Batting, bowling and fielding....of these three it is difficult to say which is the most important.
I am strongly inclined to the opinion that Fielding, neglected as it sometimes has been, is the very foundation and backbone of cricket. Where is the use of fine batting if you have not the skill to prevent your adversaries doing as well or better than yourself, where the use of good bowling, if the batsman can afford to disregard the field?
Nevertheless, though great proficiency in either of these essential points may make an individual cricketer in an eleven, all these must be combined as the condition of its very existence.
Bowling there must be, batting there must be, but for all that, fielding is the mainstay upon which unless under very exceptional circumstances, the fortunes of each match must depend.
Granted reasonably accurate bowling on each side, and the eleven good fieldsmen would beat eleven good batsmen nine times out of ten.
As a matter of fact, a man may be a very good bat but a very poor field; whereas a good field is invariably, or almost invariably, a fair bat.
Fielding is in itself good practice for batting or bowling, and above all, fielding at long-stops or the wickets; the player therefore who is bent upon developing his batting, need not think he is wasting time by laying aside his bat and going in for a little work in the field.
A man may very well bat too long at practice, an hour is almost too long, but he can hardly field too long; that is, as long as he does not get fagged out.
I have often heard it argued thus in choosing a side: 'Smith is by far a better player than Jones - until he knocks up. His batting is first rate, if he goes in early in the day. We have two or three "stickers" against us, and are pretty sure of a good deal of leather-hunting, therefore we will play Jones rather than Smith. Jones is only a medium player, but then he is good to the end, whereas Smith would be worse than useless after the first three or four hours.'
Therefore I strongly advise all would-be cricketers to practice fielding zealously.
As in everything else in this world, proficiency is not to be acquired except by hard work and devoted attention.
What was it that made the public-schools' men of former days such dead hands at fielding?
Was it not the daily fagging out as youngsters in the playing fields to the batting of the big fellows, all the while under the stimulus of the gentle discipline of the middle stump in reserve for inattention and 'muffing.'
By similar hard work only, voluntary or involuntary, can fielding be restored to its old place in cricket.
A reaction is certainly springing up against that too strict devotion of the gentlemen to Batting, to the neglect of Bowling and Fielding, which has called down so many warnings and expostulations from the best veteran players.
Having said so much in favor of Fielding, let us go into the matter, and see what are the methods by which proficiency may be best obtained.
The science of fielding naturally resolves itself under two heads.
First, stopping the ball by a catch at the hop or on the ground, and second, by returning it to the wickets.
It might be thought by the uninitiated that the mere return of the ball, after having succeeded in stopping it, is a matter of the simplest kind, and hardly worth speaking of, much less investing with the dignity of a disquisition.
But the real fact is, that a perfect return to the wickets is very rarely attained, even by first class players; presumably, therefore, the art is more difficult to acquire than its necessary preliminary, the more stopping of the ball.
Certain it is, that with beginners, however apt, correctness and quickness of return is invariably the last thing they ever master.
But more of this in its proper place.
Stopping the Ball - In doing this, as in everything else, there is a right way and a wrong way.
The beginner should take care to find out which is the right way, and should then carefully practice that and none other.
Every time he stops the ball, he is either forming a good habit or a bad one.
Of course this is true in other things besides cricket; but it is of more importance in cricket than elsewhere, because the cricketer is almost entirely a creature of habit.
He has no time, when the moment for action arrives, to consider how he shall play; so short is the space allowed him, in general, in which to act, whether in the field or at the wickets, that a habit of instant, unhesitating adaptation of his play to the ball is his only chance.
A good habit, therefore, a correct attitude, taking the word in its fullest sense, as signifying the arrangement of every finger, of every muscle in the body, is of primary, vital importance to every would-be cricketer.
There is a very common saying about 'attitude being everything' - but the saying is perfectly true for all that.
Be it remembered though, that there is a vast difference between assuming at all times a correct attitude, and that detestable abomination in a cricketer - attitudinizing: the one is indispensable, the other to be shunned like the plague.
Since attitude, therefore, is of so much importance, let us try to see, so far as mere verbal description may serve us, what is correct attitude.
Every ball ought to be stopped by the hand or hands, the position of the hands, therefore, is the first thing to be considered. IN stopping the ball the player has two things to consider, first to stop the ball, secondly to do so at the least possible inconvenience to himself.
Some might think that this arrangement might be reversed, and personal immunity made the first object; but this is not the principle of a true cricketer.
First then, to stop a ball in the air, or in other words, to catch it.
It matters not whether the ball comes fast or slow, the method of receiving it is the same, and is this: the hands must be held with the fingers well spread out and slightly curved inwards, like so many hooks or claws; the thumb must be stretched well back, also slightly curved, and the palm must be made to assume a slightly cup-like form; the result of this arrangement is that the impact of the ball almost closes the hand by its mere actions on the tendons, the palm is driven backwards, and the fingers close almost involuntarily upon the ball.
To avoid very unpleasant consequences to the ringers, such as broken bones or dislocated joints, the hands should never be held with the line of the fingers, reckoning from the wrist to the tips, pointing in the direction of the course of the ball - this line should always be at right angles to its course. That is, if the ball be well in a line with the body and above the chest, the fingers should point upwards; if much below the chest, they must point downwards; if the ball pass much to either side, the line of the hand must be across its course. In a falling ball the palms must be upwards, for a rising ball downwards.
Of course the position of the palm and fingers above mentioned must be preserved.
In using both hands, for a low ball the fingers must be brought together (both palms to the front), and slightly interlaced; for a high ball the thumbs must be brought together in like manner.
Further, to save the hands and wrists from unnecessary jars, the hands should be always held in such a way, that either by the flexion of the elbows, or the yielding of the hands, the ball may be received as upon a spring, and not upon an unyielding body. In taking a ball directly in his front, the player must take care that his hands are not driven in upon his body, by an unexpectedly sharp ball; if the part with which his hand comes in contact be hard, woe to his hands; if soft, woe to that part. I have seen men receive very unpleasant 'facers' from their own knuckles in this way, either from carelessness or awkwardness, or both.
To acquire this art of stopping the ball correctly, it is well to begin with catching it from gentle tosses at short distances, gradually increasing both the distance and the speed of the ball, being careful the while, at each attempt to note whether the position of the hands was in rule, and endeavoring to correct the defects as they show themselves.
The same practice should be tried with a rolling ball, and then a bounding ball.
A fair proficiency having been acquired in these initiatory practices, the tyro may proceed to the more ambitious points in fielding.
But first he must learn to stop the ball, both on the ground and in the air, with right or left hand alone, and must not rest satisfied until he can thus use either hand equally well.
With most men the left hand is weaker and less under control than the right, and should therefore be more exercised.
It will be found a useful plan to practice principally the weaker hand, paying little attention to the stronger, which is sure to take care of itself.
In order to learn the more brilliant points of fielding, the learner should first get a friend to throw the ball to him to field, from all distances in all sorts of ways, and with varying speed and delivery, until every ball that comes within reach is stopped with absolute certainty.
I have found it a very useful practice in training elevens of boys, to take some three or four out in the field, set up one stump, and then standing there as wicket keeper, throw the ball to one or another, stationed at various distances around, and require quick handling and a sharp return.
When the art of stopping a ball thrown from the hand has been fully mastered, the next step is to practice to balls sent from the bat.
This is not such a matter of course as might appear.
I have known many a player who was 'death' on a throw, by no means too safe in real fielding to the bat.
The fact is, there is a very material difference in the way in which a ball comes to the hand, from a throw or from a bat; moreover, the sight of a ball from a bat is not so good as that from a throw.
In a throw, there is first the movement of the arm to guide the eye, and secondly a settled starting point for the ball, i.e., the hand; but with the bat, until the ball is actually struck, it is never quite certain what will be its actual course, nor can the precise part of the bat from which the ball will come be confidently predicted.
I would strongly advise, a sedulous devotion to fielding to the bat upon every possible occasion.
A beginner cannot do better than devote himself, when others are practicing bowling and batting, to the somewhat despised - alas, that it should be so - duty of fagging out in the field; trying his powers at all points; more especially at long stop.
There is no place in the field where more real cricket may be learned and practiced than in this.
Nor should the young player on these occasions rest satisfied with merely fielding the ball more or less creditably; he will find it a useful change from what is otherwise liable to become a somewhat monotonous task, and what is more a most improving practice, to study his weak points, as he fields each ball, and try to overcome them.
For instance, when long-stopping, to stand somewhere about the place of long-slip, and then try to stop the ball, crossing it at right angles, and using only the left hand.
I left-handed, he might stand on the other side, and practice picking up with the right.
In the field too, practice in picking up a ball at half volley, that is, just as its rise from the ground, is most improving.
Almost any ball that pitches reasonably near, and yet short of the fieldsman, may be taken this way, and the catcher must force himself to take all he can thus, as he will see that a mastery of this, perhaps the most difficult of all points, will give him a wonderful command over the ball at all other times.
We will suppose that the learner has now mastered thoroughly all the points of near and out fielding, that, so far as stopping the ball is concerned, he is ready to take his place at long-stop, slip, point, or anywhere, without fear of letting anything by him.
So far so good.
But let him not fancy that he has mastered the whole art and mystery of fielding.
He has learnt much, but yet only a moiety of the whole, a very important one I grant, but not of any very great value unless backed up by its equally, if not more, important remaining half.
Stopping the ball is all very well, but returning it in true style to the wickets is perhaps better.
Nothing shows a good cricketer so well as clean handling of the bal (by which I mean receiving it at once into the hand without any fumbling or clutching), and quick, accurate return to the wickets. I once saw a man run out in an eleven and twenty-two match, by a splendid specimen of quick, neat fielding.
The batsman, one of the best in the twenty-two, young and active, hit a ball hard to cover point, and started to run, only one pace.
With an ordinary field he would have made his one, and perhaps two runs, but Hayward was there, and to cricketers' talk, 'got in his way' - he ran forward, scooped up the ball in his left hand, passed it to his right, chest high, and returned it so true and straight to the wickets, that it was only by inquiry that the spectators could decide whether the ball took the bails before or after reaching the wicket-keeper's hands.
As it happened, the wicket was 'all there,' and had the bails down before the too eager batsman could regain his ground.
A better piece of cricket, both in the field and at the wicket I never saw. Indeed, nothing better could be seen - for it was perfection.
I am persuaded that that incident alone cost our side - not counting the probable runs the unlucky batsman might have made, be nearly made his score the second innings, what with ones that might have been twos, and unproductive hits that might have been ones - and so on; at least twenty runs, to say nothing of its influence upon the nerves of the succeeding batsman, certainly not to be braced by the near attentions of such terrible fieldsmen.
Consider, therefore, O, suckling cricketer, that until you can return the ball, upon the instant of handling it, fairly and sharply to the top of the bails, your talents, however great in the stopping line, are nothing worth.
Not only must the ball, to be properly fielded, be handled neatly and returned sharply, it must be met.
The fieldsman must not be content to stand still to let the ball come to him, running only when the ball would pass him on one side or the other; the ball must be met.
A good fieldsman starts instinctively forward to every ball that comes his way.
Not, only, too, must the player run to meet the ball, but he must continue to run until the ball has actually left his hands on the way back to the wickets.
Many players, too many indeed, run until just upon the ball, and then stop to throw it, not recognizing the value of the time thus lost.
What with the difference between the place where the ball might have been taken and where it was taken, with the loss of energy of action resulting from the dead stop, the loss of the distance the player would have passed over in the necessary step or two after taking the ball and before returning it, and finally the loss of additional impetus in the return to the wickets, a very tolerable case of woeful loss of time might be made out.
I used to play, a few years ago, with an eleven, wherein was a man in whom this habit was inveterate.
I often joked him, and also, tried, vainly, to argue him out of it, but to no purpose; he would not even allow that it was a fault.
One day, however, we chanced to be playing a home match, and on opposite sides.
When it came to be my turn to go in, I told him as I passed him that I would back myself to get a run every time he had a ball to field.
I had often told him before that it was possible, and he had always said, 'Only let' em try;' now my theory was to be put to the test.
I saw he was bracing himself up to look extra sharp after the ball, but still I was pretty confident that standing, as he did, at long-field off, he must give a chance every ball, unless he ran fairly in.
Very soon I had an opportunity, and sent a ball his way, and following it up, got safely home well before the ball was returned.
My opposite soon followed suit in the same way; and we stole at least half-a-dozen runs, amidst the cheers of our side, and the growlings loud and deep of our opponents, before he would condescend, or, indeed, conquer his old habits of false play to run well into the ball.
He did at last, and then there was such a near shave for the crease, that we judged it best to discontinue our 'little game.' The most extraordinary part of the affair was, that it did not cure him, or even bring him to confess his error.
Last time I saw him play, he was playing in exactly the old style, not a movement or an attitude altered.
Of as much importance as quickness of return is the straightness.
A ball well thrown in should come in as nearly a straight line from the fieldsman's hands to the bails as possible.
If thrown from a distance, the less the height of its flight the less time will it occupy in transit, and the less chance of runs will there be for the batsman.
A sky-scraping throw is an abomination to a real cricketer.
The great aim of a fieldsman, in returning the ball, should be to bring it to the wicket-keeper's hands as quickly as possible.
That, too, in such a manner, that the least possible movement may be necessary to displace the bails.
One more most important word of advice to the fieldsman, and then we must proceed with the other branches of our subject.
Remember, that as long as the ball is in play, never take your eyes off it, or let your attention wander from it.
Watch it all over the field with the same devoted attention as you might bestow were you in the last stage of love, and the ball were the object of your affection.
This is more important than might be supposed.
In the first place, only so can you guarantee yourself form an awkward blow from a stray ball.
In the second, be always ready for any of those numberless chances that occur in cricket.
The ball has always a shrewd knack of coming in one's direction, exactly when least expected and least prepared for..
I remember distinctly. I was once fielding for three hours at long-field. The day being chilly, and my work not being enough to warm me, I thought of donning my jacket. Being impatient of the cold, and quite unexpectant of having anything to do, I was guilty of the un-cricketer-like set of putting, or rather trying to put, on my jacket in the midst of an over - when I put on my left arm through one sleeve, and was just getting the other in, when a puff of wind took it and wrapped it round my arm and shoulder. At that very moment, as if it had been watching the opportunity, the ball came towards me. I ran to meet it, and - I didn't make it!. Oh, the agony of that moment! The man I did not catch out made fifty-two runs afterwards without giving the slightest chance! Let this be a warning to the careless and inattentive. At any moment the whole fortunes of a match may depend upon any one of the individuals playing. A moment's inattention or hesitation - a single moment's unreadiness - may change the whole fortunes of the day.
Steadiness - Its Importance
Last, but by no means least, of the virtues to be cultivated by the Fieldsman, and indeed by cricketers at all points - butting, bowling or fielding - is steadiness.
By this I mean not only steadiness of conduct, though that is a very needful trait of a cricketer's character, but steadiness of nerve - the steadiness, in short, though in a different degree, of the soldier under fire.
No man who is liable to be flurried and lose his nerve can ever be good for much as a cricketer. Here lies one great advantage of the Professional players over the Amateurs: the Professionals have no nerve at all to speak of - at least if they have they themselves are quite unconscious of the fact; they look upon the game as a matter of business, and consequently take its many variations with the most perfect nonchalance.
If they are not in luck one day they are pretty sure to be so the next.
A long experience has shown them that matters balance themselves very regularly at the close of the season.
That, taking one match with another, fortune is sure to declare in the main in favor of the better players.
The confidence thus derived from experience and natural constitution gives the Professional player that admirable steadiness and self-command under circumstances of excitement and trial that prove of such incalculable service against the perhaps more earnest, but certainly more excitable amateur players.
Never, or very rarely, do you see a professional give an over-throw, through wild throwing, in circumstances of excitement. On the contrary, if it be possible to find any fault, the Professionals err on the side of too much coolness and deliberation. In being too confident.
Years and hard work have mostly tamed down the ardor of our leading Professionals before they attain to a leading place among their brethren.
Even the comparative youngsters amongst them are so over done by the almost unbroken succession of matches, in which their presence is indispensable, that, however good their condition may be, they scarcely come on to the ground in their full freshness and vigor.
If, therefore, the Amateurs would only cultivate steadiness as an addition to their undoubtedly superior activity and enthusiasm, they would prove a much harder nut for the Professionals to crack than, as a rule, they contrive to be.
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