Adaptive formats in cricket — good for…anything?

Clubs in England have been able to play cricket for nearly a month, now.

It’s not cricket as we know it, perhaps, but recreational cricket is back [1]. T20 & 40 over, mostly, from what I have seen, but with multiple junior formats.

Perhaps it is easy to forget, now, the trepidation around the dreaded phrase “adapted” (or was it “adaptive”) gameplay that was promised by the ECB’s roadmap for the return of recreational cricket.

Because the original version of the ECB Roadmap described a step 4 of “socially distanced matches” with

  • COVID-19 adaptations for adult cricket
  • COVID-19 adaptations for junior cricket
  • Shorter formats — to allow more matches to take place…

And that third bullet received an especially blunt response on my twitter timeline:

“If it’s 8-a-side, 20 overs, then I’m not playing.”

I can just about see this for adult, recreational cricket — you pay your money for a game on Saturday afternoon, and you want a game. Maybe T20 doesn’t cut it, for you. For some, it’s a run chase and a result, for others, a few hours respite from the day-to-day worries.

But is a 40-over bash, with little context, really going to be that satisfying? Might something more deliberately “developmental” have been a better way to spend the truncated summer of 2020?

And for junior cricket, what format might give players the opportunity to learn more about the game?

What follows is a lengthy, almost entirely subjective, analysis of what constitutes a “good” format — it reflects what I believe (based on 45 years playing experience, 10 years coaching), with no empirical data to back it up. Of course, you are free to disagree…just apply your own rules to justify what you do. But don’t do something without thinking through why.

Step 4 — not as bad as many feared.

When the big day arrived, and the ECB were finally able to announce the move to step 4 on the pathway and a return to recreational cricket, they managed to surprise many of us by allowing “…competitive 11-a-side cricket, with no mandated format in terms of overs…”

Yes, there are adaptations — no tea, no changing rooms, some social distancing and runners to steer clear of the pitch (might be worth persevering with, this one!) — but clubs and leagues have largely been able to play any format they like.

But could it have been better?

I think so. And here’s why.

One of the guiding principles of the constraints-led approach is that any practice activity should be as “representative” as possible i.e. players receive cues in practice that mimic those seen under match play conditions — batting practice really needs the inherent variability offered by a live bowler, catching practice is best when the ball is struck from a bat, bowlers need a batter down the other end if they are not to become inflexible “bowling machines”.

I would apply that requirement to match formats asa well as practice, especially this season.

Do any of the adapted formats meet the requirement to be “representative? Or, perhaps, which can be most representative of “good cricket”?

What do we need from an adapted format?

I have outlined a few adapted formats below. They all include batters vs. bowlers, which is a great start, so gameplay is representative of the game in its fundamentals (because all formats are simple variants of the game).

Can we ask for more, and try to introduce elements to the games that start to approximate tactical components of the game?

I have been very taken with the principles of Game Sense and Teaching Games for Understanding (in its more formal definitions): that by playing a game, players develop appreciation of what the game comprises and thence heightened tactical awareness (what is needed to win); from that awareness, they are better able to make appropriate decisions in play, and hence to display (more) appropriate skill execution; from this appreciation, awareness, decision making and skill execution, players are empowered to deliver enhanced performance.

Can an adapted format sit within the TGfU process? Ultimately, what do we want players to learn?

What is good cricket?

I’ll admit my prejudice right now (probably obvious from the reference to “40-over bash” — “it’s just the JPL”).

I like “proper” cricket, at club level i.e. the “time” game — start at 2pm, minimum of 20 overs in the last hour, starting at 6.30pm; win, lose, draw and tie all possible if both teams (and, more importantly, both skippers) are open to the possibilities of the format.

It’s not going to happen, except, maybe, amongst a group of 50+ year olds intent on reliving our youth.

But I think the style of cricket engendered by the “time” game is still very relevant to all cricket, if players are to understand the challenges of “good cricket”. And I want batters and bowlers to be set realistic challenges.

  • Batting:
    • score runs
    • don’t get out
  • Bowling & Fielding:
    • take wickets
    • deny the batsman run scoring opportunities

The whole point of the game is to score runs when you bat (and you can’t score runs sat in the pavilion), and to save runs when you field (remembering that the best way to stop someone from scoring is to get them out). And the team with most runs wins.

There will be times when scoring fast will be more important than not getting out, and vice versa, times when taking wickets matters more than saving runs. Players and captains need to be adaptable, and creative, to succeed.

Will they learn this on a schedule of 20 or 40 overs matches?

Bowling 10 overs, every delivery a foot outside off stump with 4 fielders in the covers might not win you many games if you need to take 10 wickets, so the bowler has to learn how to get batters out.

Adapted formats — any good for “good” cricket?

So — of the adapted formats, which comes closest to allowing players to play “good cricket”? To learn and apply the experience and skills that will pay dividends in all cricket?

T20

Popular commercial format, so it does look (superficially) like the professional game. But how many club players, let alone junior cricketers, have the skill-set to replicate what they see from the Blast, or the IPL? Very few, I suspect. And the format is very unforgiving — bowl a bad over, and you won’t bowl again; get out, and (at club level) you’ll wait a week for another knock.

This (scarcity of opportunity) was touted as one of the great strengths of Aussie Grade cricket. With games spread over two weekends, you really valued your chance to bat, because you could wait three weeks for another dig. But you had all day to bat, so if an opening bat took an hour to get to 10, he’d still have the rest of the day to try out a more expansive approach.

Take an hour to reach double figures in T20, and you might have just 5 overs left (and some very frustrated teammates sat in the pavilion).

40 over

Perhaps a little better than T20 (not twice as good, IMHO), because there is more time to play, but the match rules favour confident hitters over accumulators, and woe betide the nervous starter; bowlers who can keep the run rate down will be valued (and picked) over wicket takers who go at more than 5s & 6s.

Results can be very one-sided — no fun losing by 150 runs on a Saturday afternoon (probably not that much fun winning by that margin, either).

Last Man Stands

For those who don’t know this format: 8-a-side, 20×5-ball overs/innings, last man can bat alone if 7 wickets fall; emphasis on getting a game in (an innings typically lasts just 45-50 minutes).

I’ve not played LMS, but I did officiate for two seasons in a local league, and I saw some very good (if often one-dimensional) cricket.

Every one gets a game — you need 5 bowlers (keeper can take off the pads to bowl, but has to change at mid-innings and can’t change back); with only 6 outfielders, no-one can hide in the field; with only 8 batters and an emphasis on getting on with the game, it was rare for teams to end an innings with many wickets in hand.

As with the two limited overs formats, however, the skills of scoring and saving runs are going to be more valued than protecting or taking wickets — 20 runs off an over and out is so much more helpful to a team in a short format than 20 off 10 — although with only 8 wickets to play with there is a higher premium on not getting out when batting, or taking wickets in the field, than in T20.

Terriers/Pairs

When I first player Club Colts cricket, back in 1974, this was the format we used.

Pairs batting, each Pair receive a set number of overs, and batters were not dismissed when they were Out, but lost runs (or the bowling team gained runs…harder to record in the scorebook, somehow).

We played 8-a-side (but it works with 6- or 10-a-side); each pair received 4 overs; everyone on the fielding team (except the ‘keeper) had to bowl at least 2 overs.

I can remember, even 46 years later, being told that this “isn’t proper cricket — you have to play ‘if it’s out, you’re out’, not ‘minus 5 runs’”. But we really enjoyed the game.

And, of the adapted formats, Pairs just might come closest to a representation of  (my definition of) “good cricket”.

Batters are rewarded for scoring runs, but also for not getting out. There is a balance to be found, depending on the opposition and the match situation, but generally players are encouraged to develop both attacking and defensive options.

Bowlers try to prevent run scoring opportunities, but are also rewarded for taking wickets. Again, players are challenged to find a balance; success in the game requires adaptability.

Less competent batters can make a huge contribution with the bat simply by not getting out (by not giving up “minus 5s”); that might require a good defensive technique, or the courage to face a bowler quicker than you are used to, or it might mean getting off strike to let your partner face the bowling. But if they are faced with a weaker bowler, then the “rabbit” needs to have scoring strokes to deploy.

Because everyone bowls and bats, the “big boy” (or District/County Age Group star) can influence a game, but he can’t dominate — he might get to bowl 3 overs, but these need to be used wisely (did I say – the captain actually has to think in pairs cricket?). Every bowler need to develop a plan, if not to take wickets then to restrict scoring opportunities.

In conclusion

Curiously, it appears that the most representative adapted format is actually the one with the most adaptations.

There certainly is a place for “if you’re out, you are out” and “all out attack vs. dogged defence”, but I am looking for a format that encourages players to think, to deploy appropriate tactics, to become more adaptable.

So, for me, the Pairs have it, as a development format. Maybe even as an alternative for (adult) recreational cricket in the severely truncated 2020 season.


[1] Many (most?) Leagues appear to have done away with promotion and relegation in 2020. There might be league tables (the League I used to play in has restructured into 16 regionalised divisions in 5 tiers, for 2020), and “champions” in September, but they will only ever appear as asterisked entries on League websites and handbooks, if they are listed at all.

Some Clubs have decided not to field teams in competition this summer (see Cricket Yorkshire’s article on Pocklington CC’s decision). Some are aiming to field 5 or 6 XIs every Saturday.

Published by Andrew Beaven

Cricket coach, fascinated by the possibilities offered by the game. More formally - ECB level 2 cricket coach; All Stars Cricket Activator & Tutor; Chance to Shine & Team Up (cricket) deliverer; ECB ACO umpire; ECB Coach Developer

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