The Geometry of Cricket Part 2: The Opening Bowler’s (Off-side) Field
In part one of the series, we looked at the straight field and getting the mid-on and mid-off fielders in the best positions relative to cover and midwicket to protect as much of the ground as possible. We discussed imagining a 90 degree arc in which you are intending to make the batter play, based on where you are intending to bowl the ball and what you are intending to do with it. That 90 degree arc is different for different bowlers, and in this edition we will look at setting the off-side field for your opening bowler who moves the ball away from the bat.
An opening bowler who moves the ball away at pace from a right hand batter will be expecting the ball, in the first few overs, to be played in a 90 degree arc somewhere between the slips and cover point. The faster bowling, coupled with the new hard ball that slides off the face of the bat in that area, mean that early in the game this is where the chances can come. The positions behind square on the off-side tend to be specialist, and the best catchers should feature here. Depending on the format you are playing, you will position a number of slips for the new ball, potentially a gully and a cover point fielder. In a similar way to the fielding partnership between cover and mid-off, in our off-side field we can allow the cover point fielder to drop a little deeper than normal as the gully fielder can cover a ball pushed square into the off side by the batter, preventing a single. Even if the gully fielder is no able to get to the ball, the positive intent shown in moving towards cutting off the ball will be enough to keep the batters from chancing a single. By the time the ball is past the gully fielder, the ball will be too close to cover point for the batters to take run.
By dropping the cover point fielder almost onto the 30 yard circle, there will be more time to react to a ball driven or cut hard square of the wicket. The new ball travelling quickly off the bat will still reach the fielder quickly enough to prevent the single if the fielder is alert and the ball is fielded cleanly.
The question for the bowler and captain to consider is the 3rd man position. As an opening bowler, I personally got hugely frustrated by either an edge or a well-played shot allowed to run away for 4 runs to 3rd man. I always felt more comfortable with a 3rd man in place, meaning there was a single rather than 4 each time. Depending on where your other fielders are, this sometimes was a choice between having a fine leg or a 3rd man and if so, I would generally go without the fine leg. I can see that this may have subconsciously made me bowl slightly more defensively outside off stump to avoid the ball being tucked off the hip down to fine leg for a 4. My decision in having the 3rd man fielder could be argued to reduce the methods of dismissal by potentially taking out lbw and bowled. I felt that a ball tucked into the leg side was a bad ball, and therefore deserved what it got, whereas my best ball, a ball pitching on off stump and leaving the batter on a good length could disappear off between slips and gully for an undeserved 4.
It may be that the context of your role as opening bowler needs to be considered. Are you and your captain happy for you to play a supporting role, bowling dot balls, seeing the ball pass the outside edge, or possibly picking up the occasional wicket caught behind or in the slips? Or do you have the fine leg fielder in place, bowl more at the stumps giving yourself more possibilities of taking a wicket, but suck up the runs that go through to the 3rd man boundary, crucially, without getting frustrated and uptight affecting your concentration and testing your sense of humour! It is a decision you need to weigh up and possibly discuss with your captain prior to the game, but ensure you have the ability to alter your plan for different batters and situations when they arise.
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