Cricket Strategy and Tactics

Batting Strategy and Tactics

Batting Order

The order in which a side bats is usually determined solely by the abilities of the batsmen. A typical side composition will be 6 specialist batsmen, a wicket-keeper, and 4 specialist bowlers.

Two of the batsmen will be specialist openers. They have experience and the skills required to bat when the ball is brand new and tends to swing and bounce more. This is a demanding task, as it generally gets easier to bat as the ball gets older. These openers will bat at positions 1 and 2 in the order, beginning the innings together. They will not necessarily be the best batsmen in the side, in terms of absolute skill, only those most experienced at opening.

In baseball, the best hitter in the team will usually bat at number 4 in the order, the "clean up" hitter position. In cricket, the best batsman in the side usually bats at number 3 in the order, the "first drop" position after the openers.
Positions 3 to 6 will be filled by the specialist batsmen, usually in order of batting ability, from best to poorest. Thus the number 3 batsman is usually the best batsman in the side.

Position 7 will be the wicket-keeper, who is usually a poorer batsmen than the specialist batsmen, and better than the bowlers. Historically, wicket-keepers were sometimes poorer batsmen than some or even all the bowlers, and batted correspondingly lower in the order. In modern times, wicket-keepers are selected partially on batting ability as well, so wicket-keepers who are poor batsmen are rare. Sometimes wicket-keepers can even be better at batting than some of the specialist batsmen - in such cases the wicket-keeper usually still bats below the batsmen, to give him a significant time to rest after performing the most demanding job in the field during the previous innings.

Positions 8 to 11 will be the bowlers, again in order from best to poorest batting ability.

The reason the side is arranged in order from best to poorest batting ability is that better batsmen begin their innings earlier in the team's innings, so the team benefits from their greater skill sooner. Also, there is less chance of them batting at the end of the innings, where they will run out of batting partners and be "stranded" not out, but unable to keep batting.

Changing the Batting Order

Since the batting order can be changed at any time during a match, it can be manipulated to provide a tactical advantage in certain situations. Some examples:
  1. The most dangerous time for a batsman, in terms of likelihood of getting out, is when he is beginning to bat, before getting used to the pace, movement, and bounce of the ball. This applies at the start of his innings, and the start of each subsequent day on which he is still batting. Therefore, if a wicket falls and a batsman has to begin his innings late in the day, just before the end of play, he will end up effectively having to "start" his innings twice. If the next batsman in the normal batting order is a specialist batsman, it can be better to protect him from this danger by sending in a poorer batsmen instead. Such a poor batsman sent in late on a day's play to protect better batsmen is called a nightwatchman.

    Nightwatchmen are normally only considered within about half an hour of the end of a day's play. The tactic can backfire if the nightwatchman gets out before the end of play. The captain may elect to send out a second nightwatchman. If two or three wickets fall this way, the batting order will be shortened considerably the next day, increasing the chances of a good batsman being stranded not out with no more partners.

    In baseball, a pinch hitter is a substitute who takes the place of a player due to bat, in order to provide a more skilful hitter in a tactical situation. In cricket, a pinch hitter is one of the original eleven players who can score runs quickly and is promoted up the batting order to score quickly in a tactical situation.

  2. If a side is in a situation where it needs to score runs quickly in order to have a good chance of winning, the captain may elevate a batsman up the order based on his ability to score runs more rapidly than other batsman, who may be more skilful, but slower scorers. Such a rapid-scoring batsman elevated in the way is sometimes called a pinch hitter.

  3. If a batsman is injured while fielding, the captain may choose to drop him down the batting order to give him more time to recover before batting.

  4. It is good for the batting side if one of the two batsmen currently batting is right-handed, and the other left-handed. This makes it more difficult for bowlers to settle into a constant rhythm of line, as they have to keep changing their line every time the batsmen swap ends. For this reason, captains occasionally make small changes in the batting order to ensure the incoming batsman will form a right/left combination with the not out batsman. This is not done often, because usually it is better simply to stick to the established batting order.

Batting Shot Selection

Each individual batsman makes a tactical decision every time he faces a ball and decides what shot, if any, to play at it. Refer to the section on Batting Technique for the different options a batsman has when facing a ball.

As listed there, the first decision a batsman makes is whether to shift on to the front foot or back foot. This decision is usually made based on the line and length of the ball.

In baseball, choosing whether to try to hit a pitch or not is based almost entirely on whether the batter thinks the ball is in the strike zone or not. He will swing at potential strikes and let balls go. In cricket, the batsman is only restricted if the ball is aimed at the wicket, in which case he will try to hit it. If the ball is not going to hit the wicket, he can either let it go, or try to hit it and score runs, depending on the tactical situation and other qualities of how the ball is moving.
Once committed to a foot, the batsman must decide whether to:

This decision is made based on several factors, the most important being: the batsman's confidence in his ability at the current time; and the state of the game and whether it is more appropriate to attack or defend. The following situations will tend to make a batsman play defensively: The following situations will tend to make a batsman play attackingly: Obviously, many of these will conflict with each other, and the batsman must weigh them all in his mind to set his general approach as he bats, constantly updating his strategy as the game develops.

If the batsman decides to play a ball defensively, he will play a defensive shot if the ball is pitched on or near the line of the wicket, and evade or let the ball go if it is not. If he decides to attack, he will decide on playing a drive, cut, pull, hook, leg glance, or other shot based on the line and length of the ball and the positions of fielders who might intercept the ball.

In reality, these three decisions (front/back foot, attack/defend, type of shot) are made virtually simultaneously, based on the batsman's general state of mind and his split-second judgement of the merits of a particular ball as the bowler releases it and it travels down the pitch towards him.

Sharing the Strike

With two good batsmen batting, it doesn't matter much who faces any particular ball, so they will score runs whenever they can and swap ends when they happen to score 1 or 3 runs. They tend to like swapping ends, rather than remaining at one end for an extended time, since it means the bowlers need to adjust to bowling to a different batsmen every few balls. This can be especially true if one batsman is right-handed and the other left-handed, since the bowling line to attack each batsman will be different.

The situation changes when enough wickets fall that a relatively poor batsman comes in to bat with the remaining good batsman. In this situation, it is tactically better if the better batsman faces most of the balls. To do this, the better batsman will tend not to take 1 or 3 runs even if they are available, restricting himself to 2s or boundaries, during the first half of the over. Depending how confident the batsman is that his less skilful partner can survive a few balls without getting out, the better batsmen will try to score 1 or 3 on the 4th, 5th, or 6th ball of the over, thus giving him the strike again at the start of the next over. A batsman who can score 1 or 3 off the last ball of the over consistently can face several overs in a row without the poorer batsmen facing any balls at all. This tactic is known as farming the strike

Declaring the Innings Closed

Declaring the innings closed is one of the most important strategic-level decisions a captain makes in cricket. There are reasons to consider declaring each of the first three innings in a two-innings-per-side match. The basic strategy behind declaring is of course declare when you think you have enough runs for the situation. The situation varies depending on how many runs have been scored by each side so far, and how much time is left to play the game. This can be complicated by adverse weather, which can potentially use up playing time.

This discussion will assume a five-day match (such as a Test match), with variations for shorter matches following. Bear in mind that the total number of runs scored by a side in one innings of a Test mostly ranges from 100 to 600 runs. The average is a little over 300. The rate of scoring ranges from 50 to 150 runs per session, averaging out to 250 to 350 runs per day.

Declaring the First Innings

The side batting first will not even consider declaring the innings on the first day. On the second day, the decision to declare is more likely to be made on the basis of time than on number of runs scored. If the side is still batting in the last session of play on day two, the total is likely to be around 500 runs, which is an excellent score.

Most first innings declarations occur in the last hour of play on day two. This is because the most dangerous time for batsmen is when they are beginning their innings each day. By forcing the other side to bat for a short time near the end of play on day two, the declaring side gains two opportunities to bowl at batsmen starting to bat - one in the evening, and again the next morning. This improves their chance of taking wickets.

Occasionally, batting conditions will be good and the side will be scoring rapidly, and the captain may decide to continue batting to the end of day two. This would be done to build an even larger first innings total while batting conditions are good - somewhere around 600 runs. With this sort of total, the side has a good chance of enforcing the follow-on, bowling the opposition out twice, and winning the game without having to bat a second innings. In such cases, the captain may either declare overnight, or bat on for a short while on day three.

Declaring the Second Innings

The second innings is more complicated, because the situation varies depending on how many runs the first side scored.

In the simplest case, the first side will have made a low to medium score, and the second side bats well, reaching a lead of 200 or more runs. Once the lead is substantial, the captain may consider declaring if it is approaching the end of a day's play. This is done for the same reason as one might declare the first innings - to bowl at the opening batsmen late in the day and have another opportunity to bowl at batsmen settling in the next morning. If the total is substantial but the time is earlier in the day, the captain will consider the overall lead and decide whether to bat further or declare at any point. A declaration earlier in the day often takes place about half an hour before the lunch or tea interval, again to have a short session bowling at settling-in batsmen and then pick up the attack again after the interval.

If the first side has posted a high total, the situation is complicated by the available time. For example, if the first side scored 500, by the time the second side has scored 500 runs the match would likely be well into the fourth day of play. This leaves only a day and a bit for two more innings to complete the match. If each side bats as well in its second as in its first innings, time will run out and the match will end in a draw. But all is not lost.

If the second side still has good batsmen capable of scoring quickly, it can bat on and post a significant lead. The goal in this case is to post a lead large enough that the first side might not be able to reach it before being all out. A lead of 200-250 runs could suffice. By the time the second side has achieved such a lead, it will be around the end of play on day four, or early on day five. Declaring near the end of day four allows the side two opportunities to bowl at settling-in batsmen, so is a good choice, even if the lead is not large. The other important factor here is that by the fifth day of play the pitch has usually deteriorated in condition, and batting is significantly more difficult than early in the match. So setting the first side a target of 200-250 runs on the last day could well be enough to bowl them out and win the game without having to bat a second time. Even if the first side does retake the lead, the second side still has another innings, and could conceivably chase a small target in the dying stages of the game to win.

If, however, the first side's total is large and the second side approaches it with only a few wickets in hand, or poor batsmen at the crease, there is little chance of establishing a significant lead quickly. In such cases, the captain may choose to declare with a small lead, or even slightly behind the opposition's total. The point of doing this rather than simply batting out the rest of the innings is to gain time. Poor batsmen tend to score slowly, and taking wickets eats up time. If the side gets the chance to bat its second innings, it will be more productive because better batsmen will be in and can score faster. With so little time remaining in the match, there is virtually no chance the side will have to bat out its full second innings, so declaring the first innings early is not a significant risk. The exact timing of this sort of declaration will often be towards the end of a day's play, or the end of a session, for the same reason as all other declarations. Another possibility is the psychological advantage obtained by overtaking a large first innings total. The exact number of runs is relatively unimportant in numerical terms, but rather than declare a few runs short, the captain will be tempted to take at least a small lead, even as little as 1 run, just to make the psychological statement: "You scored a lot of runs, but we can score more."

If the first side's total is large and the second side bats poorly, taking a long time to score runs, the captain may declare the innings significantly behind the first side's total. He would consider doing this if time is starting to run out and the match looks like being a draw. The goal of such a declaration is to put psychological pressure on the opposing captain, in effect daring him to declare the third innings of the match at such a state where the second side might be able to score enough runs to win. The implication is that the second side might bat aggressively to chase a tempting run target to win, which then puts them at more risk of losing wickets, and thus losing the game. This sort of declaration puts the onus on the opposing captain to either set up a situation in which either team might win, or simply bat on and force the game to a draw. As such, this is a powerful psychological strategy, because it forces the opposing captain to either show courage and risk losing, or show cowardice and take a safe draw.

This scenario can occur if the second side is as much as 199 runs behind the first innings total. If the second side is struggling to reach this mark, they are in danger of being forced to follow-on. Being forced to follow-on would negate this strategy, since it allows the first side to keep its second innings in hand while the second side must use its to establish a lead from a long way behind. However, if a side is struggling to reach the follow-on mark, and the first side is dominating the match, the second side can make a significant psychological gain by avoiding the follow-on and declaring 199 runs behind.

Declaring the Third Innings

Compared to the multiple possibilities of the second innings, declaration in the third innings of a match is relatively straightforward. The captain's goal is always to provide his own side with enough time to bowl out the opposing side in the last innings of the match and thus win the game. This is tempered by the fact that if the opposition scores enough runs to pass the captain's own team's total, it will win. Therefore, the captain will let his side bat in the third innings until it accumulates a lead large enough that the opposition will be unlikely to be able to score that many runs in the time remaining in the match.

Batting in the third innings does two things: increases the lead of the side batting, and reduces the amount of playing time left in the match. If the lead can be made as large as 400 runs by the fourth day of play, the batting side is in a very strong position. The captain can declare before the end of play, forcing the side batting last to have batsmen settling-in on two days, and trying to score 400 runs in a little over a day's play - which is an almost impossible task, especially on the last day when the pitch is deteriorating.

If the lead is much greater than 400 runs, the captain may declare significantly earlier, leaving the opposition perhaps two or more days to bat. Although this is plenty of time to score 400+ runs, batting last is difficult and most sides will be able to bowl out a side batting last well before they reach 400. (To put this into perspective, the highest fourth innings target ever successfully chased in a Test match is 418. There have been only 3 successful chases of 400 or more runs, and only 17 successful chases of 300 or more runs, in over 1,680 Test matches.)

If the lead is closer to 300 runs, the captain may also consider declaring before the end of day four, but may want the extra safety of a few more runs and a bit less time for the opposition to bat. The declaration could be overnight or early on day five.

If the lead can only be made around 200 runs, the declaration will usually be around lunch on the final day, giving the opposition two sessions to score 200. This is about the limit of when a captain will declare the third innings, since any side needs close to two sessions to bowl another side out, except under unusual circumstances. A captain very confident in the bowling ability of his side might declare to set the opposition a target of around 150 in a session or so, but the risks of the side batting last not losing wickets and scoring this fast are great.

If the side batting third cannot establish a lead of at least around 150 runs by the last session on day five, or is even still trying to gain the lead, the captain will not declare and will simply bat as long as he can, because there is no realistic chance of winning the match. A declaration in this situation would most likely lose the game, so the best strategy is to keep batting and force a draw.

Note that if the the side batting second has used the tactic of declaring well behind, the side batting first will begin its innings with a lead of up to 199 runs. If there is only around two sessions left to play, the captain can conceivably declare the third innings closed at 0 runs, forfeiting the entire innings without batting at all.

Other Factors

Other factors in the captain's decision to declare will include:

All of the above discussion changes somewhat if time is lost due to weather, but the same principles apply. In particular, if a significant amount of time is lost, captains are sometimes more willing to declare an innings than bat until all the wickets have fallen, to try to push for a result other than a draw. In some cases, the captains may come to a gentleman's agreement that both will declare an innings closed at 0/0, to eliminate the second and third innings of a weather-affected match and effectively turn it into a game of one innings each, although some people frown on this.

In matches shorter than five days, again the same general principles apply, modified by the naturally shorter playing time available. In a four-day first class match, for example, a first innings declaration will generally occur early or near the middle of day two, rather than towards the end of the day.

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