The Geometry of Cricket | Part 1: Setting the Straight Field
There are times at school when you wonder what the point in learning the thing you are learning is. Whenever will you put this geometric information to good use again after your GCSE maths exam?
Unless you graduate and enter into the sphere of architecture, the times you will need to resort to geometry will be fairly limited. If you play cricket, however, the understanding of angles, grasping the concept of where the ball is likely to go given the way the ball is moving, is critical in setting effective fields.
In the first of this short series in field placings, we look at the straight field between cover and midwicket. Getting these fielders in the correct positions will lead to catching opportunities, singles saved, and boundaries cut off. All fantastic ingredients for a happy bowler!
In the coaching of field setting, I will ask the bowler to consider a 90°arc. It is in this arc that the bowler is trying to get the batter to play and therefore expecting the ball to go. When dealing with younger players, when the ball is being bowled with a lack of pace, the aim I set for them is to try to get the batter playing all their shots back down the ground in the 90°arc between midwicket and cover. If the bowler can concentrate on pitching the ball full and straight, unless the batter is lucky and has a hoik across the line or edges the ball fine the ball will generally be played back down the ground.
Fielders in younger age group cricket tend to wander around and can move out of position fairly easily. It is understandable; in a big open field, it is quite easy to lose track of where you are supposed to be. If you can get the fielders to use the stumps as a reference point, this will help them set themselves accurately and give them a marker should the feel they are out of position. If they imagine the return crease extends across the ground, they should position themselves on that, in line with the stumps. The direct lines the individual cover and midwicket fielders make to the stumps at the strikers end should roughly make a right angle. This is where the wicket keeper can help these players by keeping an eye on their angles, making sure they are neither too wide, nor too straight. Mid-on and mid-off can also help them into position making sure they know that they are not overlapping the ground covered.
Typically the mid-on and mid-off fielders in junior cricket can creep ever closer, and end up almost in line with the stumps at the bowlers end. The beauty of having the cover and midwicket fielders set in the right place is that they have the potential to move across to stop a straight drive and prevent a single. Even if the midwicket or cover fielder do not get across to stop the ball, the act of moving with intent towards the ball is often enough to prevent the non-striker from leaving their ground to take a single in case the ball is stopped. In this case, by the time the ball has passed the stumps at the bowlers end, there is no time for the batters to run, as the ball will be too close to the mid-on or mid-off fielder. With the cover and midwicket fielder in place accurately, this allows the mid-on and mid-off fielders the luxury of sitting slightly deeper, which in turn allows them more time to react and move further to cut off the harder hit straight drive.
As suggested, the wicket keeper can have a huge influence on positioning the fielders, as they have the view of the angles from the batters position. If, for example, midwicket is too wide, the wicket keeper will be able to notice the gap between mid-on and midwicket and move the midwicket straighter. Conversely, should midwicket be too straight, meaning that the ground the mid-on and midwicket can protect overlaps, the midwicket can be moved wider.
If you, as captain or bowler, can get your fielders well positioned straight down the ground, and effectively cover the 90° between cover and midwicket and ensure your bowler bowls full and straight, you will find the majority of deliveries are hit in the desired arc. The result will be frustration for the batter as runs dry up forcing them to try to hit across the line of the ball, try and play inside out to hit gaps squarer of the wicket, hit over the top or try something magic like a ramp or scoop shot. Forcing the batter to take greater risks may bring them a few runs, but more chances will be created and you will ultimately win the individual battles.
In setting the field as in the above diagram, you are optimising the ground covered by the fielders. There will be small gaps, and if the batter can hit these then they will have either been lucky or will have placed the ball with great precision. In this case you have to say well done to the batter and avoid the temptation to shuffle your fielders around!
When your cover and midwicket get too straight, and therefore share the ground they can cover with the mid-on and mid-off, gaps begin to open up in other parts of the field.
In the above diagram, the cover and midwicket are too wide. This increases the spaces in the field for the batter to score runs. The cover and midwicket fielders have drifted outside the 90° arc and will need to be brought straighter by the wicket-keeper or captain.
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