Making Australia the world's best fielding nation
September 07, 2017
There's a plan to make Australia the best fielding nation in world cricket, and it's already in effect.
Tim Coyle is a man on a mission.
The former championship-winning Tasmanian Tigers coach, now a coaching consultant, has a goal of making Australian Cricket the best fielding nation in the world.
But hang on, don’t we already occupy that lofty position?
Coyle, soon to take on the job as head coach of the Melbourne Renegades in the Rebel WBBL, begs to differ.
“Possibly we did a few years back, but one of the things that has emerged in recent years is that overall fielding standards have probably declined from when we dominated, and had a presence when we were in the field,’’ he said.
“I know Brad Haddin has made it a priority to intensify the focus on fielding since coming on board as the Australian team’s fielding coach and re-establish Australia’s dominance in the field, and that will fit into what we are starting with here.”
“Fielding is now growing its own profile – the NCC have a big focus on it with Pat Howard and Troy Cooley firm advocates of our role in making Australian Cricket better, and we work closely with the States and Territories. We need to expose fielding as the specialist skill we have and take it to another level.”
The good news is that the first steps have already been taken to redress the perception that fielding has slipped, with a week-long camp at the BUPA National Cricket Centre recently introducing a specialist fielding skills component alongside the regular wicket-keeping camp.
The fielding camp featured input from Coyle, former Australian wicket-keeper and now Pathways Manager Graham Manou, state high performance coaches Gavan Twining (NSW), John Palmer (SA) and James Hopes (QLD) as well as respected baseball coaches and professionals Shayne Watson, Paul Gonzales, Logan Wade and Andy Utting.
“We had four baseball experts come in, players, coaches and managers, and while we make sure it stays cricket relevant, we share a lot in terms of similar skill sets, so it makes sense to listen and incorporate elements from that sport into ours as we take the game forward,’’ he said.
Young players Xavier Bartlett, Iain Carlisle, Blake Edwards, Samuel Elliott, Zak Evans, Dean Fry, Mackenzie Harvey, Nathan McSweeney, Lawrence Neil-Smith, Mitchell Perry and Lachlan Prince were part of the first intake with Coyle noting that the increased emphasis in fielding would initially roll out through youth programs.
“For our first specialist fielding camp, we worked with the State coaches and Talent Managers to identify some players who had come through the U19s who were good fielders, and then selected some who were players of interest for the next World Youth Cup. Then we bought some coaches in from around the country who have a passion for fielding and who will push fielding when they go back to their States.”
“We ran it alongside the wicket-keeping camp where we had five guys from the National Performance Squad who keep and then brought in another four targeted younger players so we could give them an opportunity and see how hard they are working.”
Throwing technique, power and accuracy were all covered during the fielding camp, with cricket’s brains trust quick to acknowledge the input from the baseball specialists that were on board.
“Throwing needs to get better at all levels so we do make a priority of that. And that’s for reasons like the health of the athlete, we need healthy shoulders for longevity, and how to perform to our best in games.”
“But in the past two years, I have noticed we are getting more cricketers coming through into the NPS with what we are looking for in in terms of having a high standard, so things are working in the States and Territories to push the envelope for us in this area.”
“I think the challenge we face now is ensuring that when players are practicing, fielding isn’t overlooked in favour of say more batting time.
“We all acknowledge that fielding can change a game. There are two batters out there, but there are 11 in the field. So, effective and dominant fielding means you get the half chance or claim the run out. Ideally we want fielders having the mindset that they are claiming wickets, and some of research we have done is working towards better acknowledgement of that.”
In that vein, the fielding resurgence will go beyond better catching, throwing and fielding if Coyle and this team have anything to do with it.
Among the innovations that is hoped will become commonplace is a creation of meaningful fielding statistics that go beyond just catches (or catches and stumpings for ‘keepers).
Research conducted over the past six years by noted Victorian coach Neil Buszard has produced parameters for fielding that will enable coaches and selectors to better consider the impact a player has on the game.
It is hoped the acceptance of ‘fielding averages’ and “impact ratings’ will resonate more with coaches, players and spectators, just as economy rate and strike rate for bowlers have grown in importance with the rise of T20 cricket.
So how would that work?
In cricket, a fielding average should measure the percentage of times a player properly handles a ball to gain a wicket.
It would be calculated by the sum of catches, run outs (including assists) and stumpings divided by the number of total chances (catches, run outs, including assists, and stumpings plus grade 1 errors.)
A Grade 1 error would be assigned as one that in the opinion of the scorer/coder should have been taken (catch) or got (run out or stumping).
The addition of Grade 2 and 3 missed chances would not be included as these ‘misses’ would be considered above ‘normal’ expectation for the standard, with the tougher the miss, the higher the rating.
Impact ratings are derived by using fielding strike rates and fielding averages to arrive at a figure which will assist coaches and players to target weaknesses in opposition teams and best utilize your leading fielders in key positions.