These are days in Twenty20 cricket when the batsmen, emboldened by the odds in their favour, are getting away with audacious – rather outrageous for some - strokes.
A Glenn Maxwell explodes on the arena, with both power-hitting and harnessing the angles on a field. The reverse sweep to a yorker outside the off-stump – previously thought difficult to score from — is an example of how much the batsmen innovate and create in the shortest format.
Consequently, the field positions and the reasoning behind them have changed.
For instance, the long-on and long-off are a lot straighter these days, and the short-third man and the short-fine leg are rapidly replacing the conventional third man and fine-leg.
As captains strive to narrow down the angles, field positions are being redefined in this format. Since the short third-man and short fine-leg have become crucial positions, quick-footed men guard the fence between a fine deep- point and third-man, and a fine deep square-leg and fine-leg. These are very unconventional positions.
The Hindu caught up with one of the foremost cricketing brains in the country, V.V.S. Laxman, to discuss these shifts in thinking vis a vis field placements.
Laxman, also a mentor in Sunrisers Hyderabad, said, “The major change is that the batsmen are playing shots 360 degrees around the ground. Now they are scooping the ball over the ‘keeper’s head so the entire ground comes within their range. Then they reverse sweep and sweep so fine. It’s all because of the creativity of the batsmen that the thought process has changed.”
This is precisely the reason the short fine-leg and the short third-man have become such important slots in Twenty20 cricket with batsmen reverse sweeping even yorkers outside off. “They can cut singles as well as save boundaries,” said Laxman.
The former Test batsman said, “When a paceman wants to bowl short, there is a conventional deep square-leg, a fine-leg and the mid-on is moved up. The idea is to force the batsman on to the back foot.” The field works if the batsman is not emphatic against the short-pitched deliveries.
Laxman said the ploy was different if the bowler wanted to pitch it up. “The mid-on goes to long-on, the fine-leg and the square leg come up, the short mid-wicket is moved to deep mid-wicket, there is a deep extra cover, and the long off. The plan is to force the batsman to play straight with enough protection for the bowler.”
The left-arm spinners and the leg-spinners too are bowling to different fields. “Instead of a conventional cover we now have an extra-cover on the boundary, a short point and a short third man to save singles or cut boundaries against a left-arm or a leg-spinner.”
He explained “The idea is to force the batsman to play on the front foot. Usually, if you hit the ball over covers it is a boundary because of the long gap between the sweeper cover and the long-off. You are tempting the batsman, at the same time you have some protection. Now the gap between the long-off and the deep extra cover is less.”
On the emerging fields for off-spinners, Laxman said, “The change comes when the off-spinner removes short mid-wicket and gives extra protection on the off-side to players such as Maxwell, who reverse sweep well.”
The bowlers invariably switch round the wicket to change angles and deny room to the batsmen outside off-stump. Here the emphasis is on getting the off-side field right . Often, there is a point but no man at the conventional deep point; only a sweeper-cover who is expected to cover plenty of ground. The tussle between the batsmen and the bowlers is an ongoing one. And it will continue to evolve.