Team India’s fielding coach, R Sridhar reckons that there is definitely more athleticism to be seen on the ground in the limited-overs fielding. It is true that India has come a long way since their days of sluggish outfielders. Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s catch of Hashim Amla at the Wanderers on the long-off was a testimony to the same, especially when a fast bowler pulls off something like that, it becomes an inspiration for others.
In comparison to their consistent slip fielding problems in Test cricket, the ODI side is a better fielding unit. But playing with a wet ball and in the face of a target defense, Indian team gave away some costly chances in the field in Johannesburg that allowed South Africa pick up their first win of the series. Shreyas Iyer spilled a catch of David Miller when the batsman was on 6. Kuldeep Yadav then failed to cover the conventional trajectory of a ball that had been swept and conceded a boundary. All of them contributed to a radical switch in momentum as the hosts registered a comfortable five-wicket victory.
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Acknowledging the shortcomings, Sridhar said, “Yes we were a little below par on the field in the last game. One catch went down, Shreyas Iyer being the brilliant fielder that he is, he made a great attempt. It was not a Grade 1 catch, but it’s easy to be harsh on ourselves sometimes, easy to be harsh on our players. It’s the easiest thing to do. But if you see, that was a difficult catch.”
He further elaborated, “And in the ground in Johannesburg, the ball snakes a lot and that’s what happened to Kuldeep. He was trying to attack and save two, but the ball just snaked away more than he expected. These things happen but we are practicing for them. We’ve got our players to pay attention to the detail of every minute aspect of every skill, not just fielding. We try and do that every game, and in this game, we’ll take into account the wind factor, the size of the ground and make sure we are aware of that when we enter the field.”
The fielding coach also stated that the men in blue enjoyed being in challenging situations on the field, like playing a rain-affected match and having to contend with a wet ball. He said, “These are things we want should happen more in terms of our preparation. We love to embrace such situations so that even if we make a mistake now, we know how to respond to that same situation the next time around. So these things are good for us. Bowling with a wet ball, a wet outfield, in a reduced game – it’s fantastic it happened because we’ll learn from every game.”
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The journey to focus on the specific aspects earned Kuldeep Yadav a 1:1 session on the eve of the clash at St. George’s Park. The fielding coach hit several high balls at Kuldeep with a view to getting one of the lesser-skilled fielders in the squad to adjust to the windy conditions of Port Elizabeth. Kuldeep also worked hard to improve his in-the-ring ground fielding as Sridhar pointed out techniques for a faster release of the ball on the run.
Talking about the conditions in Port Elizabeth, he said, “Yes, PE is called the windy city, isn’t it? I read that on Wiki. So yes, definitely we’ll take that into consideration. That is something that is important, especially for high balls. You have to keep that into account, it comes under your awareness. No matter where you are fielding on the boundary line, you need to be aware which way the wind is blowing. You also need to be aware of the batsmen’s tendencies, the game situation, and accordingly, you should be able to prepare in terms of wanting the ball to come to you.”
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In the modern day cricket, even a single catch or a run-out helps to change the momentum of the game and Sridhar feels that the attempt of the management was to consistently put out the best fielding team, whose difference between good and bad fielding days would be very small. He said, “We’re not flash one day and really bad on another day, like some of the other teams. We try and reduce the gap between our good days and bad days. There is a level at which we can be and we try to maintain that, be consistent on that.”
The Indian fielding coach concluded by stating the fact that Team India always wants their best fielding XI in the game, he said, “Yes we work on the technical aspect of fielding as much as we can. But like Ravi Shastri and Virat [Kohli] want, we want the eleven best fielders to take the park everytime we get out there. That is the endeavor going into the next 15 months (till the World Cup). But definitely we are one of the better one-day fielding teams in the world, I can vouch for that.”