BEYOND the BASICS: CRICKET STRATEGIES The Art and Strategy of Batting Just as Pitching controls the game of baseball, BATTING controls the game in cricket. So, you must start with batting to understand cricket strategy. Recall that, in cricket, the batter (or BATSMAN) can hit in every direction, all around him. He uses many different kinds of “strokes” to do this…. “driving” with a full golf-like swing to hit straight ahead or slightly to left or right, “pulling” or “hooking” to hit the ball across his body and to his left, “late-cutting” or “glancing” at the delivery, to just deflect a fastball past the catcher (wicket-keeper), and so on.
The BATSMAN’S STRATEGY, and how he executes his hits, is illustrated in the diagram below. FIELDING STRATEGY FIELDING STRATEGY, naturally, consists of stopping the batsman’s hits. There are “fielding positions” that, in theory, could stop any hit in any direction. There are “infield” positions close in to the batsman, “midfield” positions which are halfway to the field boundary, and “outfield” positions which are close to the fence. What these positions are called, and where they are located on the field, are shown in the chart below. As you can easily see, there are far too many positions. 0 or more are listed in the chart! As you know, a cricket team consists of 11 players. There is no way that 9 fielders (i. e. excluding the current pitcher and the catcher/wicket-keeper) could possibly cover all 30 positions. But which ones should be covered? That depends on PITCHING (i. e. BOWLING) STRATEGY. BOWLING, or CRICKET PITCHING In cricket, the PITCHER (called the BOWLER) can bounce the ball on the ground…. if, but ONLY if, he wants to. That means two things. First, he can bounce the ball at different distances from the batter, getting him to mis-step in deciding how to deal with the pitch.
Second, he can do more things with the ball… not only move it in the air, like baseball pitchers do, but also “break”, i. e. change directions after bouncing off the ground. By combining movement in the air with “breaks” off the ground, and also varying his length at the same time, he can throw some very complicated pitches! All these options available to the cricket PITCHER, or BOWLER, are shown in the diagrams below. COMBINING BOWLING, FIELDING STRATEGIES Now we can see how bowling and fielding strategies can be combined to deal with the batter’s (batsman’s) control of the game.
Typically, cricket uses pitching or bowling specialists, i. e. pitchers who specialise in throwing fast or medium or slow, or in certain kinds of “breaks” or in-the-air movement. Here is why. In baseball, it would be okay to have one pitcher throw many kinds of pitches, because batters can hit only into a quadrant ahead of them to score, and fielders can be positioned to cut off most line drives, usually making it necessary to hit over the fielders’ heads for any kind of scoring. In cricket, because fielders have to be positioned to cover 360 degrees, specialist pitchers are a big help… ecause you can estimate where the batter is likely to hit a certain kind of pitch…. and place your fielders there! In other words…. when you pick your specialist pitcher, you also pick the kind of pitching that is to be delivered… and you set your field of 9 to cover the possible hits that could be made against it. For example, 100-mph fastballs are unlikely to be hit back past the pitcher…. it is difficult to pull sliders around to your left…. curve balls, on the other hand, are likely to wind up in the left outfield. You get the idea? All right, here are a couple of examples of how this might work.
In both cases, we assume the batter is right-handed. In the chart above, we are looking at an attacking field for a fastball bowler who has a good curve ball and can also “cut the ball in” to the batter off the bounce, i. e. throw “off-breaks”. The “yellow zone” indicates where fast curveballs breaking in on the bounce are most likely to be hit…. so, which parts of the field need to be protected. The idea is that most right-handed batters would deflect curve-ball and off-cutter pitches coming into them to their off-side, or angle their drives to their on-side, shifting their hits as shown.
You can see how much of an attacking field it is, by the number of “infield” and “midfield” compared to “outfield” positions ! Just in case the batter is able to hit out agaist off-cutting fastballs, position shifts are shown for a few key positions… making those moves would lead to a more defensive formation. The second chart, shown above, is for a different kind of pitcher (bowler); one who throws at a slow-medium pace, has a good slider, and also breaks the ball across and away from the batter on the bounce (i. e. leg-breaks).
The “yellow zone” is shifted in the opposite direction from the previous example, because pitches that are going away from the batter are more likely to be deflected behind him to his leg-side, or hit into his off-side, i. e. towards his right in the case of the right-handed batter. You will see there are comparatively fewer infielders, and more outfielders, than in the first example. That is because you expect a slow-medium pitcher to be hit harder and further than a fastball pitcher. And the fielding formation also looks completely different, because the “yellow zone” is different.
BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER The biggest difference between cricket and baseball is : baseball is a pitcher’s game. while cricket is a batter’s (batsman’s) game. Both baseball and cricket consist of a series of one-on-one duels… between a batter, and a pitcher/bowler who is supported by a set of fielders. In both baseball and cricket, the succession of these “duels” IS the game , with final scores representing the cumulative outcome of these “duels”. In baseball, it is the pitcher who is challenged to “duels”, by a series of batters. Each duel can last 3 to 10 pitches —and there are 27 or ore such one-on-one duels, between a single pitcher, and nine opposed batters, each of whom gets three or more chances at-bat, or “duels”, to score during the course of the game. (The starting pitcher is “relieved” only if he is tired and needs a “relief pitcher” to close out the game… or if he has been scored against too often in the beginning ! ) In cricket, it is the batter, not the pitcher, who takes center stage and is challenged by a series of pitchers/bowlers. An individual batter who is doing well could face 20, 50 or over 100 pitches.. , 4 or more pitchers/bowlers, could take turns to try to get him out, unlike baseball where batters take turns in challenging a single pitcher! In fact, 5, 6, even 7 pitchers/bowlers are used during one cricket inning. You understand baseball best by starting with the Pitcher, then looking at the field placement, and finally at how a baseball batter could deal with them. If the Pitcher and Fielders are consistent, there simply won’t be any hits…. only if a batter can break through, or get the Pitcher and fielders to commit errors, will there be any scoring.
To understand cricket strategy, start with the batter, see all he can do, and then look at Fielding and Pitching/Bowling as ways to limit the batter. If the Pitching/Bowling and Fielding strategies work, batters can be held to low or zero scores; if they do not, the batters can score as much as they like… and win the game. In a cricket match (game) then, you would expect to see different kinds of batters come up to bat, each being tested with different pitching styles… and fielding formations. For a complete cricket inning, the batting team can send up 11 batters. Batters 1 and 2 are called “opening batsmen”…. ike “lead-off batters” in baseball, they are supposed to be consistent, not necessarily score the big runs. In cricket, if they can stay on base for 30 minutes or more, they have done their job. Batters 3, 4, and 5 are supposed to be consistent and high-scoring… the best batters in the team are usually in those positions, like “clean-up hitters” in baseball. Batters 6, 7 and 8 are the “power hitters”…. not expected to stay too long on base, but able to score quickly and fast. Batters 9, 10 and 11 are the “tailenders”, i. e. players who are in the team for other things than batting… uch as pitching (bowling) or catching (wicket-keeping). They may be able to bat, but are usually not in the team for that reason. Against this kind of batting line-up, the opposite team’s two starting pitchers will typically be their fastball specialists, who can make the shiny new ball move in the air with maximum speed… and, who are also the bowlers/pitchers most likely to get past the steady defenses of the “opening batsmen” (see above). As the ball loses its shine, and grips the ground better, the slower pitchers/bowlers who use “breaks” off the ground as their primary strategy are brought in to pitch… heir greater ability to use cutters and breaks is supposed to work better against the more aggressive top and mid-order batters! The fast-ball specialists may be brought back (which is allowed in cricket, though not in baseball) to finish up the tail-end batting. If the starting pitchers/bowlers succeed in getting the top-order batters out for low scores, the “relief” pitchers/bowlers might use “attacking” field formations to restrict the score even more, and get more batters “out”.
On the other hand, if the “opening batsmen” have done their job and the top-order batters are in good form, the “relief” pitching/bowling will use more “defensive” fielding to keep down the runs, and perhaps get the batters out by making them over-confident. A good team will have one or two extra pitchers/bowlers to provide this kind of variety, change of pace or added relief.. a team with 5 or 6 pitchers/bowlers is exceptionally strong on the field.
Because so many different kinds of batters and pitchers/bowlers can interact with each other during the course of a cricket game, the interplay between batters and pitchers can shift with every “out”, and every dozen runs. This is what keeps cricket interesting, to those who understand its strategy. TIME LIMITS and SCORING RATES The strategy of cricket gets changed by time limits, which are common in modern cricket. If the batting team has only a fixed amount of time to complete its inning, it has to score the highest number of runs possible within the assigned time limit… lthough it is allowed 10 outs, that becomes less important than the runs that go up on the scoreboard. First, a technical point. In cricket matches, overs rather than minutes are used to set time limits and count progress of game. ( “Overs”, remember, are those sets of six pitches each, that are delivered alternately from one wicket and the other. ) So, innings are limited by overs rather than minutes on the clock. To convert from an “over count” to “elapsed time”, a good rule of thumb is: ONE OVER equals THREE MINUTES, allowing for pauses, delays and breaks in the game.
So a thirty-over limit is like allowing 90 minutes; a 40-over limit means a maximum of 2 hours; a 50-over limit gives the batting team about 2-1/2 hours, and so on. The scoring rate is the runs per over that is being achieved by the batting team. A scoring rate of TWO runs per over, or less, is very low, suggesting that pitching and fielding are dominating play. A rate between two and four is about average; better than four, especially five or six runs per over, means the batters are on a roll ! Now, suppose we are looking at a 40-over cricket game, where each team is allowed about two hours or 10 outs to complete its batting.
After the coin toss between the opposing captains to decide who bats first, the team batting first has the job of putting on the highest possible score before its two hours are up, or when ten of its batters are out… whichever comes first. The captain or coach of the first team will set a mental mark… perhaps a half-way mark, like one hour (20 overs) of batting. A typical strategy for the team would be to try to get to this point without too many “outs”… … no more than 2 or 3… and a decent score, say 50 or 60 runs. Suppose the score is 60 for 3 outs.
The team has another 20 overs (about one hour) left, with 7 outs in hand. With so much batting to come, the team will try to increase its scoring rate from the current 3 runs per over, to 5 or 6 per over…. meaning that the batters will take more risks, attempt bigger hits, regardless of “outs”…. to end up with a total score of around 160 to 200 runs. Suppose the first-half score had been lower… say, 40 for 3 outs. The team will have to try even harder… 6 or even 7 runs per over…. to come up with a respectable total of 160 to 200.
Or, suppose the score was 60, but there were 5 “outs”…. with the top of the batting order already out, the remaining batters would have to play more defensively, to stay in and add to the total. Now, suppose the first team has already batted, and scored 170 runs in its forty overs. As their opponents go in to bat, they know they need to score 171 in their forty overs to win the game. This amounts to a scoring rate of at least 4. 3 runs per over. The second team has to get to its half-way mark with a scoring rate of 3+ runs an over… i. e. better than 60 runs… o have a good chance of winning. So it decides to go for 70 to 80 runs, with no more than 3 outs, by its half-way point. If it has scored 80, it has only 91 more runs to go, in 20 overs, with 7 outs in hand…. a scoring rate of 4. 5 runs per over, which is only slightly greater than the pace it has maintained so far ( 4 runs per over). Maintaining the pace should be enough to achieve a victory. If it has too few runs, it has to bat faster; if there are too many outs, the remaining batters have to be more “defensive” yet maintain the required pace.
If the second team succeeds in its run chase, it has won the match. This is only one example of batting strategy with time limits. Some teams like to reverse the approach…. score fast in the first half of their alloted time(over) limit, and “coast” in the second half. Teams batting second sometimes favor this approach, because it makes the second half of their batting an easier propostion…. the early high scoring provides a cushion for batters lower in the order, to relax and score the needed runs.