Monday, September 25, 2006

'Time' Gentlemen, Please (The Main Event)

You might like to refer to the 'Prologue' below before reading this. Alternatively, the quote below gives a summary of what you've missed and provides a good starting point;

To cut a very long, and very depressing, story short, Opposition batted first. By 4.30, they had made 250 for 3. By 5 o'clock, they had 326 for 6 whereupon the declaration came. When it was our turn to bat, the Opposition bowled fourteen overs in the first hour (by which time we were 80 for 2) Every time one of our batsmen play two consecutive scoring shots, the field went back to the boundary. By the end of the game, we were 190 for 5.
In a nutshell, the problem is that a whole generation, weaned on the delights of limited over league cricket, is growing up with no idea of how to play enjoyable, friendly cricket on a Sunday afternoon. Instead, teams are trapped within the sterile constraints of limited overs – with all that implies in terms of limited enjoyment and limited scope for imaginative thinking.

Let me say at this stage that this is not an ‘anti league cricket’ diatribe. There’s certainly a place for the hard-fought league game on a Saturday afternoon – and before you start wondering, I’m quite happy to get heavily involved in a sledge-enriched grudge match every now and again, but sometimes you just reach a stage where the result isn’t the be-all-and-end-all and what you’re after is a decent, competitive game played in the right spirit with an exciting finish, and the subsequent convivial atmosphere over a few beers.

Limited overs accentuates differences in strength between the teams. I’m not saying you should give the game away to a weaker side – but by playing a more flexible form of the game you can ensure that the game is more enjoyable, and that more people actually ‘get a game’ – a common problem on a Sunday where teams are likely to be made up of a certain percentage who might play one game a month and naturally expect some sort of involvement – rather than sitting in the pavilion at No. 10 in the order, and standing around in the outfield for a couple of hours.

In addition, it can broaden the scope of who actually gets involved in the game. For example, a young fourteen year old leg spinner is hardly likely to get much of a bowl in a 40 over game with the inherent risk of 3-0-29-0 on the cards – but in time games, 3-0-29-0 might not be such a problem if you’re trying to open a game up – and it can well turn into 9-0-64-5 – a match winning performance. (We’ll deal with the ethical question of a fourteen year old buying a jug of beer at another time!)

A few years ago the Club Cricket Conference published some research, which said that 40% less people are playing club cricket than did 20 years. Lots of reasons were bandied around, but without trying to sound like some crusty old traditionalist, might I suggest that a prime reason is the fact that Sunday cricket just isn’t as enjoyable as it used to be.

Having got some theory out of the way, let’s get into practicalities and reconsider the scenario highlighted in italics at the top of this post.

It’s clear from what I’ve already posted that the opposition had a very strong side (in batting at least), and that the wicket was a perfect batting track. In limited overs cricket the scenario is simple, score as many runs as you can in your overs, and then do everything to keep the runs down when you bowl. Having to actually bowl a side out to get a win, however, provides a different, more interesting, challenge.

So what should/could the visiting skipper have done to force a win. In simple terms the answer is ‘not be afraid to lose’.

1. Be prepared to declare early. Give the opposition a chance to get the runs, and equally, give yourself time to bowl them out. The object of the game is to win – to do this you might just have to run the risk of losing. A side going for the runs is going to take more chances, and therefore run the risk of losing wickets, whereas on a perfect batting track it’s nigh on impossible to bowl out a side taking no chances.

2. Keep your options open and be prepared to open the game up. Chasing 230 plus to win, a side batting second needs a good start to keep them interested – maybe open with one of your stock bowlers and an occasional spinner. Ideally, after 15 overs the score will be something like 70 for 2 – and you get to the last 20 overs with the target around a run a ball or just over.

3. Keep flexible – don’t just stick to a pre-decided plan. For example, 70-2 might be ideal after 15 overs, but 40 for no wicket might not be any use to either side, and 100-1 at the same stage might be bad news for you, so try not to let things get too out of hand either way.

4. Don’t defend too hard – but then don’t over-attack. If a batsman is in and set, it’s not worth surrounding the bat, but conversely, don’t ring the boundary with fielders.

5. Obviously you don’t want to give the game away. Try and make sure the side chasing are always just behind the clock, but not so far as to make victory inconceivable. It’s a fine balance. Often it can go wrong and two batsmen you’ve tried to encourage to open up grow in confidence and can’t be reined in early enough to save the game.

6. Keep something up your sleeve – a ‘go to’ bowler who you know can keep a batting side in check. But don’t overuse him otherwise the chasing side might fall behind the clock and settle for a tame draw.

What’s the better game – the boring draw scenario outlined above, or a game where the side chasing ends up winning in the last over with nine wickets down? If you’re obsessed with Win/Lose statistics maybe the former, but if you’re after enjoying an afternoon’s cricket with 21 other people, and the resultant evening shooting the breeze in the bar afterwards – then I’d choose the latter.

It’s not always going to work – sometimes the disparity between the sides to too great, or sometimes one side just won’t have the personnel to go for a victory, or bowl the other side out, so you get these sorts of games: -

Side A - 140
Side B – 141-2 with 8 overs to spare

Side A – 190-7 declared
Side B – 126-6

But there’s no such thing as the perfect system and the best thing to do in these circumstances is to take the opportunity to give some occasional players a game.

As someone who’s tried and failed, I can safely say that captaining this sort of cricket is a fine art. Conversely I’m convinced you could programme a computer to captain a 40 over game – just input all the relevant details of the teams, bowling strengths and the situation at the end of each over and let the machine do the rest.

A side we play against call time games ‘boring’ – maybe you’re not doing it properly Dave…

Postscript - After posting the prologue below, I got a comment back from Harrowdrive linking to a post he'd already made on this subject. The post can be found here.

This is excellent stuff. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that this should be printed off and stuck on the wall in every cricket changing room around the country, and reading it should be compulsory for everyone wanting to captain a club side next summer.

1 comment:

harrowdrive said...

I could not agree more with the spirit and tips in this post. The real key for me is to be aware of if you are "winning" or "losing" at any point in the last innings. That way you can give them rope or reign them in depending how it is going.

It's all about keeping control in the game. As soon as a side who are playing for the draw wrestle control you are sunk into boredom.

My rule of thumb is to try and get to the last 20 overs with the opposition within 80 or so runs to get and 4 wickets in hand. I would be pretty sure of victory against a side of roughly equal skill.

Also I cannot emphasise enough the importance of 1 or 2 spinners who can take wickets. They will win you far more games than your opening seamers.

Also, thanks for the praise. I'm very chuffed you enjoyed my post! Printable posters on sale soon!!