Journal of Athletic EnhancementISSN: 2324-9080

All submissions of the EM system will be redirected to Online Manuscript Submission System. Authors are requested to submit articles directly to Online Manuscript Submission System of respective journal.

Research Article, J Athl Enhancement Vol: 2 Issue: 5

A Survey of the Performance Demands of Cricket Fielding and Wicket-Keeping

Danielle MacDonald1,2*, John Cronin1,2,3, Michael McGuigan1,3 and Richard Stretch4
1Sport Performance Research Institute New Zealand, AUT University, Auckland, New Zealand
2New Zealand Cricket, Christchurch, New Zealand
3School of Exercise and Health Sciences, Edith Cowan University, Perth, Australia
4Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa
Corresponding author : Danielle MacDonald
Sport Performance Research Institute New Zealand, AUT University, Private Bag 92006, Auckland 1142, New Zealand
Tel: +64 9 921 9999
E-mail: [email protected]
Received: September 28, 2013 Accepted: November 16, 2013 Published: November 20, 2013
Citation: MacDonald D, Cronin J, McGuigan M, Stretch R (2013) A Survey of the Performance Demands of Cricket Fielding and Wicket-Keeping. J Athl Enhancement 2:6. doi:10.4172/2324-9080.1000127

Abstract

A Survey of the Performance Demands of Cricket Fielding and Wicket-Keeping

Cricket is one of the most watched team sports in the world, largely due to its popularity in Commonwealth countries. It is a game that has three formats (Test, One Day, and Twenty20) and all players are required to bat and field, whereas only some players bowl. Despite the importance of cricket fielding in the context of the game, there is a paucity of peer-reviewed research investigating fielding compared to the other components of the game. The only study which has investigated fielding skills with respect to position acknowledged the wicket-keeper as a specialist position within the fielding unit. However, despite this there have been only two studies investigating the wicket-keeper specifically. One study investigated the footwork patterns of wicket-keepers and the other investigated the forces exerted on the knees with different wicket-keeping crouch techniques.

Keywords: Cricket; Performance; Wicket-keepers; Fielding; One Day International Cricket (ODI)

Keywords

Cricket; Performance; Wicket-keepers; Fielding; One Day International Cricket (ODI)

Introduction

Cricket is one of the most watched team sports in the world [1], largely due to its popularity in Commonwealth countries. It is a game that has three formats (Test, One Day, and Twenty20) and all players are required to bat and field, whereas only some players bowl. Despite the importance of cricket fielding in the context of the game, there is a paucity of peer-reviewed research investigating fielding compared to the other components of the game [2,3]. The only study which has investigated fielding skills with respect to position [4] acknowledged the wicket-keeper as a specialist position within the fielding unit. However, despite this there have been only two studies investigating the wicket-keeper specifically. One study investigated the footwork patterns of wicket-keepers [5] and the other investigated the forces exerted on the knees with different wicket-keeping crouch techniques [6].
The physiology of cricket fielding has been investigated using global positioning system (GPS) units to establish the amount of time and distances covered at defined exercise intensities [7-9]. Cricket fielding has been shown to be a low intensity exercise with short bursts of high intensity efforts followed by long recovery periods [7,10]. However, this type of data collection has failed to provide any indication of the direction of movement, which is specifically relevant for the wicket-keeper who has to crouch repetitively and be able to dive and move in all directions. The studies differentiated between player roles, identifying participants as bowlers, batsmen, and fielders. The studies differentiated between player roles, identifying participants as bowlers, batsmen, and fielders. However, in spite of the differences between the functions and requirements for the different field positions, except for the wicket-keeper no differentiation between the field positions has been investigated until now.
Cricket is generally considered to be a very traditional game, and anecdotal evidence is often relied upon in coaching and training. The paucity of research suggests a lack of knowledge as to what is required for successful fielding performance in the modern formats of the game. It is important to understand and measure the performance requirements in order to be able to improve performance. Given this lack of information and the scope of what little research there is, the aim of this study was to gather expert opinion of players, coaches, and strength and conditioning coaches regarding the performance requirements of elite fielding and wicket-keeping. In particular, the technical and physical requirements of fielding in cricket were investigated via the information collated from a webbased survey. It could be postulated that there would be variation in fielding performance requirements in the three different formats, and therefore questions were related specific to the different formats. The information collated from this study should assist in furthering the understanding of some of the performance requirements of elite cricket fielding and wicket-keeping.

Methods

Participants
As expert opinion regarding elite cricket performance was being sought, participants were included if they were involved with at least first class professional cricket (Major Association (New Zealand), State (Australia) or county cricket (United Kingdom). In order to gather the most complete view of cricket fielding performance, participants included players (former and current), coaches and strength and conditioners.
In total, 41 people participated in the study, filling out the survey to varying degrees of completeness. Twenty two participants identified themselves as players (past and present), 19 as coaches (a mixture of head, assistant, batting, fielding and wicket-keeping) and 12 as strength and conditioning coaches. Some participants identified themselves as more than one role, and therefore will have answered questions from the perspectives of each. The online survey was designed to only show the questions relevant to each participant, based on the roles and fielding categories they provided in the demographics section of the survey. This resulted in small and unequal sample sizes for each group, as not all roles and categories applied to each respondent. The participants were all between the ages of 18 and 54 and had a mean of 10 ± 9 years involvement in professional cricket. By completing the survey, participants indicated that they had given their informed consent to participate in the study. The research methods employed in this study were reviewed and approved by the Auckland University of Technology Ethics Committee (12/293).
Data collection
A mixed methods research design using a survey was used to collect information of interest to the researchers. The survey was designed using the online survey platform Survey Gizmo (www.surveygizmo.com) [11]. The survey included information for participants and informed consent, a demographics and basic information section and, sections to be answered by wicket-keepers, close, inner and outer circle fielders, and coaches and strength and conditioners as applicable.
Using the over-arching research question "what are the performance requirements of elite cricket fielding", the content of the survey was determined by consulting researchers and cricket coaches. The survey was pilot tested before distribution; the functionality of the online survey and the content was reviewed. The consultation with cricket researchers and coaches allowed the survey's face and content validity to be established. The questions were focused on the technical, physical and mental aspects of performance in each fielding position i.e. wicket-keepers, close, inner and outer circle fielders. The overall data collection was qualitative, using a combination of closed and open questions. The questions included ranking the importance of physical fitness and attributes, where participants were asked to assign a number from one to five (1 being not important at all, 5 being very important) and short answer type questions regarding skills and physical attributes. The questions were asked with respect to each format of cricket, however, one day international (ODI) cricket is the main focus of this research and therefore the bulk of the survey analysis will focus on this format.
Survey distribution
As the participants in the study were to remain anonymous, the primary researcher did not directly contact potential participants. The invitation to participate and the link to the survey was distributed to contacts in the cricket and scientific community (including researchers and coaches), who were then ask to distribute the survey to potential participants, a technique known as 'snowballing' [12,13]. The survey was sent to contacts in New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.
Data analysis
Answers to the survey were downloaded and collated on an EXCEL spreadsheet. As there were only forty-one respondents to the survey, for the quantitative questions all data was pooled and no sub-group analysis was undertaken i.e. coaches vs. players vs. strength and conditioning coaches. As the survey included questions which required participants to give each physical fitness component an importance ranking of one to five (one being not important, five being very important), it was possible to perform some basic analysis. With regards to the closed Likert scale questions, the mean response was calculated for each of the answers and depicted on spider plots for ease of observation and trend analysis. When interpreting these spider plots, a higher number reflects greater importance attributed to that quality. In terms of the open questions, higher order themes were identified and key points which emerged are also discussed.

Results and Discussion

Given that the purpose of this study was to identify the performance demands of fielding position with respect to different positions, the results are presented and discussed with respect to wicket-keeper, close, inner and outer circle fielding respectively.
Wicket-keeper
In total, 32 participants responded to the questions regarding wicket-keeping performance. The importance of each fitness characteristic with respect to each format of the game with reference to the wicket keepers can be observed in Figure 1. Respondents considered agility, core and lower body strength/power to be the most important physical characteristics for a wicket-keeper; however, no values were assigned an importance rating less than 3.
Figure 1: Importance of physical characteristics for wicket-keepers with respect to each format of cricket.
Agility (4.7) emerged as the most important physical characteristic for wicket-keepers in ODI cricket. In fact the three most important (>4.2) characteristics remained the same across the three formats; agility, lower body and core strength/power. Upper body strength/ power (3.4) was considered to be the least important attribute in all three formats, which was logical due to the wicket-keeper not being required to throw long distances.
Thematic analysis of ODI Cricket: Several themes emerged from the open-ended questions posed to players and coaches that can be broadly classified as skill and technique, body type and physical attributes, movement and stillness, mental factors.
Skill and technique: Of the players and coaches who responded, several highlighted the importance wicket-keeping technical ability and skills (referred to as glove work). Avoidance of injury was frequently cited when players were asked the reason for their particular crouch technique. In addition to the glove work required of wicket-keepers, in the modern game, a wicket-keeper is expected to be proficient in batting to make significant contributions to the score. Therefore, players are likely to be selected based on their batting ability, in addition to the ability to keep wicket. Of the 10 wicketkeepers surveyed, the majority (n=6) batted in the middle order, two batted in the top order and two batted in both the top and the middle order.
Body type and physical attributes: The respondents suggested that certain physical attributes would be advantageous for a wicketkeeper; the ideal being "short of stature and lean". The phrase 'low skin folds' was repeatedly used when asking about the physical characteristics for wicket-keeping. This suggests that there is a certain degree of value placed on anthropometric measurements. One coach responded that the ideal physical attributes for a wicket-keeper would be "proprioception, speed, and agility, perfect balance of strength, power and size".
Movement and stillness: The phrase 'power z position' was used by several respondents in response to the question regarding the pre-movement for a wicket-keeper. "The Power Z position is when the knees are bent forward and the athlete is on his toes, the head is forward and the torso is obviously leaning forward as well, in essence the body forms the shape of a Z somewhat, I refer to it as the 'spring' that is coiled ready to be released!" was how the Power 'Z' position was explained by one coach, another described it as "the pre loading position a wicket-keeper gets into before they need to react". An online search of the term described the 'power z position' as " the posture that provides stability, control, power and appropriate head and hand height to a wicket keeper preparing to move into a position to take a ball” [14].
It is logical to think that movement is important for performing sport specific tasks however the importance of 'stillness' or stability prior to movement was mentioned repeatedly by players and coaches alike when asked about the technical factors of wicket-keeping. Coaching literature recommends that a wicket-keepers stance should give them the best possible sight of the ball, to watch it unblinkingly [15]. This is to enable them to have a clear view of the ball and to have a stable balance point from which they can react in any direction.
Mental factors: The importance of the mental aspect of performance emerged repeatedly from participant’s responses. When players were asked why they became a wicket-keeper, several players made the point that they wanted to be involved with every ball of the innings, as they 'had bags of energy' and were 'easily distracted in the outfield'. Several players also highlighted the fact that a coach had steered them in the right direction when choosing to become a wicketkeeper. It seems that certain personality traits such as enthusiasm and the ability to concentrate for every ball of the innings might be useful for a wicket-keeper, and that it is important for coaches to be able to recognise these traits in young players so that they may be developed into a wicket-keeper.
Close fielder
In total, 21 participants responded to the questions regarding close fielding performance. The importance of each fitness characteristic for close fielders can be observed in Figure 2. Respondents considered agility, core and lower body strength/power to be the most important physical characteristics for a close fielder; however, no values were assigned an importance rating less than 3.5.
Figure 2: Importance of physical characteristics for close fielders with respect to each format of cricket.
Anaerobic fitness, and upper, and lower body strength/and power were considered to be less important the shorter the format. In fact, upper body strength/and power was comparatively the least important physical attribute from all formats of cricket (<3.7), which is slightly surprising given that it has been demonstrated as important for cricket batting [16]. The importance of aerobic fitness increased as duration of the format increased (T20 4.1, ODI 4.3, and Test 4.5). In all three formats there was ≈1 point difference between the most important (agility) and least important (upper body strength/ power) characteristics. No participant indicated that there were any differences in close fielding in terms of technical or mental factors between the three formats of cricket.
With reference to the ODI format, agility (>4.6) emerged as being particularly important for close fielding performance, for all formats of cricket. Speed (4.4) was the second most important characteristic for close fielders. None of the physical characteristics received a score less than 3.6, which suggests that respondents considered all physical characteristics to be reasonably important for close fielders. Upper body strength/power again emerged as the (comparatively) least important physical attribute for close circle fielders (3.6). By definition close circle fielders are placed in positions close to the batsmen, and therefore do not have any great distances to throw. However, they are usually required to return fielded balls quite quickly in order to attempt to dismiss the batsmen. This would suggest that reactive speed rather than strength is important for fielders in these close positions.
Thematic analysis of ODI cricket: Several themes emerged from the open-ended questions posed to players and coaches including preparation for movement, mental factors and body type and physical attributes.
Preparation for movement: When asked about the pre-movement phase for close fielders, several coaches highlighted the importance of the preparatory movement. Phrases such as 'wide stance' and 'split step' were used when they responded to these questions. The coaching literature refers to this as a 'trigger' movement. Jonty Rhodes, arguably one of the best fielders of the modern game, used a trigger movement which left him balanced, with weight equally spread over both feet, but also primed and energised to move in either direction as required [15].
Getting/staying low prior to movement was also highlighted. A balanced, low stance is important for close fielding. This is because it is easier to move upwards for a catch than go down for it [15]. Due to the proximity to the batsmen, players fielding in this area have very little time to react or adjust position; therefore appropriate preparation for movement is important.
Mental factors: In response to questions regarding the mental requirements of close fielding performance coaches used the words 'concentration' and 'focus', emphasising their importance. One coach said that close circle fielders need to "set position, read batsman's movement, narrow focus to contact area". The greatest fielders in the game, especially those who occupy positions close to the bat, often have highly advanced skills of anticipation. To be a good catcher requires excellent reflexes and alertness and anticipation [15].
One player commented "again it's about attitude... If you want to be a great fielder and love it then getting ready for each ball should be natural". Another said, "Just tell myself to get involved and this keeps me alert. My routine if this is one is an attitude to want the ball which creates my sense to ready to move and exercise".
Body type and physical attributes: When asked to comment on any other physical qualities which would be ideal for a close fielder, numerous responses suggested there are ideal physical characteristics for a close fielder. On this point players and coaches seem to agree that close fielders should be "shorter in stature. Ability for explosive movement. Lean but muscular".
A player made the comment that close fielders should have "Long limbs but not excessive height"; another response said "big hands". These responses suggest that there should be anthropometric measures which would help identify players who have the potential criteria for close fielding. However, the traits mentioned are quite specific, and while having them may be seen as advantageous, it would be unwise to exclude players from this position due to anthropometric measures.
Inner circle fielder
Twenty participants responded to the questions regarding close fielding performance. The only characteristics in which there was a marked difference (1 point) in importance between formats were anaerobic (less important for ODI and Test cricket than T20) and aerobics fitness (less important in ODI cricket than the other two formats). Predictably, aerobic fitness increased in importance as the duration of the game increased (4.2, 4.3, and 4.5 for T20, ODI, and Test cricket respectively). Upper body strength/power was once again the least important attribute for all formats of cricket, being given an importance value of ≈3.7 between the three formats. While it is the least important attribute, this is the highest importance value provided thus far; suggesting that upper body strength/power is increasing in importance as the fielding positions move further from the batsmen (Figure 3).
Figure 3: Importance of physical characteristics for inner circle fielders with respect to each format of cricket.
In terms of the ODI format, agility (4.8) has emerged once more as the most important physical characteristic for inner circle fielding performance. However, as speed becomes increasingly important as fielders move further away from the batting crease, this is reflected in speed being given an importance value of 4.7, just 0.1 behind agility, suggesting that they are almost equally important. In fact, the only physical characteristic which was given an importance value less than 4 was upper body strength/power. Their fielding positions require inner circle fielders to stay within the 30 yard (27 m) inner circle of the cricket field, and therefore they are not required to throw great distances.
Thematic analysis: Several themes emerged from the open-ended questions posed to players and coaches that can be broadly classified as mental factors, technique and body type and physical attributes.
Mental factors: When questioned about mental routines in fielding one player responded "always attitude for me. Routine means little until you have the right attitude of wanting the ball to come to you. This to me is 90% of fielding because technique means nothing unless you want to play your role in the field." Another said "switch off after ball is bowled. Relax. Switch on as the bowler begins to approach the crease. Tell myself that this ball is coming to me". The mental component of performance appears to be a theme which is occurring for each of the fielding categories discussed thus far.
Technique - catching and throwing technique: From the responses regarding technical aspects of inner circle fielding performance, it is clear that using the correct technique for catching and throwing is important. 'Hand position' in particular was repeatedly mentioned in responses; another said "fingers up/fingers down". From these responses we can infer that there are different techniques required in different scenarios, and it is important to be able to select the correct technique. For example, coaches generally advise that fingers should be pointing upwards when taking high catches, and pointing downwards (so that the hands form a cup shape) when catching low. There are even such subtleties in taking high catches; fingers up with the palms of the hands turned towards the face is referred to as the 'English' method. The 'Australian' method of high catching uses fingers up, palms facing outwards toward the ball; this method is often used in bright conditions, so that the fielder can get a better view of the ball against the light in order to take the catch [15].
Technical considerations regarding throwing were also highlighted; coaches repeatedly suggested that players had to be quick to "realign to target" and "establish some sort of base" to be able to throw accurately. The ideal throw is thought to be an overarm baseball throw, however the nature of the game doesn't always allow for ideal technique (in fact, fielders may need to throw the ball underarm, or even backhand), therefore it is important that fielders set themselves up to throw by regaining balance and control of the body as quickly as possible. Respondents emphasised that throwing technique included the whole body, mentioning feet and hips specifically when generating throwing speed. One respondent said that inner circle fielders should be "Light on their feet with good hands, good span, and quick throw". The throw, like a bowler's action, must be smooth, grooved, fluent and repeatable [15].
Footwork: It became clear from the inner circle fielding responses, that footwork was a key part of inner circle fielding success as it was mentioned in every phase of throwing performance (pre-movement, movement, catch and throw). The timing of footwork in particular was highlighted as an important technical part of performance. In the pre-movement phase coaches recommended that players stay on the balls of their feet, with a 'stable base' or 'set position'. Another respondent said that the inner circle fielder pre-movement should be a "split position, [with] weight on balls of feet". Several different types of preparatory footwork were identified from the responses, for example split, drop jump and jump, which are trigger movements used to get in an ideal, stable position to move in any direction [15]. Descriptive words such as 'smooth' and 'efficient' were used to describe footwork and movement. Balance was another factor which was mentioned in all phases of the performance (pre-movement, movement, catch and throw).
Outer circle fielder
Nineteen participants responded to the outer circle fielding questions. Interestingly, outer circle fielding is the only fielding category in which the most important physical characteristic was not agility and the most important characteristic was different for each format (Figure 4). The most important characteristics for outer circle fielding were lower body strength/power (4.6), speed (4.8) and aerobic fitness (4.7) for T20, ODI and Test cricket respectively. As the duration of the game increases, there is increasing emphasis put on the importance of aerobic fitness and speed when compared to other formats.
Figure 4: Importance of physical characteristics for outer circle fielders with respect to each format of cricket.
Outer circle fielding is the first and only category in which agility was not considered to be the most important physical characteristic for ODI cricket. Instead, speed (4.8) was reported to be the most important characteristic in ODI cricket, followed by lower body strength/power and agility (both 4.6) respectively.
The fact that aerobic fitness was the most important attribute (4.7) for an outer circle fielder in Test cricket is testament to the large distances they can cover, up to 14 km per day in a Test match [10]. The greater intensity and explosiveness of T20 cricket would contribute to lower body strength/power, anaerobic fitness (sprint ability) and speed being considered almost equally important for T20 outer circle fielders.
Thematic analysis: Mental factors: Players reported that they employed both physical and mental routines when preparing to field in the outfield. This included watching the ball, bowler and batsman for visual cues, and 'switching off' or relaxing between deliveries. One player explained "Switch off after ball is bowled. Relax. Switch on as the bowler begins to approach the crease. Tell myself that this ball is coming to me." Another mentioned the fact that he had a preparatory checklist he used to get ready. Anticipation was repeatedly mentioned by coaches as important for in the pre-movement phase of performance.
Technique: Given the distances in the outfield, it is importance to have a strong throw; both players and coaches agreed on this fact. One coach mentioned that "fast shoulder rotation produces a strong throwing arm". In fact, strong throwing was repeatedly mentioned as being important for outer fielding performance. Given this, the authors were surprised that upper body strength/power was consistently rated as the least important physical characteristic for fielding. However, while considered unimportant when compared to the other characteristics, it received an importance value greater than 3.4 for all fielding positions, further supporting the fact that no physical characteristic was unimportant. Additionally, a coach mentioned that an outer circle fielder should be fast across the ground. One respondent also mentioned flexibility as an important attribute for an outer circle fielder to have.

Further Discussion

Comparing the importance of physical attributes for all positions on the same plot allows the relative differences in importance to be observed (see Figure 5).
Figure 5: Importance of physical characteristics for each fielding group in ODI cricket.
Agility, aerobic fitness and core strength and power were considered almost equally important for all fielding positions. This suggests that all fielders require a certain level of agility and athleticism for cricket fielding. Speed and aerobic fitness increased in importance as fielders move further out into the field and have greater distances to cover. While upper body strength/power was considered to be the least important physical attribute for all positions, it cannot be considered to be unimportant and does increase in importance as fielders move to the outfield. Throughout the survey, respondents suggested that low skin folds/leanness was beneficial for all fielding categories. This suggests that cricketers should be as lean as possible without compromising their speed or strength. For all positions, the importance of the mental component of performance was commented on. However, there was no mention made of how the mental aspects of performance could be quantified or assessed.
Of the total respondents, 20 identified themselves as some type of coach. In general, coaches agreed that there was distinct variability of the skills required to field at different positions, but highlighted the importance of players possessing as many of the skills and qualities as possible. In the coaches' only section of the survey, coaches were asked about the methods they use to test different aspects of physical fitness. Coaches generally all used a yoyo/beep intermittent recovery test to measure aerobic fitness. There was less agreement between the tests used for measuring anaerobic fitness; several coaches reported that they used repeated sprint tests but there was also mention of the Wingate test, 'strength and flexibility tests' (with no further elaboration). A variety of one Repetition Maximum (1RM) tests were reportedly used to assess the lower body (squats, counter-movement jumps, dead lifts) and upper body strength/power (push ups, bench press, prone pull ups) respectively. Core strength/ power was generally assessed with planks, lumbar pelvic control testing, one coach also mentioned that he made sure to include some sort of rotational test also. Speed was generally assessed over a variety o f distances ranging from 5 to 30 metres. The 505 and T-agility tests were reportedly used to assess agility; however in particular, responses highlighted the lack of a valid cricket specific fielding agility test. Generally the same physical tests were used to asses all players, with little to no differentiation between fielding positions.

Conclusions

The results provided insight into the factors which coaches and players believed were important attributes for each fielding category for each format of the game. Agility emerged as the most important physical characteristics for wicket-keepers, close and inner circle fielders, and the second most important attribute for outer circle fielders behind speed. However, no attributes were given an importance value of less than three on the Likert scale, suggesting that none can be considered unimportant for any fielding category.
Several emergent themes recurred throughout the survey including the importance of specific techniques and movement patterns, anthropometric characteristics and mental factors. The importance of mental factors on performance was emphasized repeatedly, particularly for the wicket-keeper and close fielders. This information provides insight into some of the demands associated with wicket-keeping and fielding. The findings of this survey can provide good indicators for the assessment of players’ suitability for different positions, for the development of training programmes, and could be of assistance to coaches in selection of players and in providing guidance to the players. The information also highlights some areas that may require further research.

Acknowledgment

There is no conflict of interest for this investigation. Ethics approval was sought and granted for this study.

References

















Track Your Manuscript