Fielding in the sport of cricket is what fielders do to collect the ball when it is struck by the batsman, in such a way as to either limit the number of runs that the batsman scores or get the batsman out by catching the ball in flight or running the batsman out. A fielder or fieldsman may field the ball with any part of his person. However, if while the ball is in play he wilfully fields it otherwise (e.g. by using his hat), the ball becomes dead and 5 penalty runs are awarded to the batting side unless the ball previously struck a batsman not attempting to hit or avoid the ball. Most of the rules covering fielders are in Law 41 of the Laws of cricket.
In the early days of Test cricket, fielding was not a priority and many players were sloppy when it came to fielding. With the advent of One Day International matches, fielding became more professional as saving runs became more important. A good fielding side can often save 30+ runs in the course of an ODI innings.
Since there are only 11 players on a team, one of whom is the bowler and another the wicket-keeper, at most nine other fielding positions can be used at any given time. Which positions are filled by players and which remain vacant is a tactical decision made by the captain of the fielding team. The captain (usually in consultation with the bowler and sometimes other members of the team) may move players between fielding positions at any time except when a bowler is in the act of bowling to a batsman.
There are a number of named basic fielding positions, some of which are employed very commonly and others that are used less often. However, fielding positions are not fixed, and fielders can be placed in positions that differ from the basic positions. Most of the positions are named roughly according to a system of polar coordinates - one word (leg, cover, mid-wicket) specifies the angle from the batsman, and is optionally preceded by an adjective describing the distance from the batsman (silly, short, deep or long). Words such as "backward", "forward", or "square" can further indicate the angle.
The image shows the location of most of the named fielding positions. This image assumes the batsman is right-handed. The area to the left of a right-handed batsman (from the batsman's point of view) is called the leg side or on side, while that to the right is the off side. If the batsman is left-handed, the leg and off sides are reversed and the fielding positions are a mirror image of those shown.
Also the bowler, after delivering the ball, must avoid running on the pitch so usually ends up fielding near mid on or mid off, but somewhat closer to the pitch.
Additionally, commentators or fans discussing the details of field placement will often use descriptive phrases such as "gully is a bit wider than normal" or "mid off is standing too deep, he should come in shorter".
If any of these rules is violated, an umpire will call the delivery a no ball. Additionally a player may not make any significant movement after the ball comes into play and before the ball reaches the striker. If this happens, an umpire will call and signal 'dead ball'. For close fielders anything other than minor adjustments to stance or position in relation to the striker is significant. In the outfield, fielders may move in towards the striker or striker's wicket; indeed, they usually do. However, anything other than slight movement off line or away from the striker is to be considered significant.
The main decision for a fielding captain is to strike a balance between setting an attacking field and a defensive field. An attacking field is one in which fielders are positioned in such a way that they are likely to take catches, and thus likely to get the batsman out. Such a field generally involves having many fielders close to the batsman, especially behind the batsman in either slip or short leg positions.
A defensive field is one in which most of the field is covered by a fielder; the batsman will therefore find it hard to score large numbers of runs. This generally involves having many fielders far from the batsman and in front of him, in the positions where he is most likely to hit the ball.
Many factors govern the decisions on field placements, including: the tactical situation in the match; which bowler is bowling; how long the batsman has been in; the wear on the ball; the state of the wicket; the light; or even how close you are to an interval in play.
Some general principles:Attack new batsmen : A batsman early in his innings is more likely to make a miscalculated or rash shot, so it pays to have catching fielders ready.Attack with the new ball : Fast bowlers get the most swing and bounce with a newer ball, factors that make it harder to bat without making an error.Attack when returning from a break in play : Batsmen must settle into a batting rhythm again when resuming play after an overnight break, meal, drinks break, bad weather or a pause for treatment to an injury.Attack with quality bowlers : A team's best bowlers take the most wickets, so get the most benefit from the support of an attacking field.Attack when the pitch helps the bowler : A moist pitch helps fast bowlers get unpredictable seam-movement of the ball, while a dry, crumbling pitch helps spin bowlers get unpredictable spin and damp, overcast conditions help swing bowlers. All three situations can lead to catches flying to close attacking fielders.Attack when the batting team is under pressure : If the batting team is doing poorly or has low morale, increase the pressure by attacking with the field. Defend when batsmen are settled in : It is difficult to get batsmen out when they have been batting for a long time and are comfortable with the bowling. The best tactic is often to defend and force the run scoring rate to slow down, which can frustrate the batsman into playing a rash shot.Defend when the batting team needs to score runs quickly : In situations where the batting team must score quickly in order to win or press an advantage, slowing down the rate of scoring runs lessens their chance of doing so.Defend when the batting team is scoring quickly : If the batsmen are managing to score runs quickly, it is unlikely they are offering many chances to get them out, so reduce the run scoring rate.Defend when the ball and pitch offer no help to the bowlers : If there is no movement of the ball and the batsmen can hit it comfortably every time, there is little point in having lots of close catching fielders.Defend when using weak bowlers : If a relatively poor bowler must bowl for any reason, the best tactic is often to limit the potential damage by containing the free scoring of runs.
When describing a field setting, the numbers of fielders on the off side and leg side are often abbreviated into a shortened form, with the off side number quoted first. For example, a 5-4 field means 5 fielders on the off side and 4 on the leg side.
Usually, most fielders are placed on the off side. This is because most bowlers tend to concentrate the line of their deliveries on or outside the off stump, so most shots are hit into the off side.
When attacking, there may be 3 or 4 slips and 1 or 2 gullies, potentially using up to six fielders in that region alone. This would typically be accompanied by a mid off, mid on, and fine leg, making it a 7-2 field. Although there are only two fielders on the leg side, they should get relatively little work as long as the bowlers maintain a line outside off stump.
As fields get progressively more defensive, fielders will move out of the slip and gully area to cover more of the field, leading to 6-3 and 5-4 fields.
If a bowler, usually a leg spin bowler, decides to attack the batsman's legs in an attempt to force a stumping, bowl him behind his legs, or induce a catch on the leg side, the field may stack 4-5 towards the leg side. It is unusual to see more than 5 fielders on the leg side, because of the restriction that there must be no more than two fielders placed behind square leg.
Another attacking placement on the leg side is the leg side trap, which involves placing fielders near the boundary at deep square and backward square leg and bowling bouncers to try to induce the batsman to hook the ball into the air.
No member of the fielding side other than the wicket-keeper may wear gloves or external leg guards, though fielders (in particular players fielding near to the bat) may also wear shin protectors, groin protectors ('boxes') and chest protectors beneath their clothing. Apart from the wicket-keeper, protection for the hand or fingers may be worn only with the consent of the umpires.
Fielders are permitted to wear a helmet and face guard. This is usually employed in a position such as silly point or silly mid-wicket, where proximity to the batsman gives little time to avoid a shot directly at their head. Due to the discomfort, the duty of fielding "under the helmet" or "under the lid" is often delegated to the most junior member of the team. If the helmet is only being used for overs from one end, it will be placed behind the wicketkeeper when not in use. Some grounds have purpose-built temporary storage in the form of a cavity beneath the pitch, approximately 1m x 1m x 1m in size, accessed through a hatch flush with the grass, which can be used for storing a helmet, shin pads or drinks for the fielding side. 5 penalty runs are awarded to the batting side should the ball touch a fielder's headgear whilst it is not being worn unless the ball previously struck a batsman not attempting to hit or avoid the ball. This rule was introduced in the 19th century to prevent the unfair practice of a fielder using a hat (often a top hat) to take a catch.
As cricket balls are hard and can travel at high speeds off the bat, protective equipment is recommended to prevent injury. There have been some recorded deaths in cricket, but they are rare.
However, players are rarely selected purely because of their fielding skills, and all players are expected to win their place in the team as either a specialist batsman or bowler (or both). This even applies to wicket keepers, who are generally expected to be competent middle-order batsmen.