Nick Knight: How mastering the art of kidology has given New Zealand the upper hand in one-day game

COLUMN: England's one-day team has suffered for many years from inherent conservatism

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The Independent Online

Kidology is the hidden art of one-day cricket. Sure, it’s great if your team has exciting, powerful opening batsmen, skilful bowlers and dynamic, athletic fielders.

The natural reality, though, is that the quality of these assets will vary from team to team and be highlighted during a World Cup campaign when all teams compete over a relatively short period. Not as short as it could be, but that’s another natural reality – the interminable length of the Cricket World Cup.

The ability to convince the opposition that your team is confident, even if deep down you are quaking in your boots, is a great skill. Essentially, your demeanour portrayed through your body language counts for so much.

From a team perspective, a settled side coming into a tournament will portray a certain confidence to the opposition. Players will know their specific jobs within that team. From an individual perspective, it’s the one-to-one battles where the importance of kidology plays out.

Here are some examples. Opening batsman walks out to bat, looks at the field that’s set for him and sees four slips and a gully. Take it from me, his first thought is this lot don’t think much of him. Automatically you are working your way into the head of the batsman, who can react in a couple of ways. He can say, one: “Right, I’ll show this lot” or, two: “OK, I’ll be careful for a while with this field”. Either way, the fielding side is making the batsman think and perhaps forcing him to play in a way he is not comfortable with. It also keeps it very simple for the bowler, who as he runs in knows that with this field he has to pitch the ball up.

If a player is suffering with poor form, it’s too easy to show that outwardly: shoulders hunched and limply walking to the centre as a batsman, for instance. It’s also easy to fall into the trap of thinking you are the only one suffering from fear of failure when, in fact, most if not all of those in the game have the same fear.

The best players will fight that feeling, stick their chest out, be authoritative with the request to the umpire for a guard, take their time and make the bowler wait – in essence making out that you are the one in control and bossing the moment, even though inside you feel much differently.

Bowlers can do the same, exude an air of confidence with their body language during a spell. This can sometimes be confused with the murky world of sledging. A bowler doesn’t have to say anything, just offer a stare, even if he gets clattered for an over.

There is nothing better for a batsman than to see a visibly frustrated bowler. Of course, this is simple to write but not exactly straightforward in the heat of battle. But the best players find a way, be assured of that.

Acquiring kidology skills are not learnt poring over old cricket footage or searching through endless, meaningless statistics. They are learnt by simply talking, tapping into the knowledge of those that have done it. Not in yet another team meeting but maybe on a golf course on a day off or over a drink at the bar. This may sound old-fashioned but throwing around ideas in a relaxed environment can often be productive.

England’s one-day team has suffered for many years from inherent conservatism. Perhaps that is just part of our make up. Comments abound such as, “If you get in, don’t get out” and “restrict boundaries”. Management have a big role to play. I can’t comment on the current England set up as I don’t have first-hand experience, but leaders of the team have to allow freedom of expression, remembering why they picked a player.

It helps if the player’s method is well thought out and clear, but a coach must back a player even if on a given day it doesn’t come off. The key, though, is the well thought out method, a result of much soul searching.

One-day cricket’s status as an aperitif to the Test match game has not helped England’s 50-over sides, something the game’s authorities in our country have to address and not just pay lip service.

Two years ago, England won the one-day series in New Zealand. Brendon McCullum had a vision then of how he wanted his team to play and the coach Mike Hesson must also take credit, since now, of course, New Zealand are one of the best sides in the world, if not the best.

Over that two-year period, McCullum and his team have become the masters of kidology, not only out-thinking oppositions but engendering an almost unrivalled self belief which could well result in New Zealand lifting the World Cup.