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Cricket Coaching

How to break partnerships with Liam Plunkett

by Wisden Staff 4 minute read

Liam Plunkett has taken 100 wickets in 65 ODIs, making him the third-fastest to reach the milestone for his country. Here is the England and Yorkshire quick on making inroads in the middle overs of a one-day match.

Being the middle-man

I tend to bowl in the middle overs of ODIs to try and break partnerships. There can sometimes be a bit of a stalemate in the middle of an innings, with batsmen just trying to rotate the strike, but if I can be aggressive and take wickets in that period I can put a dent in the total. A couple of set batsmen can do some serious damage in the last 10 or 15 overs so two or three wickets in the middle can be vital.

To do that you need to attack. Under Morgs [Eoin Morgan] we’re always looking to be aggressive, sometimes keeping catchers in and trying to take wickets with field placings or short balls.

Liam Plunkett discussing tactics with England ODI captain Eoin Morgan

Understanding your role

If you know your role in a team, then that’s half the battle. Of course you need to be adaptable and have a Plan B and Plan C but it gives you real confidence if you know the night before a game the situation you’re going to be in and can visualise that.

I’ve always thought the best captains are the ones that have given me a specific role. In one-day cricket I know I’m picked to bowl quick during the middle overs, be aggressive and take wickets.

Bowling with a wobble seam – getting up to 90mph and really trying to smash the wicket – has managed to get me quite a few wickets. And the odd bouncer, too.

Pulling back your length

The ball doesn’t do much in the middle overs so line and length is hugely important. When I was a bit younger I used to be able to swing the ball more so I could bowl a little bit fuller to give myself the best chance of lbw, bowled or nick-offs. Now I generally try and keep my length back a bit and bowl a tighter line.

Know your opponent

At our level we generally know the batsmen we’re up against. We’ll have a meeting before the match and the backroom staff will send a link to our phone or we’ll put footage on our iPads so we can watch them.

Marlon Samuels leaving the pitch after being dismissed lbw by Plunkett in 2017

At club level you don’t have that luxury but it’s still important to really watch your opponent during a match and see where they like to score their runs. If a batsman likes to give themselves room and you keep bowling wide to them, then they’re going to put you away all day. Adjust your line, close the batsman up and set your field accordingly.

Marlon Samuels is someone who likes to give himself room and then use his hands to hit the ball over point or third-man. In the T20I at Durham last year we kept it tight in at him and he tried to force a straight delivery through the off-side and got caught at mid-wicket. The whole team knew the plan.

Keeping perspective

As much as I love cricket and I love playing it, it’s just a day at the office. You can’t take it away with you. There are more important things in life and if you let it affect you and start over-analysing your performances then you’re not going to perform next time.

After a bad first spell that’s gone for a few I put that to bed straight away and focus on how I can help win the game for my team from there. It’s a given now that bowlers will go for runs so you need to keep things in perspective.

South Africa’s legendary bowler Shaun Pollock was a big influence on Plunkett

Work with what you’ve got

I was playing for the Dolphins in South Africa and Shaun Pollock, who was one of my heroes growing up, gave me a piece of advice that sounds simple but it has always stayed with me. I was trying to swing it away, as I usually did then, and it just wasn’t happening for me. He said, ‘On different days it might not happen – you’ve just to work with what you’ve got on that given day’.

If the ball’s not swinging away but there’s a strong cross-wind angling the ball into the batsman, then use that. Go for the lbw dismissal. Or if you’re not feeling great and your rhythm’s not right, use whatever’s on offer to get through it. Every day is different.

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