The Jubilee Book of Cricket/Chapter 2
Fielding is a department of the game much neglected at the Public Schools, more at the Universities, and more still in county cricket. As for ordinary club matches, fielding is regarded as a necessary evil which must be tolerated, because without it batting and bowling are impossible. And yet for winning matches, fielding is not a jot less important than batting and bowling. Curiously enough, few cricketers guide their conduct by this fact, though no one with even an elementary knowledge of the game would think of disputing it. Times without number during the cricket season one hears it remarked that such-and-such a match was lost owing to bad ground-fielding or uncertain catching, or slovenly fielding in general, or because in the selection of the eleven insufficient attention was paid to the fielding ability of the candidates for places. And it is as a mild protest against the common and mistaken policy of giving undue prominence to the two more showy branches of the game that fielding holds the place of honour in this volume. Not that it is of much use protesting. Cricketers, being human, are not over-ready to do what is irksome or distasteful, even where they recognise that it is for their own good and that of others. Perhaps one of the reasons why fielding is neglected is, that its results are all but disregarded on the score-sheet and in other records of matches. It is different with bowlers and batsmen. They see their successes fully notified. A glance at the score is enough to discover who made runs and who got wickets. The figures speak for themselves, and eloquently. But there is nothing to indicate how many runs were saved by fine ground-fielding, or how many catches were badly muffed. A yet more cogent reason is, that the scope for personal gratification is so much smaller in fielding. A man bats and bowls for his side, it is true; but if he makes a large score or takes a number of wickets, he not only does his side a signal service, but he affords himself an immense amount of satisfaction. There is nothing wrong in this. Cricket is a game, and should be played for pleasure. But there is this to be noted: success in batting or bowling cannot fail to combine the advantage of the whole eleven with the pleasure of the individual. A batsman or a bowler feels he is doing something by his own efforts and to his own credit. A fieldsman, on the contrary, has in a certain sense no individual existence; he is a subordinate part of a whole. He is point or slip or mid-off, not Smith or Jones or Robinson. The conditions of the game practically make selfish fielding an impossibility. A man cannot field "on his own" as he can bat or bowl. The result is that there are many, far too many, cricketers who, being ambitious to succeed in the game, give any amount of time and trouble to batting or bowling, as the case may be, in order to excel in one or in both, but only pay just enough attention to fielding to ensure a comfortable mediocrity. They know that, unless they acquire a certain degree of skill, their deficiency will be noticeable and regarded as so much against their claims to be chosen as bats or bowlers. Further than that they do not go. Nearly every one can without much trouble become a moderately good fielder, because fielding is far easier than batting or bowling. In the same way, real excellence in fielding is within the reach of a great many more cricketers than is real excellence in batting and bowling. But whereas many are eager to excel as bats or bowlers, few care to aim at more than average excellence as fielders. In fact, few cricketers do their very best in the field. They satisfy certain requirements, but do not give their whole soul to this branch of the game.
When I say that bad fielding is the rule rather than the exception, I refer rather to what might be than to what is. Taking into consideration the amount of time devoted to cricket, and the respective difficulties of acquiring a high degree of skill in batting, bowling, and fielding, one cannot but recognise that the average results attained are not satisfactory in the case of the first two. And this is true, though the actual number of really fine fielders is larger than that of tiptop batsmen or bowlers. Take a dozen village cricket-teams: there is probably no bat or bowler among them all of more than fifth- or sixth-class merit, but almost certainly there are at least twelve fielders who would not disgrace the champion county of the year.
As to the importance of good fielding, it is easy to prove it. Each catch that is missed simply adds another batsman to the opposing side. If five catches are dropped, the side that drops them has to all intents and purposes fifteen men to dispose of instead of ten; and each man who thus receives a second innings starts with the advantage of having more or less got used to the light and the state of the wicket. Again, let us suppose that each man on a side gives away in each innings 3 runs which he might have saved by a little more dash and alertness. Not only has the opposite side 33 more runs added to its score without the trouble of making them by its own efforts, but the side which gave the runs away has 33 more runs to get than it need have had, and consequently has given itself so much the greater chance of meeting with bad luck. A run saved is more than a run gained; it is a run that need not be got. Runs vary in value. It is far more than three times harder for a side to get 150 runs than it is to get 50. It is far easier for an individual to save 20 runs by good fielding than to make 20 by good batting. In a particular match the best batsman in the world may twice fail to score. Suppose he is a bad fielder, and gives away, as he may well do if fielding in the country, 25 runs each innings. Not only has he made no runs himself, but he has burdened the rest of his side with the necessity of making 50 runs more than they would otherwise have required. He has practically deducted 50 runs from the score of his side. Let us imagine that, but for his bad fielding, there would have been only 100 runs to get to win. As it is, there are 150. Clearly, as far as concerns him, 50 runs must be scored before one is counted. In a true sense, the strength of a fielding side must be measured by its weakest member, as that of a chain is measured by its weakest link. Then, again, when there is a really bad fielder on a side, more balls seem to go to him than to any one else. Put him where you will, he seems to attract the ball. If there is a catch to be caught that would win the match, it seems always to seek the hands of the weaker brother. If he misses it, the efforts of his side are all rendered futile. Mistakes cannot always be avoided, but with proper measures taken their frequency may be astonishingly diminished.
Good fielding is as helpful as bad fielding is noxious. To a certain extent it turns bad bowling into good, and makes good bowling better. Backed by strong ground-fielding and sure catching, quite moderate bowling can, as a rule, be relied upon to dispose of any side for a not unreasonably large score. Besides, bowlers who can trust their fielders to hold catches bowl with far more confidence and keenness. Nothing demoralises a bowler more than to see run after run scored off him when it might have been saved. As for missed catches, it is weary work for a bowler to lie in wait for a batsman's weak stroke for half an hour, to succeed in getting him into a carefully planned trap, and then to see the catch—such a baby one—muffed ridiculously, and have all his trouble over again. Besides, once bitten, twice shy. The bowler has shown his hand, and the batsman is now on the look-out. Many a bowler has tempted Bobby Abel to try, before he is well set, his placing stroke through the slips; has seen slip fail to hold an easy catch, and has had to bowl and field for the Surrey giant's benefit a whole day or perhaps two. It is too much, no doubt, to expect every catchto be caught; but if more trouble were taken over fielding, far fewer catches would be missed.Even from the spectator's point of view, it is a pity that skill in fielding is not developed to the highest degree of which it is capable. There is no finer sight in cricket than that of a really good fielding side trying its level best to win or save a match. It is marvellous what can be done, and is done, in such circumstances. Even the uninitiated can appreciate a magnificent catch or a hairbreadth save just on the boundary. And the impression given by the splendid unity of the eleven men, by their individual and collective energy, all concentrated on one end, can arouse as intense enthusiasm in a crowd of onlookers as the best batting imaginable. The finest exhibition of fielding it has been my good fortune to see was that given at Lord's by the Oxford University Eleven of 1892. They won a sensational victory partly by good batting and good bowling, but principally by their extraordinary dash, brilliancy, and accuracy in the field. Their fielding was superb. Had it been merely good, they would have had very nearly double the number of runs to make in the fourth innings of the match. There was no particular reason that this eleven should have been superior to other 'Varsity elevens. Mr M. R. Jardine was perhaps the best of the lot. He was perfect. The standard of excellence they reached, high as it was compared with what one usually sees, is not beyond the capacity of any eleven composed of men who have not lost speed of foot and elasticity of limb. With one or two brilliant exceptions, the county elevens do not field
W MARLOW THROWING IN THE BALL—Action I
From photo by E. Hawkins & Co., Brighton.
It is surprising that the famous nurseries of amateur cricketers, the great English Public Schools, with all their advantages, so rarely produce fielders of more than average ability. In order to show that boys can be taught to take a zealous interest in this department of the game, and be brought to a high state of proficiency without professional aid or good coaching, I may refer to the school at which I myself was educated. It is difficult to see why our fielding at the Raj Kumar College should have been so far superior to the batting and bowling, unless it was due to the prevailing idea there that fielding was just as important as batting or bowling, and to the fact that a high degree of skill is most easily attained in fielding. I am quite sure that the fielding of this school from the years 1882 to 1888 was superior to that of an average English public school eleven. Yet there was no one to teach us much, and no fine fielders to excite in us a desire to excel. Perhaps one reason was that we had no net practice. Whenever we played, it was in a game. Very often there were fifteen boys on each side; so if the fielding side wanted an innings the same day, they had to hold every catch and save all the runs they could. Still it seems to me that we had a higher ideal of fielding than most English schools. Anyhow, fielding in school, university, and county matches could be improved enormously by the expenditure of a little more trouble. And the trouble would be amply repaid. Even from the point of view of personal pleasure, it is worth while to cultivate an interest in fielding, and to take pains to become good at it. What a man can do well, he likes doing. Batting and bowling occasionally cause a cricketer some disappointment. Fielding is a certainty. Once make yourself a good field, once learn to take a pleasure in fielding for its own sake, and every match must provide you with plenty of enjoyment, whether or not you get runs or wickets. If people would only recognise the importance of fielding, the standard would soon be raised all round. The truth is, that fielding can be scamped to a certain point without retribution falling upon the sinner. From every point of view it is a pity that a higher standard is not somehow established and exacted.
Before taking the various parts of fielding in detail, it may be well to say just a few words about the system of cricket management in English schools. At nearly all the larger schools it is nominally in the hands of the boys. The head-master, of course, reserves to himself the right of interfering in any way he may think proper. In most cases, however, the moving force in the school cricket is either one of the assistant masters or an old boy who takes interest in his former school, or the professional engaged as bowler and coach. The authority and influence of the adviser, whether amateur or professional, depend almost entirely upon his achievements, his reputation, or his personality in general. That boys require an adviser is obvious, for no schoolboy can in the nature of things be a really good judge of cricket or know much about the game. And usually those boys who know most understand best that without an experience more extensive than their own it is impossible to be a good judge of cricket. Perhaps a combination of amateur and professional coaching is the best. Most of the best coaches have been amateurs, for the simple reason that amateurs are usually better educated than professionals. The teaching of cricket requires an educated mind. In cricket, as in other things, it is necessary to observe and reflect upon one's observations. There are many good bats, bowlers, and fielders, but very few of them can explain how they bat, bowl, or field, and fewer still can teach another what they can do themselves. The essential qualification of a good coach is a sound knowledge of the game, and there is no reason why a very moderate player should not make a very competent coach, except that a poor player is unlikely to have had much experience of cricket—real cricket as it should be played. But it is impossible for an amateur coach to be always on the ground, if indeed he is available in the first instance. So the professional can by no means be dispensed with. The professional is always on the spot, and should be able to give necessary instructions in the various branches of the game. The superintendence of the amateur gives the boys an incentive to work with zeal and ardour, and prevents humbug or loafing. Some people are afraid to give the professional too much power, no matter how good a coach he may be. They mistrust his influence from an educational and social point of view. Such ideas, however, are not in accordance with facts. The leading professionals nowadays are for the most part excellent fellows. On the whole, boys benefit by having absolute faith in the teaching of a good coach. For nothing tends to improve a budding cricketer more than a belief in the infallibility of some one or other. Hero-worship is good in cricket. This does not mean that boys should not think for themselves, and try to see the why and wherefore of what their coach tells them. Perhaps they may differ from him in their opinions on some point. If they do, they should tell him what they think, and ask him to show them why he thinks otherwise. If he is a good coach, he will be able to give the reason at once. There are reasons for everything in cricket, and the longer a man plays the more chance he has of perceiving them.
It is admitted on all hands that a tradition of good fielding in a school rarely fails to carry on its good effects from year to year. Certain schools gain a reputation for fielding better than their rivals and contemporaries, and this reputation continues to produce a high degree of proficiency in the field, however weak in batting and bowling power the eleven of a particular year may be. The great thing is to start a tradition, if one does not already exist. This can only be done by keeping the school eleven up to or above the mark for several years, and encouraging the feeling that bad fielding is a thorough disgrace. It is a disgrace. It shows an execrable attitude of mind. A slack, careless fielder needs the stick; he cannot possibly have a right and proper spirit.Just as one good fielding eleven breeds another, so does one good individual fielder cause improvement in the rest of his side. Nothing promotes good fielding more than the influence of example, and the same may be said of bad fielding. One really enthusiastic fielder may regenerate, one slack loafer may demoralise, a whole eleven. High praise and honour should be given to boys who care to field hard and well. Most of the larger and more important schools are lucky enough to have on their staff of masters prominent all-round athletes from the universities. Such men have merely to take enough trouble, and then they cannot fail to supply the boys with an adequate example of what fielding should be. But, unfortunately, even the universities do not devote proper attention to fielding. Proficiency in this respect is often woefully absent in the case of men who are otherwise excellent cricketers. However, any one, boy or man, with a genuine interest in cricket, decent
W. MARLOW THROWING IN THE BALL—Action II
From photo by E. Hawkins & Co., Brighton.
The whole art of fielding consists of three parts—ground-fielding, throwing, and catching. It is necessary to be able with the utmost certainty and rapidity to gather in the hands a ball hit along or on to the ground, and to return it equally surely and swiftly to either wicket, in order that as few runs as possible may be scored and the batsman may be run out should a chance occur. Should the ball be hit into the air without touching the ground, every imaginable attempt should be made to bring it to hand and keep it there, in order that the batsman may be caught out. Every man in the field, without exception, should be able to carry out these requirements. The methods of picking up, throwing, and catching differ slightly, according to the position of the fielder and the way the ball is hit towards him. But the main requirements are the same in every case.
Let us consider the case of ground-fielding first. Strictly speaking, the term apphes to the gathering up of a ball so hit that it rolls along the ground till the fieldsman intercepts its course. But it is also used to denote the fielding of any ball that is not a catch. The action of fielding the ball, whether bounding or on the ground, is much the same, except that the hands in the former case do not touch the ground when the ball is received into them. The way a ball should be fielded depends entirely upon how it comes. A few broad hints may be of some use.
Suppose the fielder be at long-on or long-off, and a ball is hit straight towards him. There are three things to be done—first, to stop it; second, to pick it up; and third, to throw it in to the wicket-keeper or the bowler. The first saves a boundary, the second and third should prevent more than one run being scored off the stroke. To stop the ball clean and true, so that it remains enclosed in the hands, much study and practice are required. The fielder is advised to face the ball fair and square with closed feet, and to pick it up with both his hands, as shown on the illustration of S. M. J. Woods at "long-on."
Nearer the wicket the ball naturally travels with more pace. But mid-on, mid-off, and all other fielders should gather up, as described above, a ball hit straight or nearly straight at them. Mark well that two hands, whenever possible, should be used to receive the ball. The hands should not be held stiff, but so as to "give" with the impact of the ball, and thus lessen the resistance. After having made sure of being able to pick the ball up properly in this manner, the fielder should practise throwing the ball in to the wicket with the least possible waste of time. Any time that is lost between the receipt of the ball and the return of it to the wicket is so much in favour of the batsman. The amount of runs that can be saved or given away during two long inningses by a fieldsman in the country, or indeed anywhere, is astonishing. Every one agrees on this point, though few act upon it. It would do no one any harm to write up a memorandum of the fact above his bed.
Now the quickest, and therefore the best, way to return a ball after picking it up is different with various persons. Some throw above, some below, the shoulder, and no two have quite the same action in throwing. But all who excel in this gift have two characteristics in common—they pick up the ball in such a way that the action of picking up seems to be part of the subsequent action of throwing, and they throw the ball in without any preliminary hesitation. A wicket-keeper was once remonstrating with a fielder for not having run a man out. "Why, I threw it in like a book," retorted the latter. "Yes, you did," was the reply; "but the preface and introduction were too long."
Really smart throwers are very uncommon. The value of a run-out is sometimes incalculable. If fielders took these two facts to mind, and acted accordingly, runs would be harder to get than ever. It requires long and earnest practice to get the knack of a quick return, and quickness is of no use without accuracy. The great thing, after all, is to throw in such a manner that the man at the wicket can take the ball easily and near the stumps. The three things to avoid are sending it in as a "yorker" or a half-volley, or what one may call a "good-length" ball—that is, difficult for the recipient to see and judge it. A return should come to the man at the wicket either on the longhop or full-pitch, and about a foot above the bails. Fielders near the wicket should return the ball full-pitch. Long-fielders should aim at making the ball arrive first bound, and longhop at its destination. With regard to throwing in from the country, the great fault is to throw the ball too high in the air. Clearly the lower its trajectory, the sooner will it reach the wicket. There is an exact height at which the ball should travel in order to combine rapidity in flight with accuracy of length. One reason why the throw-in requires so much practice is, that unless the muscles used be drilled to the point of mechanical accuracy—that is, till they almost act of themselves—the thrower has to stop to think what he is going to do, and thus loses time. A really good returner does not waste time in thinking what he is going to do or which wicket he had better aim at. All that is done while the ball is coming to him. His action in picking it up and throwing it in conforms to what he has already judged to be the best and quickest way of returning it. Sometimes the stroke and return are so quick that a spectator has scarcely time to perceive what has happened.
Having thus learnt to stop the ball clean and return it quickly and accurately, a fieldsman should also learn to dash in to meet the ball, thus saving the time it would have taken to reach him if he had stayed where he was. The slower the ball is travelling, the more needful for him to run in to meet it. He should be continually on his toes, ready to start forwards or indeed in any direction. After a certain amount of practice he can pick up as accurately on the move as if he were standing still. The actual method of gathering up the ball is the same as when he stands where he is and waits for it.
There are many ways of practising fielding. Even two men can do a good deal together if they take it in turn to hit and to field. It is an excellent arrangement for a number of men or boys to scatter in a rough semicircle while another is hitting catches and ground balls to them. And it is capital exercise for the hitter. But apart from matches, scratch games afford the best fielding practice, because the fieldsmen have the ball hit to them in their various positions just as in real matches, and they can also practise returning the ball to the wicket. School elevens should take the trouble to drill in this way, with some competent adviser looking on and coaching them. It is a commonplace that all school elevens, whatever their batting and bowling, should field almost, if not quite, as well as a first-class team. Certainly this is true of the larger schools. Much improvement can be brought about in a boy's fielding if he is taken separately, fed with various kinds of catches and ground balls, and told each time whether he has fielded the ball properly or not. Boys, and I am afraid men too, are in the habit of missing in matches catches that they would hold with perfect ease in practice. This is no doubt due to nervousness. Here, again, nothing but practice can do much good. Nervousness often disappears as experience grows. After all, courage and nerve are largely matters of habit. A sailor would fear to tackle a herd of unruly cattle just as much as a stockman would fear to run up a high rigging. But both may be brave and steady enough in positions to which they are accustomed. So with cricket. A steeple-high catch in the country begins to lose its terrors when one has caught a dozen such the evening before at fielding practice.
With regard to catching, it is impossible to lay down any hard-and-fast rules as to the best methods, My own short experience has shown me that catches may be well caught with the hands in all sorts of positions. Of these some are clearly better than others theoretically. But theories have a way of not meeting particular cases, so one can hardly afford to dogmatise.
Here is an illustration of the position generally adopted with slight modifications by good fields, but a beginner must find out for himself the method that comes most natural and convenient to him.
It must be confessed that more catches are missed when the position of the hands is abnormal than when it conforms to what is considered correct.
One hint worth remembering in catching, and in a less degree in fielding, is, as we said before on page 17, to let the hands give as the ball enters them, so that the resistance is less. It is a mistake to hold the arms and hands stiff. It only encourages the ball to bounce out. Besides, if the ball is hit hard and meets with a pair of unrelenting hands, it usually hurts them. Some misguided fielders go one better than fixity. They seem to grab at the ball as one would catch flies, or hit at it as one would at a fives-ball. Neither of these methods is conducive to good catching. Fieldsmen should accustom themselves to catch balls, both when running and standing still, with both hands and with either. If possible, it is best to get to a catch in time, and take it standing still with both hands. But sometimes, of course, this is impossible, and a really brilliant catch may be made by a fine fielder running hard and using only one hand. Unfortunately one often sees catches attempted in this brilliant manner which ought to have been made safe in the other and safer way. Remember, there is far more merit in making a catch easy by good judgment than in bringing off a very difficult catch rendered difficult by lateness in starting.A man can hardly be considered a really first-rate field until he can field well everywhere, except perhaps at the wicket. Most men have a favourite position in which they can do better than anywhere else. But it is a pity not to learn the requirements of all the positions. A general education is good even for a specialist. One often has to go to four or five different places in a match to save another man a long walk every change of over, or to suit the other members of the side. I do not for a moment mean to suggest that fielders should be placed indiscriminately, without any reference to their special inclinations and capabilities. Quite the contrary. The arrangement to aim at is "every man in his right place." A man may be a magnificent fielder at mid-off, but quite moderate at short-slip. Clearly, if you have on your side an equally good slip but not an equally good mid-off, it is false economy to put the brilliant mid-off at slip because he happens to be a noted fielder and because slip is a diflScult position. It is strange, but true, that the moment a wrong man is put in a wrong place, a catch goes to him and he misses it. A thorough attention to detail pays at cricket, and, besides paying, is right and proper.
S. M. J. WOODS STOPPING A BALL IN THE COUNTRY.
From photo by E. Hawkins & Co., Brighton.
A noticeable characteristic of a high-class field is his consistent alertness. He gives one the idea that he expects every ball to come to him. When the ball is hit, he seems to get by instinct into the exact place to field it. Indeed he starts sometimes before the stroke is fully made. Dr E. M. Grace has often caught a man out from point literally off his bat, within a couple of feet of it. He could see by the way the batsman shaped that he was going to let the ball hit and drop off his bat. Quick starting is half the secret of covering a lot of ground. Even without much pace an attentive fielder can be here, there, and everywhere if he watches bowler and batsman with all his might. Whenever a fielder seems surprised that a ball has been hit near him, it may be inferred that he is thinking of something else—race-horses, stocks and shares, or lunch. It is sound advice to fielders, so to watch every ball bowled as if it were to be hit to them. The value of a quick start cannot be overestimated. Often an apparently impossible catch is easily secured because the fielder was ready to start. Surely it is not much to ask of a fieldsman always to be ready. Yet how few really are! The difference in the behaviour of a side during the first innings of their opponents, and during the second when matters are approaching a crisis, is a study in human nature. In the former case, things are allowed to drift and arrange themselves; in the latter, matters have to be forced into one definite result—a win. Nothing shows the real grit of a side more than what is called "dash." "Dash" is difficult to define, but it is the characteristic of some individuals and some sides. "Dash" wins matches. It is unmistakable. Watch a fieldsman. You can tell in a moment whether or not he has this priceless quality. His expectant look, his eager watching of the bowler, indicate a determination to start at once. The very poise of his body shows readiness. He seems asking for work—catches for choice. But every hit means for him a chance of helping his own side by stopping the ball at all hazards. Nothing is more desirable in a fieldsman than an earnest intention to do his best and no less. It is so easy to "skulk" in the field. Only the quick-sighted judge and the fielder himself know that the last four might have been saved by a trifle more alertness. It is a good cricketer who fields to win, whether fortune frowns or smiles.
It is sometimes difficult to sustain this kind of ardour among boys. They are liable to be slack about fielding. Perhaps the best preventive is to make the games interesting by arranging matches between dormitories and houses, or against masters or past members—anything, in fact, for the sake of a match. "Pick-ups" rarely succeed. Slackness in the field is an abomination, it is so absolutely unnecessary. Yet boys are sure to be slack unless their interest is aroused. So the more matches, such as those mentioned above, are played, the better for the school. Practice in actual games and matches does much more good than any other—partly because the exact conditions required are present, partly because more real eagerness is called out. Excellence in cricket cannot be reached except through a strong love for the game. Anything in the shape of compulsory cricket at schools seems to me inimical to the best interests of cricket. Boys who go into the field against their own desire will make but little progress in the game. It ought not to be necessary to force cricket down boys' throats. It seems hard to believe that any boy, who was once shown what a splendid game it is, would have the least desire not to play on all possible, and some impossible, occasions. Perhaps it is argued to make the game compulsory does not touch those who would have played in any case, while those who would have shirked or loafed are forced to take exercise and become energetic members of school society. There may be much in this. But somehow compulsory cricket seems almost a contradiction in terms. Like every other thing worth doing, cricket entails a certain amount of drudgery during the earlier stages of learning the game. But the pleasures inseparable from the use of bat and ball are surely a good enough set-off against this drudgery, especially as the reward of hard work is so apparent in the fine performances of those who have had patience to go through with the preliminary toils and troubles. One can sympathise with the man who has had no opportunity of learning cricket, and with the man who has done his best to become a cricketer but has failed; but for him who has never cared for the game when he could have played, or has refused to regard it as worth any trouble, what words are adequate? There never was a genuine Englishman but played cricket or wished he did. Something must be very wrong with a boy or with the kind of cricket offered him if he does not care for the game. Decadence is bad enough in Bohemia, but at school—well, how does it get there? It always seems to me that boys require to be educated in cricket on lines rather different from those usually followed. There are many good coaches who teach them excellently and conscientiously the grammar of the game, but entirely fail to imbue them with its true spirit. The mistake is like that of making a lesson in Virgil nothing but a means whereby syntax and grammar may be crammed into the youthful brain. Of course grammar and syntax are necessary as a training for the mind. And the corresponding dry bones of cricket are equally important as a framework round which a knowledge of the game may be built. But would it not be possible to bring home to boys some of the intrinsic beauty of cricket? All good things done well are beautiful. There is much more in a fine off-drive or a well-bowled ball than the resulting fourer or wicket. I am far from regarding cricket as the most important thing in life; but it is the best game, and games are a very valuable part of life. If a boy were taken to a match in which Mr Lionel Palairet was making runs, and were shown the difference between his strokes and those of the more ordinary performers, he would, I think, go home with something in his mind that would tend to improve his cricket and increase his love of it. There is an element of the heroic in cricket which is not found in other games, at least so it strikes me. I can imagine Agamemnon, Achilles, and their peers not unbecomingly engaged in a cricket-match. There is nothing small or mean in the game itself, though it must be confessed that degrading elements are sometimes imported into it by its less high-minded exponents. Boys should try, too, of themselves to find out what there is in cricket besides runs and wickets. There is much indeed. There is a charm that is too subtle to be thought out and expressed, though it can be felt and enjoyed.But to return to fielding and its difficulties. At school there
MORDAUNT READY FOR A CATCH.
From photo by E. Hawkins & Co., Brighton.
In arranging fielding practice, great pains should be taken not to overwork boys. Fatigue is fatal to keenness. One often sees boys giving in through sheer exhaustion in matches. Now, the way to gain stamina is not to get tired five days a-week with a view to being able to last on the sixth. The proper way is to have eager practices for very short spells.
There are certain rules which apply to all fieldsmen, viz.:—
- Keep the legs together when the ball is hit straight to you and while you are picking it up.
- Always back up the man who is receiving the ball at the wicket, when it is thrown in, but not too close.
- Always try for a catch, however impossible it may seem.
- Always be on the look-out and ready to start.
- Run at top speed, but not rashly, the moment the ball is hit.
- Use both hands whenever possible.
- Do not get nervous if you make a mistake.
- Obey your captain cheerfully and promptly.
- Never be slack about taking up the exact position assigned to you; never move about in an aimless, fidgety manner.
On one point there is a difference of opinion among the authorities. Where should the fieldsman look until the ball is played? At the bowler or at the batsman? The question cannot be answered ofifhand. It depends much upon the position of the fielder, and also to a certain extent upon the face of the bowler. My own opinion is, that the eye should follow the ball all the way from the bowler's hand to the fielder's. But many cricketers have told me that they have no time to do this when fielding near the wicket—at short slip, for instance—especially when a fast bowler is on. Some look at the bowler until he is on the point of delivering the ball, and then transfer their attention to the batsman. Others glue their eyes on the bat until the stroke is made. Both these methods are open to the objection that the eye is taken off the ball, which is the real object that it ought to follow, because the body, hands, legs, and every limb have a tendency to act with the eye when it follows a moving object, and it is just this close co-operation of body and eye which is so necessary in fielding. Every one must work out this problem for himself. If his heart is in the work, if he is fielding in earnest, the best method will come to him naturally.
Another question which requires the attention of fielders is that of backing-up. When ought a fielder to back up, and why is it necessary to do so? Let us suppose that a three has been hit, and that the fieldsman in the country has thrown the ball in towards either the wicket-keeper or the bowler. Granted that the throw be accurate, many things may happen. The ball may bump or shoot so as to beat the man at the wicket, in which case, if no one is behind him backing him up, the ball will travel to the boundary on the opposite side to that towards which it was originally hit. In other words, an overthrow for four will result.Again, the ball sometimes twists away from the intended recipient, or the latter may make a blunder and miss it. Finally, the throw may be too wide or too high to reach, or difficult to take because of its length—i.e., it may come to the wicket as a half-volley or a "yorker." In all these cases runs are saved by
W. MARLOW CATCHING THE BALL—A HOT DRIVE.
From photo by E. Hawkins & Co., Brighton.
W. MARLOW CATCHING THE BALL LOW DOWN.
From photo by E. Hawkins & Co., Brighton.
If it be asked when it is necessary to back-up, the answer is, Always. Whenever the ball is hit on one side of the wicket, some one ought to be backing-up on the other, in order to be ready in good time. A few hints about backing-up will be given when the various positions are taken in detail. The general rule is that, whenever a throw-in is being made, the two or three fielders who are in the most convenient position to back-up should do so at once. Proper backing-up saves very many runs. Scarcely a match passes without some runs being lost for the want of it.The value of good throwing has already been mentioned. Throwing is a gift of nature capable of improvement by practice. It is essential for every fielder to cultivate his throwing powers. Some men cannot throw far, but all can learn to throw accurately. Some are much slower in returning the ball than others, but the slowest can improve considerably by continually trying to throw more smartly. After all, it is rarely necessary to make the ball pitch more than sixty yards from you in order to get it to the wicket first bound. It is easy to practise throwing. If a stump be placed in the middle of the ground, and one man stands about sixty yards on one side and another a corresponding distance on the other, there is no difficulty in the matter. Each throws and fields in turn, and whether the throw be good or bad can easily be seen. It is most important to learn to throw without the slightest hesitation: hesitation on the part of the thrower is exactly what decides the batsmen to attempt a second run, and it is a safe run nine cases out of ten, at any rate when the ball is in the long-field. Any fumbling or mis-handling of the ball is fatal. Stopping to consider to which end to throw means a safe run. There is no harm in repeating that in throwing from the country your object should
S. M. J. WOODS PICKING UP THE BALL RUNNING.
From photo by E. Hawkins & Co., Brighton.
One of the most senseless things a fielder can do is to throw the ball hard when there is no need. The wicket-keeper has quite enough knocking about from the bowlers without having to stop such throws. As for the bowler, his hands should be regarded as sacred. A bruised finger is liable to incapacitate him altogether.
Some people think that a fielder ought never to throw at the wicket itself, with the object of running a man out, without the help of the man at the wicket. I cannot agree with this. If there is any chance of running a man out thus, but none of doing so by co-operation, it is worth while trying to knock the wicket down with a throw. If no one is at the wicket, it is worth while having a shot at the stumps, even at the risk of a boundary, because every wicket is worth more than four runs. However, discretion must be used. George Bean has got a wonderful number of wickets for Sussex by throwing men out from cover-point.
Among other miscellaneous matters one is worth noticing. When the ball is travelling towards the boundary and the fieldsman is running in the same direction, it is customary for him to get just within reach of it and then dive forward for it as one would try to catch a rabbit, the ball being in front of him at the time. This often means a miss and consequent delay. It is far better to overtake the ball, and then, when level with it or slightly past, drop the hand a foot or so in front of it. In this way the ball runs into the hand, and there is a slighter margin for error. In the other the hand follows after the ball, and obviously cannot go farther in pursuit than the length of the arm; consequently if the hand be even an eighth of an inch behind the ball when the dive is made, there is no chance of picking it up. If the method I suggest—not that it is original—be followed, the fieldsman will find it much easier to rise into an attitude convenient for throwing. He is in a compact position at the time of picking up the ball, instead of being spread-eagled forwards. It requires some agility to pick up the ball and throw it in with almost one action, even by using the method suggested; but under the other method it is impossible.Let us now proceed to consider the duties of fieldsmen in
MORDAUNT PICKING UP A BALL RUNNING.
From photo by E. Hawkins & Co., Brighton.
for it is at once the most important and the most difficult. Later on, in the chapter on Bowling, I have tried to show the close connection that should exist between the bowler and the fielding system. The bowler is the chief part of the system, the governing agent in its work; the several fieldsmen are subordinate but essential parts of it. Now the wicket-keeper's connection with the bowler is closest of all. It is as if the bowler were at one end of a telegraph wire and the wicket-keeper at the other. There is a continual current of thought and action passing and repassing between them. At least this is what ought to be. The wicket-keeper may almost be described as part of the bowler; if the other fielders ought to bowl in spirit with the bowler, the wicket-keeper ought to do so ten times over. It is absolutely certain that good wicket-keepers—some consciously, others unconsciously—help the bowler to bowl. The best instance of this that occurs to me is that of Mr MacGregor and Mr S. M. J. Woods. The latter declares that so well did they know one another, so closely were they en rapport, that he himself knew exactly what ball the other expected, and his wicket-keeper knew exactly what ball was coming. Any one who has ever stood behind the wicket will readily understand the vast advantage of knowing what kind of ball the bowler is going to send down. And when one realises that the wicket-keeper is, in virtue of his position, far better able than any one else to see how a batsman is playing, where he is weak and how he can best be got out, it is easy to understand the help a bowler can get from a wicket-keeper who tacitly informs him how things stand and what ought to be done. It is a case of two heads against one. Even without this mental telegraphy, a good wicket-keeper assists a bowler incalculably, because he gives him confidence and keeps him up to the mark. Any one who has sent down an over or two knows the mental difference between having a smart and a slovenly wicket-keeper behind the sticks. A bad wicket-keeper, apart from missing catches and letting byes, gives the bowler a feeling of incompleteness. Something is wanting; things are askew and not nicely rounded off. It may almost be said that a good wicket-keeper makes a moderate bowler bowl well, and a bad wicket-keeper makes a good bowler bowl below his form.
First-rate wicket-keepers are very rare. It would be safe to say that in any given year the really first-raters in the world could be numbered on the fingers of one hand. At present there are four that I know of—Mr MacGregor, Storer of Derbyshire, Lilley of Warwickshire, and Hunter of Yorkshire. The first does not play so much now as he once did. Between the other three it would be hard to choose. I once had a fancy for Lilley, but can hardly be quite sure now if there is any difference between them. One thing is quite certain—it pays to select the best wicket-keeper quite irrespectively of his batting ability. And for this reason. More catches go to the wicket-keeper than to any one else, and more good bats are dismissed on true pitches by catches at the wicket than in any other way. The difference it makes whether a chance at the wicket from such opponents as the Champion, Abel, Ward, Gunn, Mr F. S. Jackson, and others be talcen or missed, far outweighs the merely potential value of one man's batting success on your own side. You should give your side the best possible chance of that catch being caught. A really good wicket-keeper saves more runs than any single batsman gets, besides helping the bowlers in the way just mentioned. The general opinion is that Mr Blackham, the Australian, was the finest wicket-keeper the world has ever seen. He was the quickest and most brilliant. Mr MacGregor, however, and Pilling ran him very close.
Good wicket-keeping is very deceptive to the uninitiated. It looks all right and simple. Nothing much seems going on. Every ball is taken easily without any fuss. One of the most marked characteristics of the great wicket-keepers is their quietness. They seem scarcely to move except to balls on the legside and wide on the off. Unless they jump to one side or the other for this purpose, their feet seem rooted to the spot. Mr MacGregor holds the record for tranquillity at the wicket. He is sphinx-like in his calm fixity. Some wicket-keepers complain that their lot is a hard one—all kicks and no halfpence. Certainly here, as elsewhere, there is a tendency to take for granted what you will and severely criticise what goes wrong. All the mistakes of the wicket-keeper, and some not perpetrated by him, are mercilessly chalked up against him by the recording angels in the Press-box. His catches are not much mentioned, it is so hard to realise their difficulty; the hits from which they are taken are such little ones. His comrades, too, are often very hard on him, for they do not understand the arduous nature of his task unless they have had a turn at it themselves. All this must be patiently endured. He may console himself by remembering that admirals, generals, and prime ministers receive the same treatment, so do coxswains and engine-drivers. Further, he may rely with certainty on the sympathy and applause of all who really know anything about the game.
The wicket-keeper's chief duties are as follows, in the order of their importance: —
- To hold catches at the wicket.
- To stump batsmen who miss the ball and are over the crease.
- To run batsmen out when the ball is returned from the fielders.
- To prevent byes.
- To run after the ball when it is so played that the wicket-keeper and he alone can save a run.
G. MACGREGOR AT THE WICKET.
From photo by E. Hawkins & Co., Brighton.
In order to hold catches and effect stumpings and runnings-out, a wicket-keeper must learn to take the ball, as we have said, cleanly and surely, and this as near the wicket as possible, standing so close that he can knock off the bails with ease, and so that the angle of deviation of a ball touched by the bat is as small as possible. The farther his hands are from the bat, the more will the ball have deviated from its original course. In the case of run-outs his position must be altered; he must now stand on the opposite side of the wicket from the point whence the ball is being returned. But the alteration should be completed before the ball comes. It is essential to stand quite still in taking the ball. Unless the feet are steady and fixed, the eye cannot follow it accurately. Any flinching, fidgeting, or jumping about is fatal. To learn to stand still is by no means easy, but it is absolutely necessary.
Next, he must learn to let the ball come into his hands as into an Aunt Sally's mouth. It is entirely wrong to grab or snap at it. This snapping is perhaps the commonest fault among wicket-keepers, and it is a very grave one. It may easily cause the ball to bound out of the hand. The hand is less likely to be in the right place. The fingers are likely to close too soon, which may result in injuries. The cleaner the ball is taken, the less is the jar. As in all fielding, the hands should "give" to the ball as it enters them, for it is more likely to stay where it is when the resistance is not dead. Moreover, the slight "give" saves the hands. When the bowling is slow or medium, the "give" need be only infinitesimal. This is important to remember, because off such bowling chances of stumping are common, and the ball must be taken very near the wicket to ensure a quick removal of the bails. It should be taken and slipped into the wicket in one uniform action. There should be no jerk back and forwards. In the case of fast bowling catches are frequent and stumpings rare, so the hands may be allowed more "give." Notice that, whenever a jump to this side or that is necessary, it should be done in good time, so that the body may be again still and quiet behind the hands when the ball comes into them.
A wicket-keeper cannot too much concentrate his attention on the ball. His vigilance and alertness must never be relaxed for a moment, otherwise he may let unnecessary byes or miss an important catch.
In all doubtful cases he should knock off the bails and appeal, but he must on no account do this for show or to "hustle" (as it is termed) the umpire. This is extremely bad form, and by no means profitable. Umpires do not like being teased. Besides, appeals that are not bona fide are directly opposed to the spirit in which cricket should be played. The ball is not often taken cleanly on the leg-side, but when it is, it should be swept into the wicket at once, as most batsmen frequently drag their foot or jump about in playing to leg. It is not necessary to appeal every time the bails are knocked off. It is difficult to take leg-balls, so a young wicket-keeper is advised to pay more attention in his early practice to those that come over the wicket or slightly to the off.
With a view to run-outs a wicket-keeper will do well to practise taking all manner of returns, good, bad, and indifferent, long-hops, "yorkers," and half-volleys, and these under all conditions and from all directions. Mr MacGregor has a marvellous power of gathering the wildest returns and getting the ball into the wicket. His success in this is partly due to his extreme coolness, partly to his never regarding a return as impossible to take. The wicket-keeper ought to be ready to run after balls played away to bye when he can thus save a run, but he should never leave his wicket unless a run can be saved. He should have wide returns to backers-up. It should be remembered that "on the line" is out. A batsman to be in must have some part of his person or bat grounded within the crease. No part of the wicket-keeper's body must be in front of the wicket until the ball is hit by the batsman or has passed the wicket. Therefore never take the ball in front of the stumps, however slow it is in coming.
Finally, never fret over a few failures. Persevere and practise wisely and diligently—in games if possible; if at nets, get some one to bat. Never practise carelessly. Avoid practising on bad wickets, except very occasionally. Take care of the hands, and spare them when bruised or tender. If wicket-keeping is a hard and rather thankless job, it has great charm for the skilled, and a good wicket-keeper is always extremely welcome on any side.
STORER TAKING A BALL WIDE ON THE LEG-SIDE.
From photo by E. Hawkins & Co., Brighton.
STORER WAITING FOR THE BALL.
From photo by E. Hawkins & Co., Brighton.
It is very uncommon to see a man put in this position nowadays, because, now that wickets are good, fewer byes are let by wicket-keepers. Besides, it is impossible to spare a man to put there. Perhaps long-stop might be used with advantage in the case of very weak wicket-keeping and poor batting. In the old days it was a most important post, and men were chosen solely for their skill in it. The position might be resuscitated with advantage sometimes in school matches, though as a matter of fact a fine leg is very nearly as useful for saving byes, and can also stop snicks to leg. When a ball passes the wicket-keeper and is gathered up by long-stop it should be returned to the bowler, as there is a better chance usually of running the man out at that end. The striker cannot get such a good start as the non-striker, who can back up sufficiently to make a run to longstop almost a certainty as far as he is concerned.
Perhaps long-stop should stand slightly to the leg-side in order to see the ball as it is bowled, and to stop, if possible, any very fine snicks. He should be as far away from the wicket as he can without failing to check the single run when the wicket-keeper misses the ball. The distance depends rather on the pace of the bowler. The slower the bowler, the nearer should long-stop be
Long-stop should be a quick runner and good thrower. He must not lose his head if the batsmen are successful in running a few short runs to him. He should be on the look-out for backing up the wicket-keeper, particularly when the ball is returned from mid-off, extra-cover, and cover.
After the wicket-keeper, the most important places in the field are short-slip and cover-slip. It is the custom nowadays, when two slips are used, to place them side by side and near enough to one another to prevent, if possible, any ball passing between them. That is to say, if each stretches towards the other as far as he can, their hands almost meet. Sometimes they are put rather farther apart. Sometimes for very fast bowling a third slip is added. The ball comes slightly differently to short-slip, cover-slip, and third-slip, but for all practical purposes the three places may be treated as identical. The qualities necessary in a slip are quickness of eye and of hand, as well as a power of catching with certainty—in short, a combination of extreme agility and sureness. He must be able to judge instantaneously the flight of the ball from the bat, and must always be on the look-out. Any lack of attention on his part is only less fatal than on the part of the wicket-keeper.
The attitude best suited to slip is a slight stoop forwards. It is good for reaching catches low down, and also for quickness of movement in all directions. The hands should be held forward ready for a catch. Slip should stand in such a manner that he can throw himself at once into any position The legs should not be too far apart, and one foot should be rather in front of the other.
The distance at which slip should stand depends upon the bowler and the state of the wicket. The slower the bowler and the slower the wicket, the nearer ought slip to be. The bowler and captain must decide upon the exact spot, and their instructions must be religiously followed by the fielder. Sometimes short-slip is put very fine, sometimes rather wider, as circumstances may require. It is most important for him not to change from his assigned position. Indeed he had better make a mark on the ground to guide him after each over.
Very many of the catches that come to the slips have to be taken with one hand. There is often no time to move into a position where two hands can be comfortably used. So slip must practise one-handed catching diligently; At the same time, two hands should be used whenever possible, as it is far safer. Among other duties, short-slip has to back up the wicket-keeper when the ball is being returned from mid-off, cover, extra-cover, or mid-on. Indeed he has to back him up whenever he can. He must also be on the look-out for running after snicks and small strokes to leg, in order to save the wicket-keeper.
The commonest faults in slips are want of alertness, Snatching at catches instead of letting them come into the hand, and standing in the wrong place. A beginner is strongly advised to watch most carefully the arrangement and behaviour of the slips in some good match. It is worth while studying the slightest alteration of position, and trying to discover the reason for it.There is a difference of opinion as to whether a slip should stand quite still until he sees the ball come off the striker's bat,
LILLEY AT THE WICKET.
From photo by E. Hawkins & Co., Brighton.
LILLEY TAKING A RISING HALL.
From photo by Arthur Wells, Birmingham.
As in the case of slip, there is some diversity of opinion as to whether point should stand still and wait for events to take their course, or whether he should move about to where he thinks the ball is likely to come. It is difificult to decide, because, whereas right moving about is excellent, aimless change of position is fatal. All the really great points have been of the moving kind.
Another position which requires quickness and sureness in catching is that of point. The position is in some ways easy to fill. It is easy to be a respectable point. Hence the stiffest fielder on a side is usually put there. But there are great opportunities for fine fielding at point. A good point will get many wickets for his side that a bad one would never dream of The great thing is to possess an instinctive knowledge how to stand in the case of different bats, and what is most likely to happen to each ball bowled to a particular man. This knowledge is usually a gift of nature, but with close attention experience will do much to supply it. Point should study carefully the styles and habits of all batsmen. He soon begins to find out that certain batsmen play such and such a ball in one way and such and such a ball in another.
POSITION FOR SLIP, POINT, THIRD-MAN, COVER.
From photo by E. Hawkins & Co., Brighton.
This position is never a sinecure, quite the contrary. A good third-man can save a lot of runs, and often run a batsman out. But the ball comes more awkwardly here than anywhere else in the field. There is always some spin on the ball, which sometimes acts and sometimes does not, according as the ball bites or fails to bite the ground. When the spin does act, the ball breaks sharply from right to left. Any fumbling or misfielding at third-man means an absolutely safe run to the other side. Even if the ball be picked up clean, it is by no means easy to prevent two determined runners getting a run every time the ball is hit towards third-man. It is sometimes said that there is always a run to third-man. Perhaps that rather exceeds the truth, but it is certainly very difficult to prevent occasional short runs.
The exact position of third-man varies according to the state of the ground and the cutting power of the batsman. Third-man should make quite sure that he is in his right place, and will do well to consult the bowler, whenever there is any uncertainty, as to whether he should be deep or near, square or fine. As to his distance from the wicket, his chief guide must be his own idea of the distance at which he can prevent one run.
He must at all times be cool and collected. A few stolen runs must not upset him. And as he has at best no time to spare if he is to prevent singles, he must cultivate a very quick, accurate return both to the bowler and the wicket-keeper. The ball should fly low and straight from his hand to the top of the stumps full-pitch. Gunn, Maurice Read, and Mr G. Mordaunt send in beautiful returns from third-man. They throw just below the level of the shoulder, which is the most rapid manner. The ball flies like an arrow. There is little doubt that this kind of throw is the best for returning the ball from any position in the near-field. Some men use it with equal effect in returning the ball from the long-field. It is worth while mentioning incidentally that the number of good throwers is exceedingly small. Cricketers simply do not take the trouble to make themselves efficient. The superiority in this respect of the Australians over our own fielders has generally been very marked. In the final test-match at the Oval in 1896 the visiting side was, without doubt, a good deal better in the field than the England Eleven, and every man of them could throw as strongly as a catapult.
Third-man must be always on his toes, like a sprinter about to start for a race. He must be ready to dash forwards or to either side instantaneously. He will do well to stand leaning well forward, with his hands rather near the ground, as most balls will come to him either along the ground or as rather low catches. He must cultivate certainty in catching, and remember that the ball is always spinning hard when it comes to him. Nine times out of ten, when a short run is attempted from a hit towards third-man, the best end to return the ball to is the bowler's, who ought to be ready behind his wicket. The nonstriker has so much time to back-up that he is nearly sure to be in. In the case of an almost certain run-out at either end, the ball should be sent to the wicket-keeper, who is more likely to take the ball well than the bowler. The great thing is to make up your mind, as the ball is coming, to which end you are going to throw, and to do so without any hesitation. Sometimes the ball is so picked up that it can be returned rapidly to one end only. The fielder must of course be guided by circumstances.
Third-man has to back-up point when the ball is cut rather square, and to back up the wicket-keeper when the ball is returned from anywhere on the on-side. It is a difficult position, and requires much attention. A captain should take care to put one of his ablest men in it. Much depends on having a good third-man. A slow, clumsy fielder is not the man for the place, however safe he may be. It is dash and activity that are most required.
There is a certain similarity between this position and the last-mentioned. A fielder who proves a good man in the one is probably well qualified to fill the other. For a really brilliant field there is no position which gives so much scope as cover. He has every kind of hit to stop, and almost every kind of catch to hold, during a season's cricket. A fine exhibition of fielding at cover is one of the best things the game has for the spectator. There have been many famous covers, but nearly all cricketers who saw him give the palm, during the last thirty years, to the Rev. Vernon Royle. From what one hears he must have been a magnificent fielder. Perhaps George Bean of Sussex and W. Sugg of Derbyshire are the best men in the position nowadays. Bean is wonderfully quick in starting and in picking up the ball, and has a very quick and accurate return. He always runs a lot of batsmen out every year, many of them by throwing the wicket down. One stump is enough for him to see. He rarely misses it by more than six inches, and frequently hits it. Peel is very good, and Briggs at his best was quite brilliant. Mr Gregory, the Australian, is an admirable cover.
The position of cover varies but slightly. He should be rather deeper when the bowling is fast than when it is slow, and should be nearer the wicket when the ground is slow than when it is fast. When there is no extra-cover, his position will be a yard or two farther in the direction of mid-off. It is very important for him to be always exactly in his right place. He has a considerable amount of ground to look after, and a couple of yards this way or that makes all the difference when it is a question of saving a run or running a man out.Like third-man, cover must be ever on the alert to dash in any direction. One of his most arduous duties is continually to rush forward to prevent runs off gentle strokes in front of the wicket. He has to back-up point and extra-cover, and go after balls hit past the fielders towards the off-boundary. Most of the hits to him, whether catches or ground-balls, have a great deal of spin on them, because the face of the bat usually puts cut upon a ball struck in this direction. He has many nasty
V. MARLOW'S FORWARD-CUT WITH LEFT LEG ACROSS.
From photo by E. Hawkins & Co., Brighton.
The throw-in from cover is extremely important. It should be the same as that advocated for third-man, below the shoulder and full of wrist. The whole action of picking up and returning the ball should be clean, decided, and smooth, but very quick. Practice, persevering practice, in games and elsewhere, is the only means of arriving at a high standard. A fielder can be slack at cover without being found out; but it is a pitiful thing to be so, for he has the finest position in the field for fun and the best chance of serving his side well. What more can a human being desire than half a day's fielding at cover with a good bowler at each end and two fine batsmen at the wickets, when the sun is shining, the grass fresh but dry, and lunch a certainty at two o'clock?
There is no need to treat extra-cover separately. The position is a cross between cover and mid-off, and its duties are a mixture of the duties required in those two places.
Balls hit to mid-off, like those to mid-on, generally travel straight towards or past the fielder. Occasionally they bump awkwardly or twist a little, but usually the difficulty of fielding them is due to their pace. Hard hits to mid-off, especially catches on the rise, come like cannon-balls, and demand considerable pluck and coolness on the fielder's part. Mid-off's nominal position is between 25 and 30 yards from the striker's wicket. He may be nearer on a slow wicket or when a very tame batsman is in. He should always be able to prevent a single being made in his direction. He has plenty of chances of distinguishing himself, as he is directly in line of most batsmen's off-drive. When the bowler is bowling round the wicket,
L. C. H. PALAIRET'S DRIVE TO COVER
From photo by E. Hawkins & Co., Brighton.
Ordinary mid-off has plenty to do on either side of him, and occasionally finds it necessary to back-up the bowler and extra-cover. He must be particularly careful to back-up the bowler when the batsman returns the ball hard, for the bowler being on the move often only half stops the stroke, so that, unless mid-off or mid-on backs him up, a run results. Mid-off often has a chance of running a man out if he manages to make an exceptionally quick and clever dive to right or left; so he must practise returning the ball accurately to both wickets. As a general rule, he should stand much like cover or thirdman, always ready to start. Mr A. J. Webbe was a very fine mid-off when he fielded there; so was Mr H. Andrews of Sussex, and the Australian, Mr Alec Bannerman. Mr S. M. J. Woods, too, knows a thing or two about this position among others.
The position of mid-on varies considerably, according to the way the ball breaks, the presence or absence of a short-leg, and the style of batsman and bowler. Usually, when the bowler is breaking much from the off, mid-on is placed wider, because as the ball breaks across the wicket it tends to be played more towards the leg-side. For a fast bowler mid-on stands in farther than for a medium or slow, and nearer to a tame player than to a hitter. This, however, is the bowler's affair. Usually mid-on
Mid-on is perhaps the best place to put a duffer, if you are unfortunate enough to have one on your side. He will do less harm there than anywhere else. Not but what a good fielder can help his side considerably at mid-on. There are plenty of catches to take and runs to save. A fast fielder can often save a run or two each time the ball is played away on the leg-side. The reason why mid-on is the place for a weak fielder is, that the ball comes straight and easy to hand there: it may come hard, but it comes without spin from the full face of the bat.
J. R. MASON DRIVING TO EXTRA COVER.
From photo by E. Hawkins & Co., Brighton.
Mid-on has to back-up the bowler when the batsman drives the ball straight down the pitch, and also when it is returned from the off-side fielders. Sometimes, when there is no short-leg and the ball has been played to third-man, mid-on is in a fix; for he cannot tell whether the fielder will throw to the wicket-keeper or the bowler, yet he himself is the only fielder in a position to back-up either of them so as to save a run if it passes one of them. The only thing for him to do is to watch third-man's actions closely and use his judgment. Some men have made a specialty of mid-on with marked success, notably Mr H. F. Boyle, the Australian.
As a rule, one of the weaker fielders in a team is drafted into this position. This is a mistake. Great skill and activity are required from short-leg if it is worth having one at all. On a wicket where an off-break bowler can get much work on the ball, it is sure to be frequently played towards short-leg. On a good wicket first-class bowlers rarely have a short-leg, because the man is required somewhere else, and they can trust themselves not to bowl so that the ball can be played away to leg. When the bowling is at all erratic, a great many runs can be saved by a short-leg. Low hits and sharp catches with plenty of spin on the ball fall to the fieldsman's lot here. He must chase snicks or placing strokes on both sides of himself, and has a grand opportunity of saving runs if he is thoroughly brisk and eager. Should there be no long-leg, he will have to attempt to stop the ball before it gets to the boundary, thus turning fours into threes; so he must be a good thrower and a long one. Many batsmen are weak in their leg play, being inclined to cock the ball up. Short-leg may often bring off a brilliant catch by edging up close to such a player.
He can also make himself useful by backing-up the wicket-keeper when the ball is returned from the off-side.
His position may vary from fine short-leg to forward short-leg; he may be almost long-stop or almost mid-on.
Long-leg is sometimes necessary nowadays in school and second-class cricket, but is practically never used in first-class matches except for leg-break or lob bowlers. Sometimes for fast bowlers a fine long-leg is placed quite on the boundary to suit snicks and byes. He should be a strong runner, and a long, accurate thrower. He will not get catches with any frequency. When he does they will be very difficult.
In the old days long-leg was a very important fielder. Now bowlers spend most of their time in trying to send down balls that cannot be hit or played to bye, so the place has lost somewhat of its former interest. When, however, an erratic bowler is on, there is always plenty of work, what with leg-hits, glances, and snicks. An experienced long-leg can tell with some certainty, by how a batsman shapes, where the ball is coming, and can start off in the right direction along the boundary-line. Wonderful tales are told of Mr G. F. Grace's fielding at long-leg to his greater brother's bowling. One can imagine W. Grace's chuckle when his brother caught out some dangerous bat high up with one hand off that enticing half-volley to leg. Remember that if a catch does come towards long-leg, the ball is nearly sure to curl more and more towards leg as it travels through the air. Long-leg should keep his eye on the bowler and captain, on the look-out for a sign to move this way or that, as indeed all fields should do from time to time.
There are two main positions in the long-field—one on the onside called long-on, and one on the off called long-off. As the duties of the two are very similar, there is no need to take them separately.
Long-on may be placed anywhere from just on the on-side of the bowler, but of course far behind him, round to nearly square-leg; and long-off may be moved round from just on the off-side of the bowler to almost behind extra-cover. When a man is put on the boundary behind extra-cover or cover, he is usually called deep-extra-cover or deep-cover.The amount of runs that a good long-field can save is surprising. The position requires a fast runner, strong thrower, and
T. HAYWARD IN THE ATTITUDE FOR THE ON-DRIVE.
From photo by E. Hawkins & Co., Brighton.
W. L. MURDOCH'S UNDER-LEG STROKE.
From photo by E. Hawkins & Co., Brighton.
The question of picking the ball up and throwing it in has been considered earlier in this chapter. Catching in the country is rather different from catching nearer the wicket. In the latter case it is all over in a moment, and there is no time to think, except in the case of a Steepler near the wicket. In the long-field the ball comes a long way and has to be waited for. The fielder usually is in a position to receive the catch in good time, and is likely to let all sorts of matters enter his mind. These tend to make him nervous. Chief among them is the thought that the attention of the whole crowd of spectators as well as the players is centred upon him. He has plenty of time, and apparently no excuse for missing the catch. If he fails, he will not get much sympathy.
Consequently nerve plays an important part in catching in the long-field. The virtue of much practice in giving confidence has been pointed out. All kinds of catches—high, low, straight, and crooked—should be tried. A little work of this description every day is good. Care must be taken not to bruise the hands. The ball should be allowed to fall well into the hands, which should yield with the ball as the fingers close over it. It is a case of "I bend and do not break." Nearly all good longfielders take the ball, in catching, with their hands close to their bodies about chest-high. The theory is, that, thus held, the hands are most under control and the ball is nearer to the line of sight. Messrs P. Paravicini, A. S. Stoddart, J. Douglas, M. E.. Jardine, G. J. Mordaunt, Gunn, and F. Sugg of Lancashire are among the best long-fielders I have seen.
It will be gathered from these remarks that all places in the field require the cultivation of various qualities to a very high degree, principally activity, the co-operation of eye with hand, and attentiveness.
It is impossible to emphasise too strongly the necessity of learning to throw well—i.e., both strongly and accurately. It is an art much neglected in every kind of cricket. In the selection of elevens too little attention is paid to the fielding capacity of the players, and, as usual, demand has ruled supply. If committees who select do not care for fielding, players naturally do not give so much attention to it as they otherwise would.
In conclusion, pluck, perseverance, and dash, inspired by a genuine love of cricket, will soon turn a cricketer into a good field. A little forethought and common-sense are not out of place. The cricketer, if he can be called one, who does not care for fielding, and who only plays for the sake of enjoying batting and bowling, is a very poor sportsman indeed. Fielding is the only branch of the game in which, if one tries hard enough, one can be sure of success. A batsman may get bowled first ball, a bowler may be quilted all over the field without getting a wicket, but both can redeem themselves by good fielding, which is enough by itself to render a man worth his place on a side. A bad field is an eyesore to spectators and a millstone round the neck of his side. Out upon him for a nuisance to society!