How to win the first hour of a match.
The start of a match often dictates how it will develop. Getting a flyer or taking early wickets puts pressure on the opposition. As a team you should look to dominate from ball one. To do this you need to follow these tips:
Be prepared to win the first hour: Practice the specific skills required for each discipline to maximize your impact at the start of the game. Don’t expect just to turn up on the day and perform.
Arrive early as a team and judge and understand the wicket and conditions. Plan accordingly, discuss roles and be warmed up and organized ready to go from the off. Know your roles, and how to approach the all-important first hour dependant on the result of the toss.
The Disciplines required:
• BATTING: The top three, particularly the openers, have a defined role in all formats of the game. Know your role and your style of play. A golden rule is to not get out in your first 12 balls. By the time that you have received these you should have been in long enough to judge conditions and to have got your innings moving.
Keep it Simple: Know your strengths and play to these. Know areas where you are not as strong and avoid these.
Know where your off-stump is: Practice drills reading line and length in the nets. Learn how to leave well.
Get your feet moving: Incorporate the “Hayden Shuffle” or similar to get you thinking about your footwork.
Respect the conditions and the bowling but always look to be positive: Don’t take on the conditions if they are difficult up front or don’t give it away with over-confidence or risky/flashy shots if the conditions suit batting.
Be patient where necessary: Bide your time if the game situation allows. Do not attack the good ball out of frustration. The bad ball will come. You cannot score sitting in the pavilion.
Build your partnership: Set small achievable targets. Rotate the strike, punish the bad ball. Pressure the fielders with positive calling and running. Be aware of the gaps and weaker fielders and play to these. This will soon undermine the teamwork of the opposition.
• BOWLING: The opening bowlers should aim to work in tandem and to apply as much pressure up front on the new batsmen, even if conditions favour the batting side.
Be ready to bowl from ball 1: Bowlers must use the conditions and new ball. Your first ball should not be a half-track loosener. Be warmed up and mentally prepared and focused to extract as much from the new ball as possible. Do not give the batsmen the momentum and confidence.
Know your target areas: Recognise what the conditions require and your role within the game. If bowling on a belter of a track aim to frustrate the batsmen with consistency, stringing the dot balls together. Frustration may lead to mistakes, particularly if they feel the ball coming on to the bat but are not scoring.
Don’t experiment: Your full armory of deliveries should have been perfected in the nets. Do not try a big in-swinging Yorker if you haven’t mastered it in practice. You should be looking to build pressure and this may be a release ball if you are fractionally off target.
Don’t try too hard: This may sound a strange comment but not every ball can be a wicket-taking delivery. You need to work on building the pressure and creating a mistake, especially on a good track. If conditions favour the bowlers this can often cause them to try all the tricks in the book which often wastes the advantage. Stick to the game-plan and hit the right areas. Make it as hard for the batsman as possible.
Bowl to your plan/field: Spraying the new ball both sides of the wicket only helps the batsman settle and adjust to the pace and bounce of the wicket. It also offers opportunities to score and hands over momentum. It is difficult for the captain to set a field and heads may drop from your teammates.
• FIELDING: A vital component of the game at any time but especially at the start of a match.
Set the tone: Back up your bowlers. If the batsman does play a shot make sure to stop it.
Nothing gets past, and if it should, chase hard and commit to saving runs. Anticipate every ball coming to you. Back up throws and other fielders when they are fielding. “Make every run a prisoner.”
Take your chances: If/when opportunities arise, you must be ready and able to take them.
All fielders should be alive and concentrating from the start and specialist fielders should be in the right positions, having practiced the necessary skills in the warm-up.
Work as a unit: Ring fielders should be co-ordinated and primed, walking in to make the batsman feel if he is being squeezed in. Chase the ball in pairs and get the ball in quickly to stop extra runs.
Recognise conditions: If the ball is coming on and the outfield is fast ring fielders can give themselves a few extra metres but still should walk in, allowing a bigger ring to cut off angles for boundaries but still cutting off quick singles. Close fielders should take their lead from the keeper, setting themselves in the correct positions to take edged chances.
Promote positive talk, vibe and teamwork: Keep on-field talk positive and directed to boost teamwork. Work hard on body language being strong (often neglected) if things are not going to plan. There is often no need to bring a batsman into it if you are squeezing the pressure on. This may have the counter-effect of making him more determined and will also detract from your positive words. Let your fielding do the talking and subconsciously undermine the batsman.
Whichever you are doing, taking first knock or in the field, use these tactics and skills to take advantage of the first hour and aim to dictate the game from there.