Cricket for Americans: 5 Feb. 2019: On fielding

I dig this Tweet a lot.

I like knowing what he is talking about, in the same that I still get a thrill from seeing cricket scorecards and knowing what everything means.

But Peter Miller’s got a such better eye than me, than most people, really. I’ve seen that episode of Midsomer Murders, and I never would have in a million years caught the fielding nonsense that Miller did. But, that’s the cool thing about cricket: it’s an onion that you never stop peeling. You just never stop learning. It’s layers run deeper than, I think, any other sport — I realize that this goes against the grain of what I was writing about just yesterday — and it’s to the point where it doesn’t just have its own lingo and slang, it has its own fully formed language, with cadence and rhythm and a deep and wide vocabulary. Just looking through the replies to Miller’s Tweet proves that out:

“I’m assuming the bowler is also the captain to think that those dobbers merit two slips and some weird short gully.”

“The biggest TV cricketing scandal since Helen Daniels gave Jelly Belly Bishop out to a Lou Carpenter leg break that was missing the stumps by 6 inches.”

“He must have battled hard for 80 odd not out and then been put in the covers. Poor lad, I feel for him.”

“The skip can’t justify two grippers for those gentle mediums.”

“Attacking field though, he must have been ripping them”

“Only explanation is that the guy on strike is established batsman and the guy at the other end is new and lower-order. If that’s true, though, having a slip and a gully with everyone inside the ring makes no sense. Makes the whole rest of the programme untenable tbh.”

“Square leg umpire too close, square leg fielder standing basically behind the umpire, mid wicket in no mans land, mid on and mid off too close”

“I’m concerned the bowler was running in before the umpire was anywhere near in position. This game is a circus.”

You get the idea, but the gist of the comments is important: cricket people could talk about fielding setups literally forever. And that’s why I think cricket’s onion has more layers than even baseball’s: the fielding options. In Test cricket, you can literally put fielders anywhere you want, depending on whether the captain wants to attack or sit back, whether you’re bowling pace or spin, what the wicket condition is, what the weather forecast is, whether the batsmen are openers or middle orders or bottom feeders or any combination there of.

Just look at the almost countless names for cricket’s fielding positions:

Wicket Keeper
First Slip
Second slip
Third Slip
Fly Slip
Long Stop
Third man
Deep Gully
Silly Point
Deep Point
Cover Sweeper
Cover Point
Extra Cover
Deep Extra Cover
Silly Mid Off
Mid Off
Long Off
Straight Hit
Silly Mid On
Mid On
Long On
Forward Short Leg
Short Mid Wicket
Mid Wicket
Deep Mid Wicket
Short Square Leg
Square Leg
Deep Square Leg
Leg Gully
Long Leg
Leg Slip
Short Fine Leg
Deep Fine Leg

Unfortunately, as the game gravitates slowly away from Test cricket and toward the ruckus quick-hit atmospheres of domestic T20 leagues — for good or for ill, whether the fans or the players want it or not — fielding still matters, but I have noticed it matters in a different way: it’s less about the right number of slips, and more about the circus catches that make the ESPN highlight reel.

To wit:

Now, of course, it’s a symptom of a disease: T20 domestic leagues are all about big hits and cheerleaders, so it would follow that fielders would want in on the mix too. And if guys come out trying to score 50 off of 14, they are going to put a few balls in the air which will create more chances for these sorts of diving acrobatics. But I don’t like it. It’s nonsense. It’s a dumbing down of the game. I don’t mind T20, it’s a bit of a necessary evil and can be damned entertaining, but I do mind the format stripping down the layers, making it a fist fight instead of a chess match. I’d prefer a nuanced discussion on the fielding in fictional cricket game over a Jason Roy circus catch any day.

Thankfully, we are all alive and well in an era that features both.

Let’s enjoy it while we can.

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