Playing the Field

I have always had a lot of time for Aakash Chopra. While his stats on the Indian tour of Australia in 2004 may not seem anything to write home about, the fact is that his steadiness at the top of the order was the perfect foil for Virender Sehwag and allowed Sehwag the the chance to express himself. It was this complementary opening partnership that made a major contribution to India’s strong showing.

I thought he was very unlucky to be discarded, but since then he has carved himself out a niche as an articulate and insightful feature writer for Cricinfo and proved a class above the usual player turned pundit. I particularly enjoyed his latest piece.

I have never been a particular good fielder, far from it. In fact, I had a bit of a reputation for being someone who you really didn’t want under a catch off your bowling. After a particularly poor performance in our First XI the Captain/Coach took me aside and told me that I needed to work on my fielding as it was what would keep me out of the Firsts if it came down to me and a superior fielder, no matter how hard I worked on my bowling,

I was already working on it, but I resolved to make sure that noone could question my committment to improving. Making sure I made it to optional training, extra drills, whatever I could I did. And, eventually it paid off. I managed to go from a liability in the field, to at least adequate. No longer did I expect to drop a catch when it came to me, I believed that I could hold onto it, and when I dropped one it became the exception not the rule. I have even managed to chalk up my first direct runout…all the way from the boundary!

As Aakash points out in his article, fielding is the discipline that it is easiest to show a major improvement in through dent of sheer hard work. You can tell the teams that put a premium on it, and you can see the effect it has. The opposition feel under pressure if they know throws come in hard, fast and accurate and that quick singles aren’t on. But perhaps the more important effect is what it has on the fielding team. As a bowler, knowing you can rely on fielders to back you up makes a huge difference to your mind set. When someone takes a great catch or knocks over the stumps the whole team lifts and intensity rises.

The converse is true. Nothing deflates a bowler, and a team, to see a catch go down or a boundary let through. Ihave seen both sides of the coin in games where we were defending totals that shouldn;t have been good enough. When people took the hard chances, or stopped the singles there was a belief you could win, and the pressure was all of a sudden on the batting side. But when the fielding was ragged, belief soon went.

Of course there will always be naturally talented guys who can catch flies in their hands or rocket it in from the boundary without breaking sweat, same as there are batsman born with a great eye or bowlers who can bowl fast without exerting themselves. Some people have that sense of anticipation of where the ball will go that you just can’t learn. The difference with fielding compared to the other disciplines is that hard work and will power can bridge the gap much quicker, for far more results. You can see the guy who chases the ball as hard as he can all the way to the fence, and even if it gets there the bowler knows he has tried and that he is not wasting his time. Some guys will never score a century or take five wickets, but anyone, through hard work, can end up with reasonably safe hands and inspire everyone else in the team by the effort they put in and how hard they work

Trust me, if I can improve my fielding, anyone can.

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