The third-man position is never a sinecure; quite the contrary. A competent third-man fielder can save runs and often run batsmen out. But the ball comes out awkwardly here, unlike anywhere else. Spin on the ball is always present, which sometimes acts and sometimes does not, depending on how well the ball bites or fails to bite the ground.
When spin acts, the ball breaks sharply from right to left. Any fumbling or misfielding by the third-man means a safe run to the other side. Even if the ball is picked up cleanly, it is not easy to prevent two determined runners from getting a run every time the ball is hit toward the third man.
It is said that there is always a run for the third man. Perhaps that is a bit more than the truth, but it is certainly very difficult to prevent occasional short runs. The exact position of the third man varies according to the ground state and Batman’s cutting power. The third-man fielder should ensure that he is in his right place and will do well to consult the bowler whenever there is any uncertainty as to whether he should be deep or near, square or fine.
As to his distance from the wicket, his main guide must be his idea of the distance at which he can prevent one run.
He must always remain cool and collected. Some stolen runs must not bother him. And as he has at a minimum no time to spare if he is to prevent singles, he must cultivate a very quick, accurate return both to the bowler and the wicketkeeper. The ball should fly low and straight from his hand to the top of the stumps at full pitch. Gunn, Maurice Read, and Mr. G. Mordaunt send beautiful returns from third-man. They throw just below the shoulder, which is the fastest method.
The ball flew like an arrow. There is no doubt that this kind of throw is the most effective for returning the ball from any position in the near field. Some men use it with great success when returning the ball from the long field. It is worthwhile to mention, incidentally, that the number of talented throwers is relatively small. Cricketers simply do not take the initiative to be efficient. Australians generally have superior fielders. In the final test match at the Oval in 1896, the visiting side was, without doubt, a lot better on the field than the England Eleven. Every one of them could throw as strongly as a catapult.
As a sprinter about to start a race, the third man must be on his toes at all times. He must be ready to move forward or to either side instantly. He will do well to stand leaning forward with his hands near the ground, as most balls will come to him either along the ground or as rather low catches. He must cultivate confidence in catching and remember that the ball always spins hard near him. Nine times out of ten, when a short run is attempted from a hit towards a third man, the appropriate end to return the ball to is the bowler’s, who should be ready behind his wicket.
The non-striker has so much time to back up that he is likely to be in In the case of an almost certain run-out at either end, the ball should be sent to the wicketkeeper, who is more likely to take the ball well than the bowler. The great thing is to make up your mind, as the ball comes, to which end you will throw and do so without hesitation. Sometimes the ball is so picked up that it can be thrown back to one side of the field. The fielder must be guided according to the match situation.
The third man fielder has to back up the point when the ball is cut square and the wicketkeeper when the ball is returned from anywhere on the on-side. It is a difficult position and requires attention. A captain should put one of his able men in it. Much depends on having an excellent third man. A slow, clumsy fielder is not the man for the job, however safe he may be. It is sprinting and activity that are most critical.