Field placements - Twenty20’s subtle art

Tactics and strategy, even in the abbreviated Twenty20 cricket, travel to the heart of cricket where the batsman is set up and a dismissal is created out of nothing.

The busy M. S. Dhoni, invariably closing down the angles with a wave of his arms, often thinks out of the box.   -  K. R. Deepak

The magic of field placements can leave you fascinated. Tactics and strategy, even in the abbreviated Twenty20 cricket, travel to the heart of cricket where the batsman is set up and a dismissal is created out of nothing.

Take the case of Rajasthan Royals off-spinner K. Gowtham, in the Power Play overs, against the explosive Chris Gayle in the ongoing Indian Premier League (IPL).

Interestingly, both a slip and a forward short-leg were in place. Gowtham was playing on the ego of Gayle. Something had to give and Gayle charged down the track, the bowler slipped one down the leg-side and the bails were whipped off.

It helps that Shane Warne, not just a legendary leg-spinner but a brilliant thinker, mentors Rajasthan Royals. “That was a wonderful instance of aggressive field placing in the IPL this season,” said former India leg-spinner L. Sivaramakrishnan to Sportstar.

Out-of-the-box Dhoni

The busy M. S. Dhoni, invariably closing down the angles with a wave of his arms, often thinks out of the box. For instance, he once had his mid-off so straight, almost just behind the bowler, in a Chennai Super Kings-Mumbai Indians game some seasons ago that the positioning seemed strange to many.

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The daring Dhoni noticed the big hitting Caribbean Kieron Pollard tended to close the face of the bat when he played on the on-side. The plan worked, the resultant catch was picked up at that very straight mid-off.

Changing dynamics

Twenty20 cricket challenges a captain and a bowler. You can have only two fielders outside the circle in the first six overs, and only five beyond the infield after that stage. And the dynamics are changing. Generally, if a paceman sent down a full length delivery or a yorker, a long-off and a long-on would be in place.

But now, with the batsmen moving across and employing the sweep or picking it early and striking it over mid-wicket or slicing it beyond point, a fine-leg, a squarish deep mid-wicket and a deep backward point have also become mandatory. Then when the short ball is sent down, square fielders on both sides, a fine-leg and a deep mid-wicket become compulsory positions. Because of the scoop shot though, the fine leg and third man have become finer.

Siva wants the spinners to attack in Twenty20 cricket and favours a strong off-side cordon, with some cover on the leg-side. “You need to bowl at a length fuller than the good length to allow the ball to drift and turn.”

Former South Zone batsman J. R. Madanagopal feels the left-arm spinners, in particular, have tended to bowl on the pads with a strong leg-side field since they did not want the batsmen to get under the ball for the inside-out shots on the off-side.

Field placements have to keep pace with the evolving Twenty20 cricket. It’s all about inventiveness.