"Ten Percents" Part 4 - Stop more balls in the field more often
Our next "Ten Percent" focus is on fielding.
If just three players turn a 4 into a 1 through a really good stop in a game, you are 9 runs better off from just three short pieces of cricket.
With an over-emphasis on net practice, fielding often gets missed out and doesn't get the focus it deserves. The best fielding teams are most often the winning teams!
There are perhaps two big challenges for young fielders: -
1. Concentrating fully every ball
2. Not being scared of the ball
Concentration every ball should be achievable for every cricketer. The key is knowing when to switch off and switch back on again.
The moment the bowler starts running in to bowl is the time we need to focus.
If you are in the outfield you should be looking to "walk in" towards the batter. Is that necessary? No, as long as you get yourself into a "set" ready position, prepared for every ball to be coming to you. Walking in is just a good way to focus and get your momentum towards the ball. The most important thing is that you are ready to spring into action at any moment.
If the ball doesn't come to you, that's not the time to switch off. You might be needed to back up if the ball is thrown to the end you are closest to. Always assume that you have a job to do until the ball is safely in the wicket keeper's gloves or back with the bowler. In other words, when the ball is "Dead".
Then you can switch off for a few seconds before you start again for the next ball.
Not being scared of the ball takes more practice especially as players move into hard ball cricket for the first time.
There are a few ways of preparing for this.
Ideally, I would recommend building up gradually with a range of balls.
Start with a tennis ball building up good techniques and confidence stopping the ball when hit hard, for example with a tennis racquet. Getting the technique right is important as we move on to harder balls.
Next repeat with an incrediball. There are a number of these on the market and it's worth getting a couple - one lighter weight and one match weight one. The match weight ball is going to be the closest transition to a proper hard ball.
Make sure the technique remains strong. It's only natural for young cricketers to lose technique as fear increases so this stage is worth spending time on until the harder ball can be used safely and correctly, consistently.
It's then time to move on to a proper cricket ball.
There is a further way to help young cricketers prepare for a harder ball. You can now buy weighted balls which help trick the mind into believing that a hard ball feels very light.
They come in a pack of 4 balls with an increasing weight. Throw the lightest one back and forth for 10 times or so before moving on to the next heaviest and so on until you've had around 10 catches with the heaviest ball. If you now use a cricket ball it feels exceptionally light!
This is a great way to help young cricketers deal with fielding with a harder ball for the first time.
You can practice much of this in your back garden. All you need are some balls and maybe a tennis racquet. If you have a rebound net, like a Crazy Catch, then that's also useful.
Field as many balls as you can. Gardens are often quite bumpy so if you can field in a garden it should be easier when you get back onto a cricket pitch.
Focus on switching on and off when you need to and getting the techniques right.
1. Watch the ball closely
2. Track the ball to get into the right position behind the ball as quickly as possible
3. Stay low
4. Create a "long barrier" to get your body behind the ball so it can't go through you
5. Have your hands out just in front of your body and aim to collect the ball
6. When you have the ball under control, jump up into a throwing position ready to return to the stumps