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Ben and Sam discuss the mystery of mock drafts, how Joey Votto might age, the kinds of information scouts can trust, and the Royals' lineup evolution.

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Link to Dirk Hayhurst story discussed on today's podcast
Picture of "silly position" in cricket
Video of "silly position" in cricket

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As a British baseball fan, I get a weird sense of enjoyment whenever cricket permeates a discussion on America's favourite bat-and-ball game.

Anyway, there are basically four close-in fielding positions in front of the batsman - silly mid-off, silly mid-on, silly point and short leg. (There's a graphic of the most common positions here:

A very extreme example of fielders in close around the bat can be seen here:

That only tends to happen when the fielding side is well on top and the batting side are down to their worst batsmen who'll struggle to simply hit or just grind their way out of such situations, and also when the pitch is causing the ball to turn significantly.
Thanks for the extra info. This is my new favorite sports topic. Sam and I have serious cricket envy.

Question: How is the proper positioning determined? I was wondering if it had to do with handedness, but the image you linked says all of those positions can be used to defend against, say, a right-handed batsman. So how do you decide between silly point and silly mid off, or short leg and silly mid on? Does it have to do with how hard the bowler, uh, bowls? Or batsman tendencies? Do cricket teams study spray charts? Seems like they'd be even more important with a circular field.
This might be a bit long but...

The speed at which a bowler bowls will certainly have a bearing on positioning. You'll see on that graphic, for instance, that next to Point is Backward Point in brackets. Typically, for a fast bowler (at international level, the top fast bowlers will deliver the ball at about 90-95 mph) the fielder will be positioned at backward point because the ball is more likely to come off the bat at that angle. The same principle applies to the fielders positioned on the boundary on either side (Deep Point and Deep Cover on the off side, Deep Square Leg and Deep Mid-Wicket on the leg side). When it's a spinner (typically about 55-65 mph) bowling, those fielders square of the wicket will often come a bit forward of square.

As far as differing between different close-in positions is concerned, silly mid-off and silly mid-on tend to be a little further from the bat but still quite straight. Typically if the bowler's fast, you'll only really see a short leg in close.

Handedness doesn't come into it so much, but there are specialists at each position. Obviously the wicket-keeper is the most specialised, and he'll stay in that position all game. The slips - the ones who stand next to the wicket-keeper - and the gulley fielder(s) - who stand(s) next to the slips - will have very safe hands. Guys who field at point or cover tend to be the most agile and athletic - think of that as the equivalent of short-stop, I guess. It's usually the same players who field in close too - obviously quick reactions are the key here. The less-capable fielders tend to get stashed on the boundary or at mid-on or mid-off, less demanding positions.

Spray charts and similar graphics are used a lot, and widely incorporated into broadcasts too. The quality of cricket broadcasts in the UK - on TV and radio - is very high. Teams will develop plans for certain batsmen who often get out in similar fashion. They might have difficulty fending off the short ball, for instance, in which case the fielding team might position a man at short leg as well as men in the slips and the gulley. Or they might have trouble resisting the temptation to chase a wide delivery, in which case they're likely to bring the slips into play.

The other main variable is the conditions. If the ball is swinging (moving in the air) a lot, there's a good chance of the batsman edging it to the slips or to gulley. In this instance, the fielding captain might leave an inviting gap in the Cover area to entice the batsman to hit the ball in that area, a risky shot when the ball is swinging away. If the pitch is turning significantly, you'll likely see more men fielding round the bat.
Awesome. Won't pretend I understood every word, but I very much enjoyed the explanation.
This entire discussion brought back many bad memories of fielding at silly mid off! It was my punishment for having the weakest arm on the team.
Don't have too much cricket envy. Im very fond and nostalgic about it but it pales into comparison to baseball as a fan experience (although I'm very much in the minority in Australia).
What does the ball feel like? And does it hurt to get hit with it, specifically, in the nuts.
Yahoo! Answers says yes.
I've never watched Cricket, but I love that video. Especially the guy around the 2:10 mark. Not only is he not wearing a helmet, but he has a mustache that puts Jaffe's to shame. That may now be my second favorite catch after Ozzie Smith's barehanded dive.
Ben, congratulations for dragging Sam into the dark waters of Cricket again.

To supplement merlin90's comments, i'd add that there are 2 primary tactical reasons for posting 'silly' fielders.

The first is the fear of fast bowling. As has been noted here, a cricket ball hurts (it is pretty much the same weight as a baseball), and no-one likes a ball whistling past their nose at 90-95 mph+. Batsman often pop the ball in the air for an easy catch to silly mid-on or short leg, while protecting their features.

(for further YouTube fun, type in 'Brian Close Michael Holding 1976' , or look out for the wonderful documentary 'Fire in Babylon')

The second reason is where batsmen misread spinning deliveries from slow bowlers who can spin the ball in different directions. When they resort to guessing and holding the bat out they can often leave themselves open to the dreaded 'bat -pad' catch, where the ball hits the inside edge of the bat, then the protective leg pad, and loops into the air.

On a more trivial note, two of the catches in the YouTube video you posted were taken by the Australian David Boon, he of the Goose Gossage moustache. He is a legend in the cricket world as the record holder of the most beers consumed on any flight between London and Sydney (51 cans of beer)
Now I'm stuck in a Wikipedia loop. Favorite part of Brian Close's Wikipedia page: "At just over six feet tall he was a noticeable presence on the field."

Also, "As chairman of Yorkshire's cricket subcommittee he had many run-ins with the then Yorkshire captain, Geoffrey Boycott." Geoffrey Boycott! Cricket is the best.

Your cricketing education is moving on very nicely.

Geoff Boycott, now in his 70's, is still a commentator on TV and radio, passing on the lessons of past ages onto the youth of today. He is utterly lacking in any self-doubt and spends much of any game he commentates on missing the gentle jibes his colleagues are making at his expense.

In 1976 Boycott was probably the best batsman in England. Faced with the fastest team of bowlers ever assembled in international cricket, he had asked not to be picked. Instead, Brian Close, then aged 45, was chosen to face the 'chin music'.

Boycott returned to international cricket in 1977, three years before England had to play the West Indies again ;). Hope that helps explain a little bit of history.
Listening to Ray Davies sing "Cricket" on repeat.