Cricket Strategy and Tactics
Bowling Strategy and Tactics
Refer to Fielding Positions for the names and locations of fielding positions.
The captain places fielders in positions designed to do two things:
Because wickets are at a premium, there will almost always be several fielders placed in positions whose primary
purpose is to take catches. This includes fielders in the slips, gully, silly point, silly mid off, silly mid on,
short leg, and leg slip. These are attacking fielders.
- Get batsmen out by being in the right places to take catches.
- Prevent runs being scored.
More dispersed fielding positions in the infield are designed to prevent runs, while several are also in suitable
positions to take an occasional catch. Example positions of this type include point, cover, mid off, mid on, midwicket,
and square leg.
Positions in the outfield are mostly used solely to prevent runs. These positions include third man, deep point,
deep cover, long off, long on, deep midwicket, deep square leg, and fine leg. These are
defensive fielders. Sometimes a fielder will be placed in the
outfield specifically for a batsman who is known to hit the ball high into the outfield in a certain direction. Long off,
long on, and deep midwicket are the most used outfield positions for this purpose. Deep midwicket and deep square leg
in particular can be used to attack the batsman if he is known to hook short balls. With fielders in the outfield, the
bowler can tempt the batsman with repeated bouncers, challenging him to try to hook the ball clear of the fielders.
Depending on the total configuration of the field, it can be described as either an attacking field (designed to take
wickets) or defensive field (designed to prevent runs). The entire field setting also depends on the style of the
bowler and what bowling tactics the captain tells his bowlers to perform.
In baseball, fielders are not placed close to the batter, because stopping a ball from so close would be next to impossible. It might be possible to catch a bunt, but no fielder is ever placed to do this.
In cricket, fielders are often placed within a few metres of the batsman, to catch balls that hit the bat and pop only a short distance in the air. These fielders are not placed to stop runs at all; their only goal is to take such short catches.
Refinements occur if, for example, the captain decides to attack a batsman by instructing the bowlers to concentrate on
bowling outside the off stump, to entice the batsman to attempt to drive the ball, and hopefully get an edge to the slips.
In such a case, it is difficult for the batsman to turn the ball to the leg side, so fewer leg side fielders are needed.
This tactic often results in seven fielders on the off side and only two on the leg side (a 7-2 field).
- A standard attacking field for a fast bowler will include three or four slips, one or two gullies, and perhaps a
short leg and/or a silly point. It also generally includes mid off, mid on, and fine leg to cover the bulk of the field.
Any remaining fielders will likely be used at cover, point, midwicket, or square leg, depending on the batsman and
- A defensive field for a fast bowler will have one or two slips, then a mostly full ring of infielders: gully, point,
cover, mid off, mid on, midwicket, square leg. A fine leg and perhaps a third man cover the boundary behind the batsman,
while outfielders forward of the batsman will vary depending on the batsman's predilection for certain directions.
- An attacking field for a spin bowler will have a close slip, gully, and two or more other close catchers: silly point,
silly mid off, silly mid on, short leg, perhaps a leg slip. The remainder of the fielders form an infield ring, and the
outfield will usually have a fine leg, plus perhaps a deep midwicket or long off for attempted lofted shots.
- A defensive field for a spin bowler will simply have an infield ring, and several fielders in the outfield patrolling
Alternatively, the captain may decide to instruct the bowlers to concentrate on bowling into the batsman's legs, in an
attempt to get him out bowled, LBW, or lofting a catch to the leg side field. This naturally requires more fielders on
the leg side.
At the beginning of each over, the captain must decide which of the players on his side will bowl the over. Bowlers generally
perform best in spells of 5-10 overs, which gives them time to bowl several balls
and settle into a good rhythm, and then allows them to rest after bowling for 20-40 minutes. Because of the rule which
prohibits a bowler from bowling two successive overs, a single bowler will bowl every second over from one end of the pitch,
while a team-mate bowls the intervening overs from the other end.
The particular bowler chosen to bowl an over depends on several factors:
The age of the ball often dictates which style of bowler the captain will choose. Fast bowlers obtain greater bounce and
movement through swing and seam with a new ball
than an older one. Almost invariably, fast bowlers will bowl until the ball as at least 20-25 overs old. The captain
usually opens the attack with his best two fast bowlers bowling initial spells
in alternation, then substitutes other bowlers as the opening pair of bowlers become tired.
- The age of the ball.
- The relative skills of the available bowlers in the side.
- The bowling styles of the bowlers.
- The freshness or tiredness of all the potential bowlers.
- Whether a bowler has been performing well or poorly so far in the game.
- The state of the pitch, and whether it has deteriorated over the course of the game.
- Any known strengths or weaknesses of the batsmen to particular bowlers or styles of bowling.
- The state of the game and overall strategic position, in terms of whether it is more important to take wickets or prevent runs.
- The wind speed and direction.
- The temperature and humidity.
- The time of day, in terms of whether it is near the end of a session of play.
Once the ball has begun to wear significantly, spin bowlers can get significant spin off the pitch and will come into play.
If the ball is getting very old (50 overs or more) and begins to reverse swing,
any fast bowler who can produce reverse swing will become a good option.
If the pitch is green, containing significant moisture, as is sometimes the case
early on the first day of a match, fast bowlers can get variable bounce which makes the ball difficult for the batsman
to judge and play. High humidity increases the swing of the ball, and this is affected
by moisture evaporating from the pitch, so the combination of a moist pitch and humid weather can make fast bowlers very
On the other hand, spin bowlers gain most assistance from the pitch when it is dry and begins to crumble, break up, and
become dusty in character. Cracks in the surface and the lifting of patches of dead grass make the pitch uneven and
produce variable amounts of spin and bounce, which makes spin bowling difficult to play. On the last day of a match it is
often spin bowlers who are called on to perform most of the bowling.
Wind speed and direction can be a factor for choosing which end of the pitch best suits a bowler. Fast bowlers who rely
more on sheer speed than swing gain assistance by bowling with the wind. Swing bowlers are helped by a crosswind that blows
in the same direction as they are trying to swing the ball. Spin bowlers generally prefer bowling into the wind, as it
helps slow the ball down and give it more time for drift and
flight before bouncing. A crossbreeze component in the right direction can also
help a spin bowler's natural drift.
Finally, if it is the last over or two before a break in play, the captain may choose to use a
part-time bowler, more for the variety and the possibility that a batsman will
attempt a rash shot and accidentally get out than for his actual bowling skill.
After 80 overs have been bowled with a ball (in a Test match), the fielding captain has the option of requesting a
new ball. Usually this is a straightforward decision and the captain will request the new ball almost immediately, since
a new ball provides better bounce, pace, and movement for the fast bowlers, and so can quickly produce wickets,
especially against lower order batsmen.
However, if there are spin bowlers who are performing very well with the old ball, and the pitch is crumbling and
more conducive to spin than to pace bowling, the captain may decide to continue with spin bowlers using the old ball.
Sometimes, if bowlers are managing to get the old ball reverse swinging, the
captain will also keep the old ball and maintain the attack with reverse swing - perhaps alternating with spin at
the other end of the pitch.
The bowling of the six balls in an over involves a tactical decision by the bowler on what each of the six balls is
designed to achieve. Each ball is bowled in the context of the balls around it, rather than in isolation. The sequence
is designed to set up the batsman and then try to get him out.
In baseball, the catcher makes tactical decisions based on his experience and proximity to the batter, and signals to the pitcher what type of pitch to throw. Even if the pitcher disagrees and shakes the signal off, they will come to a consensus so the catcher is prepared.
In cricket, the bowler decides what type of ball to bowl, giving no indication to the wicket-keeper.
A typical sequence of attack by a fast bowler is to pitch the ball on a good length
just outside the batsman's off stump. If he can achieve some outswing, all the
better. The goal here is to create some doubt in the batsman's mind as to whether the ball might hit the wicket or not.
If the batsman has any doubts, he must play at the ball, and the more he plays the more likely he is to make a mistake
and be caught by a fielder or play on to the wicket. A secondary goal is if the
batsman is skilled enough to judge the line and let balls outside off stump go. In this
case, persisting with this line will eventually test the patience of the batsman, who may be tempted to play an attacking
shot and risk getting out.
Once the batsman has settled into a rhythm of playing or leaving balls outside his off stump - either towards the end of
an over, or after more than one over - the bowler might try a sudden variation of
line and length. A good example would be a
yorker aimed at the wicket. A yorker is difficult enough to play at the best of times,
but if the batsman has become weary or complacent and is surprised by it, it becomes even more dangerous. Other possibilities
include changing to inswing, using cut, bowling a
slower ball to induce a mistimed shot, or pitching short and aiming at the batsman to force a back foot defensive that
may result in a misplaced hit into the air.
If the batsman is playing shots at balls pitched outside off stump, the bowler may try pushing the ball wider, tempting
the batsman to play farther from his body. This increases the chances of getting an edge
from either side of the bat, resulting in the possibilities of being caught by the wicket-keeper or slips, or
Generally, the primary goal of a fast bowler is not to aim at the batsman's wicket in an attempt to hit it, because
this provokes an obvious response from the batsman - he must defend the wicket. It is more productive for the bowler to put
doubt into the batsman's mind over whether or not he needs to play at a ball, and entice him to try to score runs, with
the goal of inducing a mistimed shot and producing a catch.
A few other tactics used by fast bowlers:
Note that these tactics can be interrupted if the batsman scores runs and the non-striker comes to the striker's end.
This is why batsmen like to swap ends frequently if they can. Part of the bowler's goal in preventing the batsmen from
scoring runs is simply to keep one batsman on strike so he can work a tactical sequence of balls against him (as well
as preventing the batsman's side from accumulating runs, of course).
- Bowlers may attack the leg stump, directing most balls towards the leg stump or even into the batsman's legs. The
batsman must play at these balls, to avoid being bowled or
LBW. This means the bat is protecting the leg stump, leaving the off side of the
wicket unprotected. A variation ball with outswing,
seam, or a leg cutter can be devastating,
either hitting middle or off stump, or catching the outside edge of the bat
for a catch behind the wicket.
- If a batsman is being aggressive and playing a lot of front foot drives, the bowler may respond by pitching the ball
shorter, so it bounces higher as it reaches the batsman. This makes front foot shots less attractive and can push the
batsman on to his back foot. A predominantly front foot batsman will find it harder to score effectively from the back
foot, and will need to spend more time on defensive batting. This can upset his rhythm and force errors of judgement
- Short pitched bowling can be used to upset the rhythm of a batsman who is scoring well, or who is trying to settle
into his innings. A good batsman will usually evade a short ball easily, but it disrupts the flow of facing balls pitching
closer and prevents the scoring of easy runs. Poorer batsmen can be intimidated by short bowling, especially if aimed
at the body, unsettling their mental state. A short ball aimed at the body at waist to shoulder height is tricky to
deal with, and can provoke a poor defensive shot in an unprepared batsman, resulting in the ball flying off the bat or
the batsman's gloves for a catch. A bowler will not bowl many short pitched balls because once a batsman is prepared for
them they become easier to evade or otherwise play safely.
- On the other hand, if a bowler successfully pushes a batsman on to the back foot with short pitched bowling, and
keeps him playing back foot shots for a while, he can follow-up with a yorker. If the
batsman has relaxed into expecting a short pitched ball, this can be devastating, because the speed needed to react and
bring the bat down fast enough to defend against a yorker will be lost in his slowed reaction time.
- And then bowlers sometimes defy these conventions and bowl an unexpected delivery on the first ball of a new over.
If the previous over was all good length, outside off stump, the batsman may expect the next over to start the same way.
Switching to a yorker or short pitched ball to start the over can be a surprise that the batsman may struggle to deal with.
Spin bowlers adopt similar sorts of tactics to fast bowlers, but with a different variety of balls in their arsenal.
Spin bowlers will have a stock ball that makes up most of their deliveries. For an
off spinner this is usually the off break,
for a leg spinner it is usually the leg break.
They will bowl this ball repeatedly, with slight variations in flight,
line, and length, to get the batsman into
a rhythm, and then break it up with a variation such as an arm ball for an
off spinner, or a googly or flipper for a
leg spinner. If the batsman does not pick the variation, the different spin and
bounce of the ball can cause him to miss it entirely, possibly getting him out bowled or LBW, or to hit it with the
edge of the bat and produce a catch for close fielders such as silly mid off
Good spin bowlers can be dangerorus to bat defensively against, as they will usually have support with close fielders
in positions to catch the ball if it flies in the air even a few metres from the bat. The variation in spin and bounce
a spinner gets can cause this to happen off defensive shots even if the bat is angled to hit the ball straight into the
pitch, because if the ball moves and catches the edge of the bat, the batsman's gloves, or comes off the bat into the
batsman's leg pads, it can fly to a close catcher.
Spinners pitch the ball closer to the batsman that fast bowlers, because:
There are some options for spinners to get batsmen out that are not available to fast bowlers. Firstly, a spinner may
tempt the batsman to come on to the front foot and then advance down the pitch by pitching balls successively shorter.
If the batsman becomes confident in his ability to hit the ball, he may step out of his crease in order to get near the
pitch of the ball and hit it for runs. At this point, a variation ball that does something unexpcted can get past the
batsman and through to the wicket-keeper. Since the wicket-keeper stands right behind the wicket for a spin bowler, he
can catch the ball and stump the batsman out if the batsman is too slow to return
to his ground. This can also happen if the batsman simply misjudges a ball and misses it while out of his crease.
- they have less speed on the ball, so they don't need to pitch as short to gain significant bounce by the time the
ball reaches the batsman;
- it gives the ball more time in the air before bouncing to drift;
- it gives the batsman less time to react after the ball bounces;
- there are often scuff marks on the pitch close to the batsman caused by the bowlers at the other end following through
their run ups - this provides variable bounce and spin if they can pitch the ball in the scuff marks.
If the bowler has a ball that spins a long way from leg to off for a particular batsman (this may vary depending on the
handedness of the batsman), he can sometimes pitch a ball far enough outside the leg stump that it passes behind the
batsman's legs, but spins back far enough that it hits the wicket. This happens only rarely, and some batsmen will simply
leave the ball, assuming it can't spin far enough to hit the wicket, while some may try to play at it but miss.
Bowling Over or Around the Wicket
Bowlers may choose freely whether to bowl over the wicket or
around the wicket. They usually choose to bowl over the wicket, as this
means their bowling arm is close to the middle of the pitch.
Bowlers will only switch to around the wicket for particular tactical reasons. These may include:
- Changing the angle of attack to provide variation to a batsman who has settled in and looks difficult to get out.
- Changing the angle of attack to produce a line that is either angled more in towards the batsman or across him and
away to the off side. This can be done to batsmen known to be weak to one of these approaches.
- A spin bowler changing his angle to allow a better chance of hitting scuff marks at the striker's end of the pitch.
If the side batting second in a five-day match scores 200 or more runs fewer than the side batting first, the captain of
the side batting first may elect to enforce the follow-on, forcing the opposition
to bat its second innings immediately and saving his side's own second innings until after, if required.
Enforcing the follow-on allows the side with the lead to potentially win the game without having to bat its second
innings. If it does need to bat again, it will know how many runs are needed, and the captain will not face the
decision of when to declare his side's final innings in order to provide the best
chance of winning. This can save time in a game, which is important if time is beginning to run out. In terms of simple
figures concerning runs and time remaining, enforcing the follow-on is a valuable advantage. It can also demoralise the
opposition, which may also make it easier to win.
However, enforcing the follow-on means that the captain's side will have to field for two consecutive innings, without
resting in between while its players bat. If the opposition's first innings has taken a long time or the weather is
particularly enervating, the bowlers may well need this time to rest and recover their strength before bowling at the
opponents a second time.
When given the option, captains usually enforce the follow-on because of the clear advantages it provides in the
strategic position of the game. Occasionally, if the bowlers need some rest before attacking the opposition again,
the captain may decide to decline the follow-on and bat with the goal of declaring and setting a difficult target
for the opponents in the final innings.
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Last updated: Saturday, 17 February, 2007; 15:18:10 PST.
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