Monday, July 23, 2007

Provoking a batting collapse - a possible "set piece"?

As Ed Smith notes in his excellent book Playing Hard Ball: the batting collapse is the biggest catastrophe in test match or four-day cricket.

A batting collapse is the main way in which the fortunes of a match can be reversed very suddenly and irrevocably.

The terrifying momentum of a batting collapse derives from the element of positive feedback. Positive feedback is when each increment of change tends to lead to further change in the same direction.

In a batting collapse each wicket that falls brings a new batter to the crease (and new batters are at their most vulnerable) and - what is more - a worse batter than the one who has been dismissed. Therefore it gets easier and easier for the bowling side to keep taking wickets; harder and harder for the batting side to stop the serial fall of wickets.

All of which makes it hard to understand why so little attention appears to be devoted to the tactics of batting collapses. The response to en emerging collapse appears to be left-up to the players on the field; who look to be improvising tactics with varying degrees of assistance from the captains.

Yet surely it would make sense to plan for batting collapses - so that batters are instructed how to bat and what to aim for; and even more so that fielding captains have plans ready for perpetuating a batting collapse.

Bowling sides should have a set of pre-determined plans about how to initiate *and maintain* an incipient batting collapse: which bowlers will be used in what order, what will be their role, what field settings are most helpful, optimum rate of overs, the psychology of inducing 'mental disintegration' among the incoming batters etc.

Initiating a batting collapse should be approached as a 'set-piece' - like taking a corner or a free kick in football - by deploying smoothly rehearsed sequences selected from a pre-determined repertoire.