Positive Running

Although boundary hitting gets all the glory, running between the wickets is the foundation of any batting total. It's possible to make maybe an extra 30-50 runs per 40 over innings with the small ball game, positive running throughout the side. Conversely, without it, that's 30-50 runs that may be missed, which can make all the difference between winning & losing.

Obviously, it is of no use just for some to run more positively if the whole side is not all aware of what is happening, so it is critical that the whole team adopts the same basic protocol & system of communication, otherwise running can be disastrous.

Positive Intent:

Firstly, both batsmen at the wicket should be awake & attentive to the possibility of making every run possible for as long as the ball remains live. In other words, be ready to run each time the ball is bowled & don't stop being ready to run until the ball becomes dead.

Certain exceptional circumstances notwithstanding, the ball only becomes dead when it crosses the boundary, or a wicket falls, or either the ball settles in the keeper's gloves or the bowler takes possession of it for the next delivery, or finally, when it is clear to the bowler’s end umpire that the fielding side & both batsmen have ceased to regard it as in play. So, if you are batting, make sure you continue to regard the ball as in play until any of the other situations arise to render it dead & be ready to take advantage of any disorganisation in the fielding side's control of the ball.

It is not sustainable to maintain the required intensity of focus throughout the whole innings, so once the ball is dead, by all means relax, but be sure to switch on again when the bowler approaches the delivery stride.

For the batsman on strike, the objective should always be to play the ball delivered on its merits, & that should be the full focus of attention until the shot has either been played or the ball is left to pass through to the keeper. But, as soon as this phase is completed, focus should shift immediately to the possibility of making a run.

There is one job to consider for the batsman at the non-striker's end & it is the only job, so there is no reason not to be doing it; moreover, the rest of the team will be depending on it. If you can put a number together in the time available, & you think that’s what I mean, then you have my utmost respect & admiration, but that is not the job in this instance.

Backing Up:

When you are the non-striker, all your available resources should be attending to giving yourself the best chance of making a run, if at all possible. With this in mind, the non-striker should back up with each delivery.

As the bowler approaches delivery, prepare to set off from the crease, & as the bowler enters his delivery stride, but not before, start off towards the striker's end. If you leave your ground ahead of time, you can justifiably be run out, so don’t take the piss, as the bowler is no longer under any obligation to provide a warning & death can be sudden.

The simplest way to accomplish this is to start from a position in which only the outstretched bat is inside the crease, while the feet & body are already a yard or so down the wicket, poised to set off. For an orthodox right arm over or left arm around bowler, if the bat is held in the left hand, the non-striker can watch the bowler during delivery, determine the precise point of entry to the delivery stride & maybe pick up some information about their release or action whilst backing up; & conversely, for a left arm over or right arm around bowler, holding the bat in the right hand will likewise facilitate reading the bowler.

Although the stretch is my preference, backing up can also be accomplished by timing a walk from behind the crease to in front of the crease to coincide with the bowler's delivery. DC1 likes this method as it allows him to pay continuous attention to the striker & the action at the far end, while he times passing the crease using auditory cues from the bowler. Either way, when the bowler delivers the ball, the non-striker should already be in motion & already be a yard or two from the crease down the wicket, so that when the ball arrives at the striker, the non-striker should be 3 yards, or more if the bowler is slow, down the wicket, in motion & ready to accelerate, call & run.

This should allow, more often than not, for the aware non-striker to return to safety if the ball is coming straight back, but already to have completed a significant proportion of the run if one is there for the taking.

The Call:

Early & decisive calling is the communication that ensures that both batsmen respond in time to achieve the common goal & its importance cannot be understated.

To simplify communications to using one of 3 readily distinguished, single syllable words with contrasting vowel sounds, maximises efficiency & minimises confusion, & they are all that is required to run with optimal effectiveness. Each call should be either "Yes", "No" or "Wait", made clearly & sufficiently loud that the batting partner can readily respond, & sufficiently early that there is minimal latency wasting the crucial time between making the assessment & executing the run.

There is often insufficient time & it is often visually impossible for both players to make an independent assessment of whether a run is possible & there’s never usually time for a discussion; moreover, having to wait for both players to make an independent assessment would often destroy the possibility of the run, so essentially, one player takes responsibility for the call.

Wherever the ball travels, its position will render one or other of the batsmen more at risk if a run is attempted. So, in general terms, responsibility for the call lies with the batsman running to the more dangerous end. Note that unless the ball has significantly changed it’s position & direction of motion in the meantime, after the first run, responsibility for the call will generally then shift to the other batsman & will continue to alternate until the relative position of the ball changes.

In reality, if the ball is hit in front of the wicket, responsibility for the first call lies with the striker. This may represent more than just half of the territory, but the striker generally has further to travel & from a lower initial velocity than the backing up non-striker, so they are ultimately more at risk of being run out when the ball is played in that area.

If the ball travels anywhere behind square of the wicket, responsibility for the first call lies with the non-striker, who will be running to the wicket keeper's end.

And if the ball travels square of the wicket, both batsmen should call, & if either calls "no", the run should not generally be attempted.

If it is your call, you are the runner for whom the risk is highest, so if you are confident you can make the run, you should call "Yes" & go for it. Your partner should be prepared to run, respect that decision & respond positively & instantly. If the non caller is responsive & ready, only the caller needs to assess the risk, so as soon as the call is made, the non caller & caller alike should be committed completely. Trust is absolutely essential here.

It is amazing how often people call "Go", meaning "Yes", despite the fact that it sounds so similar to the contrary call. Although a green light does stand for go, obviously this is not recommended as the vowel sound tends to be very confusing. If you have a predilection for calling, “go”, please try to train yourself out of it.

If you are certain that there is no chance that you could possibly ever make a run, irrespective of what the fielding side does, then you should call "No" & both batsmen should return to safe ground & stop, as on a red light. However, beware of deciding too early that there is no run on offer if this possibility still depends on a fielder having to execute some fielding skill successfully, because if that fielder then fails to perform as expected, some of the advantage to exploiting the opportunity has already been effectively passed up. So retain positive intent & only make this call when you are convinced all opportunity has gone.

If there is uncertainty & particularly if the likelihood of making a run seems contingent on something as yet undetermined, usually how a fielder behaves in relation to the ball, you should call "Wait", & as soon as the situation has clarified, follow this up with either a decisive call of "Yes" or one of "No". "Wait" should never be the final call.

Nor does it mean, stand still looking & see what happens, it means, continue preparing to run until it becomes clear whether the run is actually on or not. Positive intent continues to apply even during this call. In other words, while the call is "Wait", both batsmen should advance as far as they dare, in order to facilitate making a potential run, yet still feel comfortable in being able to return to safety should the fielder execute successfully. It's not red & amber, where you are stationary until you set off, it's just amber, where, it’s cricket, so go through if you can make it. But the key is decisiveness; after the wait, there needs to be a full commitment either to going for the run, or to going back to safety; either go through & keep going or stop behind the line; falling halfway in between is commonly terminal & if it’s one of those yellow box junctions, you’ll probably get publicly ridiculed too.

I think we can all agree, the traffic lights thing isn’t really that helpful.

There may be occasions when both batsmen give conflicting calls, either because the ball has gone square & both are responsible, or one is alert to a danger which the other has not perceived, or awake to an opportunity the other is not, or one or other is confused about the protocol. In such cases they need to figure out what's going on smartish & adapt to a reinterpretation of the circumstances. If the situation cannot be resolved definitively, fairly instantly & particularly if the run is a bit of a gamble, once the first hesitation has occurred, it is generally more prudent to settle for a call of "No" & live to run another day. This I have learned through bitter experience of not doing so.

Following an initial call of "Yes", it may be possible to embellish it with additional information, such as "Just one", "Push for two" , "Try for three", “Oi!”, "Oh yes!", "Look out", "Nice shot!" or "That fielder's got no arm", etc, but such embellishments should in no way be taken as replacing the requirement to keep calling each possible run on its own merits. Indeed, although it can be good for a partnership to convey additional information about the circumstances to each other as they run, simple embellishments can be misleading if situations do not proceed as initially expected, so they should never be taken as the last word. Every run should be treated as a separate enterprise & a new call should be made for each.

Batting Partnerships:

Each batting partnership is unique & in a successful one, although responsibility for calling lies only with one player at a time, both partners will consider & factor in the relative speeds of the other when determining the appropriate call or run. If your partner is about as quick as you are, or slightly quicker, this shouldn’t be an issue, but if your partner is significantly slower or dealing with an incapacity, bearing this in mind will help the partnership & by the same token, if you are struggling, or you find your partner is significantly quicker than you you should ensure your partner has the information to adapt.

As a batting partnership develops, each partner becomes more familiar with the running style of the other, particularly if they are paying attention to it. Eventually, partners may develop sufficient awareness of each other's body language & specifically, their running intentions, that they are tuned in & operating at an effectively telepathic level, such that calling becomes more or less superfluous. It may then become possible to take runs without announcing them to the fielding side through the call, & possibly gain a further time advantage over the fielders for each run attempted. The raw intuition can be reinforced with deliberate nods, looks or gestures, but it is important to stress that such awareness should not be taken for granted & that players should not attempt silent running practises until they have a fully established understanding based on using the 3 archetypal calls, always being prepared to revert to them should it become necessary.

The First Run:

Run the first run hard. This gets said a lot & there's good reason. While it may be possible to slow down & take it easier, when the ball is on its way back to the bowler or to the keeper & you are sure you have it beaten, it is not possible to accelerate again to beyond top speed, in order to make a run that you cannot otherwise make. Because of that, it is all too common to miss out on the possibility of subsequent runs, which should otherwise be made, or to be run out, when attempting to make them, when the first run is not run hard.

But. If you are in no danger of being run out, don't carry your momentum on past the crease, as you will only have to come back that much further should it become possible to make additional runs, & for a similar reason, don't stop paying attention to the state of play & to your partner, just because you have successfully completed one run; who knows what may have happened while your back was turned.

Running The Bat In:

When competing for a run, it is extremely advantageous to have your bat grounded on the far side of the crease as early as possible, ahead of your body getting there. The fastest way to get in is to dive for the crease, ideally with the bat almost horizontally ahead of you, grounding just as it reaches the crease. In most circumstances however, it is sufficient to stretch your bat out in front of you, & in time with your approach to the crease, bring your weight forward & aim to ground the edge of the bat several inches in front of the popping crease & then to drive it over the line, maintaining its contact with the ground throughout, as you run forward.

This is known as either running or sliding the bat in. It ensures that you become in at the earliest possible moment & so maximises your chances of avoiding being run out. By having the bat edge run along the ground, the moment it contacts the far side of the popping crease, you are in. There may be many other methods of getting in, but none are as efficient as this, & that can make all the difference.

Learning to coordinate the thrust for the line in the course of the run can take some time, but it improves with practise until it is natural. New rubber toe protectors on dry resistant ground can prove especially tricky to get to slide rather than grip & bounce, but there’s usually an angle using the back of the bat you can use while the rubber wears down & becomes less bouncy.

Coordinating the dive similarly improves with practise, but I wouldn't generally recommend it & you shouldn't want to be having to use the dive if you can possibly avoid it.

Sliding the bat in is ideal for most tight runs, but it is also good practise when the pressure on the run is reduced. And even when the run is under pressure, it is also good practise to try to decelerate as soon as possible after the bat crosses the crease, thereby making it more likely that you could make additional runs if there were overthrows. The quicker you can make your ground & turn for an additional run, the more runs you'll be able to make.

The Turn:

Although it is not as sophisticated as the turn used in competitive swimming, for example, there is a skill to turning for subsequent runs with optimal efficiency. It is similar to running the bat in, but differs in that as you approach the crease, you already know you will be turning for another possible run, so you will be aiming for the end of your bat to just cross into the far side of the popping crease. In this case you want to slide your bat, along the ground, the shortest distance possible over the back of the crease line, before turning & heading off in the other direction.

This combination turn is best achieved by getting lower to the ground on approach to the crease, stretching out & sliding the bat just over the crease line, whilst flexing into position to take off from a crouch in the opposite direction. Instead of the whole body driving the bat over the line when running the bat in under pressure, in the turn, the body can remain well outside the crease, while only the arm extends the bat across the line, before it brings it back again. Use whichever hand enables you to either maintain sight of the ball for longest before the turn or regain it soonest afterwards.

This is something that is again refined with practise, & you should also consider making the bat travel an obvious inch or two over the crease to avoid any risk of mistakenly making, or being called by an overzealous umpire for, a short run, but by law it only needs to have the smallest perceptible part of the bat grounded over the back of the crease line for the run to be completed.

If the ball is in sight as you approach the crease, make a decision as to whether another run, or more, is possible before executing the turn & prepare to communicate it to the other batsman, particularly if you consider they might be endangered by the proximity of the ball to their intended destination, but bear in mind it is most likely now their call.

If you are heading away from the ball as you approach the crease, make your turn first & then, including any information that your partner may be supplying, assess as quickly as possible whether or not another run is on & communicate it, as chances are it will be your call & you will now be heading to the more likely danger end.

If the batsman who had sight of the ball before the turn is sure there is no run to be made or can see the ball is accurately on its way back, he should augment or confirm the call with a "no", but if conversely he can see, while the other batsman cannot, that the ball is still out of fielding range, or has been misfielded, misthrown, under thrown or over thrown, such that a run is now definitely on, he should augment the call with a "yes", but be prepared to be overridden by a "no" from the other batsman, whose call it ultimately is.

The Straight Run:

When the ball is hit straight, the non-striker first has to make a rapid assessment as to whether or not he is in danger of the bowler gathering the ball or deflecting it onto the stumps, & if so, prepare to return to safe ground as fast as possible, but if not, the non-striker should be ready to go flat out on the striker's call.

The striker needs to make a judgement on the weight & direction of the shot, but should set off with the shot before making a final decision. If the bowler successfully fields the ball, the striker should call "No" & return to his ground, which is usually still not too far away, but if the bowler fails to stop the ball & a run becomes possible, he should bear in mind that the non-striker may have arrested his backing up, but call "Yes" & continue to go for it if he believes the run is now on.

If the ball is hit to either side of the bowler, whether a run is on depends on the weight of shot, the speed of the runner & depth of the mid-on or mid-off fielder, but an assessment should be made, which, under general circumstances of innings progression, should assume the fielder will generally gather cleanly enough. Although the assessment should be modified in cases of noted exceptional straight fielders, at either end of the spectrum, it is essentially about judging your own speed in comparison to that of the ball. Unless the ball is hit with such force that it reaches the fielder very rapidly, if the respective fielder is deeper than the far crease, there is often the chance of a run, so long as the striker is in motion & makes an early decision to run as the ball is in travel. If the striker stops & waits until he sees how the fielder behaves when at the ball, it will generally be too late to then make that run, so a typical "wait" call invariably becomes a "no". So with hits just off straight, making an early & decisive call is critical to take advantage of the time it takes for the ball to travel as far as it is hit. For the non-striker, it is critical to trust the call of the striker & respond positively.

The Drop & Run:

When there is an absence of close fielders a run can be made when the ball is played a minimal distance to one side of the wicket or the other. This is somewhat dangerous when the keeper is stood up to the stumps, but if the keeper is back, the most dangerous fielder is the bowler. As the non-striker has to make his ground before the bowler can convey the ball onto the stumps, he realistically has to be ahead of or level with the bowler throughout the run & to do that he has to be prepared for what is taking place. So, if the drop & run is to be successful, it should generally not be attempted without the two batsmen knowing they both understand the possibility beforehand.

The Gamble:

If the advantages of backing up & either running the bat in or making an efficient turn are combined, the actual distance covered during each run can be markedly reduced to shift the risk associated with a run in the batsman's favour. Each bowling crease & associated set of stumps is 22 yards apart, but each popping crease is 4' closer, so the distance between popping creases is only 19 yards & a foot. If you take 3 yards off by backing up & reduce the far end by another yard & a half, by stretching & running the bat in, the distance needing to be covered is only somewhere in the vicinity of 15 yards for the runner from the non-striker's end & a bit more for the striker, by an amount depending on whether the shot is played off the front or back foot.

Effectively it is not unreasonable for committed batsmen, running without hesitation & from a moving start, to be able to make this journey in 6 -7 accelerating strides, or less, & in a couple of seconds, & for the non-striker, even less. But if you consider the situation from the fielder's perspective, it is in most cases, far harder to be able to execute the appropriate interception, pick up & throw to hit the stumps within that couple of seconds & even more difficult to send the ball to a fielder who then has to catch it & remove the bails in that time.

Although it is a gamble which is taken knowing that the cost of failure is dismissal, in reality, except for when the ball goes straight to a close fielder, or is in the keeper's gloves (& even then sometimes too if they are so deep they have to throw) it is extremely difficult to prevent batsmen from making a run if they are sufficiently determined.

See 4:30

Psychological Pressure (The Game Within The Game):

Cricket is a game which is profoundly affected by the ebbs & flows of psychological advantage & disadvantage. Whilst it may go without saying that a fielding team & in particular, the bowler, can become deflated by conceding more boundaries than they feel they should, the value of similarly taking advantage of opportunities to make a run, should not be underestimated by comparison or better still, in complement. With each successful run that is made, the fielding side comes under increasing pressure to attempt to prevent those runs, particularly if they believe these are runs that should not be allowed. And the more daring the running between the wickets, the more painful it is for the fielding side to witness it taking place. Eventually it is not uncommon for the fielding side to increase their frequency of errors, which in turn increases the possibilities for taking runs which should otherwise not be allowed, & feeding back positively into the cycle, it increases the pressure on the fielders. Overthrows & misfields become more common, & particularly, if full advantage is taken through opportunist running, the fielding side may be reduced to making negative & critical comments to each other, or even abuse. For as long as such a phase in the game can be maintained, the batting side will retain a psychological advantage, which can prove critical to the game's outcome.

We’ve probably had plenty of opportunity to witness this from both sides of the coin, but an awareness of how it can develop may lend a degree of control.

Innings Development & End Game Running:

As the innings progresses the opportunities for running vary with the gaps in the field & the depths of the fielders, & the risk & reward calculations change. Every batsman in the lineup should be generally aware of the progression of the overs & the remaining batting resources, but as the end of the innings approaches, the awareness needs to become more precise.

In general & highly simplistic terms, the more wickets the team loses earlier in the innings, the lower the risk the subsequent batsmen should employ in shot selection & running decisions until the situation rebalances, & conversely, the greater the proportion of the innings the team completes without loss of wickets, the greater the risk the batsmen should employ until that balance changes.

It’s a complex & ever changing calculation, & it involves all sorts of unquantifiable factors & indefinable qualities, but an evolving awareness of the relative values of maintaining the personal wicket, experiencing time at the crease & maximising the runs scored from the remaining balls is something all batsmen have to deal with individually, but with respect for the overall benefit to the team.

When chasing a target, there is continuous feedback about how well the risk level employed is achieving the required run rate, but when setting a total the runs factor only as an essentially mysterious maximum possible & the only maths involves wickets & balls as remaining resources.

For most of the innings, the calculation only need happen intuitively, but it pays to take increasing risks in the running for as long as wickets remain in hand, & as the end of the innings approaches batsmen should become increasingly ready to try risky or predetermined running. This means players should be increasingly prepared to sacrifice their wicket for the cause, by attempting runs of increasingly lower probability of success the fewer balls that remain.

The value of a set batsman, who may be physically tired but is capable of hitting boundaries from balls a new batsman couldn't, cannot be understated, but as the innings approaches its conclusion, their value is contingent on continued performance & scoring rate. At a certain stage, having fresh legs & energy to burn may become more valuable to the team’s cause, but for the majority of cases, & barring physical incapacity, that would be the exception. In typical circumstances, if two batsmen, one set & scoring well, & the other relatively new to the crease, find themselves having the choice to sacrifice one runner or the other, it should be the newer batsman who gives themselves up.

Ultimately, sentimentality issues with set, egotistical & tired batsmen notwithstanding, if wickets ever exceed balls remaining, the non-striker should be sprinting with the delivery of the ball & running, & the striker should set off at top speed for the bowler’s end as soon as the attempt at a shot is complete, irrespective of the outcome. Even if the ball goes straight through to the keeper or back to the bowler, they will still have to execute properly under pressure to effect any run out, whilst a couple of seconds is plenty of time to throw the ball wildly somewhere where no-one is set to stop it & yield overthrows.

Although it is always the objective to see out all the balls of the allotted overs, there is only a point to those balls if they can be used to score runs. There are no benefits to the team for players to remain not out at the end & for there to be wickets in hand if these have been achieved at the expense of the team scoring or at least daring fewer runs. The whole team shares the emotional experience & the situations that bring personal glory also generally bring team success & a nice warm reflected glow, but towards the end of any innings, with resources in hand & potentially unutilised, this relationship can & often does flip. One need only recall the manner in which the batting average trophy was achieved in the Sunday 1s last year to get a sense of just how twisted it can get; for any newcomers who haven’t a clue what I’m on about, just ask anyone who was there what went on in the away game at Bear Flat. Unfortunately I have no clear & unbiased perspective on it, but our award winner is bound to want to regale you as he knows no shame.

In the Sunday NSCL anyway, there are no points awarded on the basis of wickets lost or taken, so the risk reward relationship remains relatively simple & continuous.

In the Saturday B&D, where bowling points are awarded according to levels of wickets taken, & batting points increasing every 25 runs, the innings progression & particularly the end game situation are rendered more complex, so here, batsmen should also be aware of any relevant bonus point milestone the team may be targeting or seeking to deny the opposition, & refer to the skipper if in doubt.

Run Outs:

Despite all precautions, in all likelihood there will be occasions when run outs occur. These are generally the result of poor or indecisive attention or decision making; poor or indecisive communication & response; or poor or indecisive running. Occasionally, run outs also happen because of exceptional fielding, strategic high risk sacrifice or freakish bad luck, but they should be recognised as exceptional & this should not deter from a positive attitude to running.

Where an attention deficit is the cause of the run out this should serve as a painful lesson to maintain awareness, which can be remedied through reflection & future intent. Likewise, the only solution for poor or indecisive decision making comes through the lessons of experience, which will be refined over time.

Responsibility for communication & response is a joint effort, but if the guidelines outlined here are considered & applied, failures in this department should be minimised & the same goes for the execution of running in general.

What I’ve outlined here is obviously an ideal that should be approached through intent & effort, but which we will inevitably fall short of in practise, because mistakes happen. Nevertheless, running is a skill like any other & it will only improve in proportion to the energy devoted.

Batting, bowling & fielding skills are all obviously important, but running, although comparatively overlooked, is similarly a fundamental aspect of cricket, one in which there is plenty of scope to develop & which it can benefit everybody in the club by improving. If no effort is put into developing the running game, it just remains unexploited potential. Everybody has to do it, & even if trying to hit boundaries is not working out, a good running game is independent of form & conditions & can be of indispensable value to the team. The only place to really refine running skills is out in the middle during a competitive game, but it is important to take a basic understanding of what you are trying to refine out there with you. Hence this.