cordon, where they can use their exemplary catching skills to great effect. This is especially true in test cricket where slip fielders are more commonly used than in limited overs cricket.
When you’re stood in this slip cordon, the ball can come towards you at great speed. Consequently, an effective slip fielder needs to be agile, have fast reflexes and excellent hand-eye coordination, which are traits that your best fielder will often possess! They will most often be seen at third or fourth slip, or sometimes even at gully, because these positions allow them to use their top-class catching skills as well as their ability to cover a lot of distance to their left and right whilst diving to stop the ball going to the boundary. Ben Stokes is one of the England team’s best fielders and he regularly fielded in these positions for them at the start of his career. Cameron Green is someone who has been doing it for Australia recently too!
If the best fielders aren’t placed in the slip cordon or at gully, they will often be located at point or backward point instead. Whenever a batter receives a ball with a bit of width outside the off stump, there is a good chance they could end up hitting a shot in this region, making it a high traffic position. This means the fielder in this location can have a very large impact on the game by taking spectacular catches and cutting off a lot of certain boundaries. When I was growing up watching the England team, Paul Collingwood was generally considered to be the best all-round fielder within the squad, and he was a specialist in the backward point position. Ricky Ponting was also an excellent fielder and a cricketer that I admired hugely, and he regularly fielded at backward point too. He was brilliant in this position as well as in the slips!
When Your Team Is ‘Defending’
Just like there are periods during cricket matches when the bowling side is on the attack and dominating the game, there are also periods when they will be on the back foot and forced into more defensive tactics. For example, when you are bowling in the last 5 overs of a T20/ODI match and the batters are trying to smash every ball for six, or when the opposing team are trying to up the scoring rate in a test match to set up a declaration. In these moments the field settings that the bowling team uses change. Now, there will be less fielders in close catching positions like the slip cordon, and there will be more fielders in deep positions such as long on, third man and deep mid-wicket.
When batters are playing in a more aggressive way and trying to hit fours and sixes, having your best fielders on the boundary is much more important than having them close to the bat. If a batter miscues any of their big shots there is an excellent chance that a boundary riding fielder will have a chance to take a catch, and in this situation you always want one of your best fielders in that position who isn’t going to crumble under the pressure of the high ball.
Additionally, fielders on the boundary have a huge responsibility to move quickly around the edge of the field in order to cut off and block any shots that are heading for four runs. This may involve a full length dive and a hard landing on the grass, so in these game situations you want fielders in these positions who aren’t afraid to throw themselves around!
The most important positions on the boundary where you’ll want to get your best fielders in place are at long on, long off, deep mid-wicket and deep square leg. Most batters will try to hit sixes on the leg side as this is the most natural place to hit big shots, especially if the bowlers are bowling a line that is relatively tight to the stumps. Therefore, the long on, deep mid-wicket and deep square leg fielders have excellent chances of taking a catch if the batter doesn’t quite connect with the shot properly. Catches that are offered in these scenarios often come with quite a bit of pressure attached to them, with the fielder having to wait a considerable amount of time before the ball drops low enough to grab. In these moments, you need a confident, composed fielder in place on the boundary that you can rely upon to keep hold of the ball.
Other Fielding Scenarios
During the course of a cricket match there are other situations in which it isn’t really clear whether the fielding team should be attacking or defending. For example, during the opening powerplay, the fielding team will initially want to attack, get players in catching positions and try to take wickets. However, if the ball is not swinging or seaming much, it may be hard to force the batters into mistakes. Instead, it will be easier for batters to play aggressive shots and hit boundaries. This puts the fielding team in an awkward position where they have to find a middle ground between attack and defence.
In these scenarios, your best fielder should probably be placed somewhere on the edge of the 30-yard circle, in a position such as point, extra cover or mid-wicket. These are all positions in which an excellent fielder that is good at covering ground quickly and diving to stop the ball can cut off plenty of runs. A batter who plays a stunning cover drive may have their shot stopped by a very athletic fielder stationed in the covers, but if the fielder in this position is not as athletic and not as good at covering the ground, this type of shot will find the boundary much more regularly.
How Do You Know Who Your Best Fielder Is?
Most cricketers will instinctively know who the best fielder on their team is. Especially if they know all of their teammates well and have played with them for a long time!
However, if you’re not sure what to look for, the best fielder on the team will usually have some (or all) of the following qualities and skills:
- An excellent catcher – the ability to catch the ball reliably when it is dropping out of the sky, as well as when it’s been struck forcefully towards you is an essential skill for the best fielders
- Agility – the ability to react and move quickly towards the ball
- Arm strength – the ability to throw the ball long distances
- Accuracy of throw – Being able to hit the stumps and throw the ball to teammates reliably is a vital one
- Excellent hand-eye co-ordination – Being able to read the flight and movement of the ball and get your hands to it is important, especially when the ball is moving at high speed
- Sprint speed – A quality fielder must be able to cover ground quickly in the outfield to cut off potential boundaries
- A strong athlete – the ability to dive through the air in order to stop/catch the ball
If your team engages in fielding practice, it shouldn’t take you too long to realise who the best fielders are if you sit back and spectate for a while. The fielders that cover ground quickly and attack the ball before gathering/catching it cleanly, before delivering accurate throws towards the stumps or a teammate are the ones that will make big impacts during a game. It is these fielders that should be placed in the most important positions that I have outlined in the initial part of this post!
Getting your best fielders in the positions where they can be the most impactful is a key part of a cricket captain’s role. In fact, it can often be the difference between winning or losing a match!
If you’re a captain or a bowler, it’s important that you start to learn how to judge match situations and position your fielders accordingly. If your team is on top and trying to take wickets, it’s a good idea to get your best fielders in catching positions close to the batter. If you’re defending at the end of a limited overs innings you want them in the outfield where they can patrol the boundary and take pressurised catches.
Lastly, remember that even if you’re not a great fielder at the moment, it’s always possible to improve. Why not start by reading some of my essential fielding tips by clicking the link here?