The world of cricket is not only about the dominance of bowlers and batsmen, but it is also about the great athleticism of the fielders.
The fielding hall of fame is thronged by names like Sir Garfield Sobers, Sir Vivian Richards, Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, Eknath Solkar, Jonty Rhodes, Mohammad Azharuddin, Gus Logie, Ricky Ponting, and Roshan Mahanama.
Personally, Rhodes’ and Azharuddin’s speed and breathtaking agility on the field have always inspired me. But, the ever increasing list of missed catches in IPL 2014 has left me a disappointed and disgruntled viewer.
I can only imagine the kind of pain that Rhodes, the fielding coach of the Mumbai Indians and a great fielder himself, must have felt watching Lasith Malinga miss a sitter in their match against the Kolkata Knight Riders. That missed catch gave a lifeline to the KKR batsman Jacques Kallis, who started an onslaught after that and which helped his team post a winning total on board.
The old and much uttered saying, ‘catches win matches’, has proved to be true many times in this IPL. Most of the teams that have missed catches of important opposition batsmen have lost their matches.
Mumbai Indians, Chennai Superkings, Delhi Daredevils, and Sunrisers Hyderabad, to name a few, have paid dearly for their ‘missed’ opportunities. The most unsettling part of this is most of the missed catches are what one may call ‘regulation catches’.
So, what is the real problem? Why are there so many dropped catches in this IPL? What ails today’s fielders?
Well, the first thing, it seems, is a lack in natural talent. Most of the brilliant fielders have an uncanny sense of the ball’s exact position. Be it Rhodes or Azharuddin, they would anticipate the exact position of a ball the moment it was hit.
Most of Rhodes’ famous catches have been a result of this power of anticipation. Among current players, AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis show the same instinctive brilliance.
As far as current Indian players are concerned, we can call Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, and Shikhar Dhawan as gifted with the same intuition. But most of the players in any team would fail to score in this mark.
Now, one states the impossibility of tutoring someone into a fielding genius, and that would be true as well, but players can be taught about how to judge the possible trajectory of a ball. And they definitely can be taught to be fitter, which is our next topic of discussion.
Many current players are not fit enough, and they also lack in athletic ability. Players like Pravin Tambe, Ashish Nehra, and Malinga lack in athleticism. They are definitely good at what they do, but as fielders they are not of much help.
Have you looked at Rhodes in the recent times? His ripped, athletic, and muscular physique will still leave you awestruck. It has been a long time since he has stopped participating in this game as a player, but one look at him, and you will know that he still has what it takes.
In the fitness aspect, Malinga, Tambe, and Nehra can learn a lot from du Plessis or de Villiers. In short, some of the current international players, no matter who they are, need to work really hard towards their stamina and physical ability.
This is an advantage of having foreign players, including fielding specialists, as your team members. This is definitely a gift of IPL, which one should exploit further.
There was a time when the South African cricket team had 11 great fielders. While Rhodes was a genius, the other 10 were also good in checking runs and taking catches. In the recently concluded ICC World Twenty20 2014, the South Africans showed their brilliance in the field.
No matter what your age is, if you are playing any version of cricket then it’s your responsibility to stay at the top of your physical fitness. At the end of the day a good fielder only benefits his team by saving so many runs.
To change an oft-repeated line, a fielding side is as good as its weakest fielder.
Now, at any other time I would have written my conclusion at this point, but the ‘floodlight’ issue is something that also needs some discussion.
When the Rajasthan Royals spinner Tambe missed the catch of Cheteshwar Pujara during their IPL contest against the Kings XI Punjab, he indicated at the blinding floodlight.
Let’s face it, we live at a time when most IPL, Twenty20, or One-Day International matches are going to be day and night ones, played under strong floodlights. Our players need to accept this and adapt to it.
Here, let me get back to South African fielding once more. During their outing in the World T20 this year, they never dropped a catch even under the full glare of the floodlights. Adapting to the conditions is a necessary requirement in any sports. In cricket it is more so. Here, players have to adapt to a lot of things- the pitch, the wind, the dew factor, and the distance of the boundary. In 2014, they will have to add one more criterion to the list, floodlights.
But then, these are the early days. Hopefully, fielders will get into the groove and will better their performance. However, in the long run, to avoid missing catches in international cricket, players need to hone their fitness and instincts a lot. The net sessions can be of great help in this regard.
Just like practicing one’s defensive or offensive strokes or one’s yorkers, one can also work on their catches, especially high catches. Let’s not forget, apart from cheering for the batsmen, the audience have always appreciated good fielders, especially those who have amazed them through their fitness and by grabbing that so called impossible catch.
Let better fielding prevail.
© Cricket World 2014