Saturday, February 16, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, November 26, 2003
Inspirational fielding will redeem Bangladesh

G. M. Bashar
One of the most memorable snapshots of the England-BD series was the catch Aftab took to dismiss Hoggard. It speaks volumes about the power of inspired fielding and the right direction that Bangladesh Cricket will take. Also, I am thrilled to see Zimbabwe?s victory over West Indies, which gives ample reasons to keep up hope for Bangladesh. Zimbabwe, a fellow minnow nation, was brutally exposed to the Aussies and bounced back to surprise a revved up West Indian side. Let's face it, the Zimbabweans withstood some serious dent in their pride when Hayden took the liberty of chalking up a world record. Yet, how nicely poised they look now when they will challenge WI in the ODI. Having scooped up all that the Aussies had to offer, they are now more streetwise, tougher, and competitive. In short, they have managed to get their basics right.

We can draw some useful lessons here. Like Zimbabwe we do not have really outstanding players such as a Lara or a Sachin. Like Zimbabwe, on any given day, we rely very much on a total team effort and commitment. So it is the attitude in fielding where team strength can be abundantly shown off. More and more, the athleticism of new players combined with the low margin of error in ODI will force any team to be extra sharp. Encouraging outstanding fielders to get it right will not be a gigantic effort as most of the spectacular bits of action on field derive from the mastery of sound basics that can be learnt.

Clearly, we saw in the Aussie tour that ?Misfielding is a sure killer? when competing against a team with batsmen in the first six averaging over 50. Needless to say misfielding damages morale of the bowlers and the overall confidence of the team. On several occasions the repeated failure to throw down the stumps, even from close range, the several fumbles and the ease with which our opponents gathered runs from mediocre fielders were indicative of a lack of basic technique and lapses in concentration. Even if you have a flawless bowling attack it is hard to dismiss the opposition with lack of back up. The terrific Windies team of the 80?s showed that Andy Roberts, Michael Holding and Malcolm Marshall thrived not simply because they were great bowlers but that they could rely on their fielders.

In ODI's a fielder has a greater chance to make a real, valuable contribution as the game is more direct, more immediate and consequently the fielding itself is directed towards taking wickets. But it is also high pressure, more intense where even a minor mistake can cost the team a lot. For ODI?s you must adapt according to situation; discern whether batsman is looking for a single or trying to go for a big hit; whether to throw flat or in a loop; where to throw or whether to throw at all. The intelligence to read a game and anticipate the batsman's intentions are desired attributes.

Deception is also part of the picture. Giving a batsman hope for a 2nd run while knowing very well that you can reasonably prevent the second. You may actually concede two, that is, the extra run. But if you get him out after a while it is worth it. Fielding is a very tricky thing, more so when you notice that it is not the best fielders who make run outs. True, a batsman doesn't run when he sees a Jonty Rhodes in front of him but there was a time when people didn?t fully realized how good he was and so batsmen were taking chances and getting beaten by the throws! Sometimes the batsmen just have to run. Batsmen are forced to take chances, sometimes-impossible looking chances. In such situations you don't have to be a brilliant fielder to make a run out. A normal textbook pick up and throw is sufficient because the batsmen are desperate.
For first class fielding we could identify players suited to the positions and the crucial techniques that could be fine-tuned:

? There are various techniques to execute an interception of a ball veering towards the boundary. The slide stop or Interception was started off by ex-England player Paul Parker, a brilliant fielder, provides a interception technique by sliding up to the ball, away from the boundary, collecting it and jumping into a good throwing position all in a single movement. It is faster than gathering the ball in mid-stride and regaining your balance to throw. Also, breaking your momentum to bend and pick up the ball, turn and throw is more stressful on your knees. As fielding has become more athletic, players use the slide stop, not only near the boundary but also in quick dashes from the infield. The traditional method would be to flick the ball back, overrun the rope, then wheel round and return to pick up the ball. The batsmen would have scored three for certain.

? Throwing. Throwing has always been a weakness in cricket - there seem to be a lack of players who can propel a ball into the keeper?s gloves from 60 yards. It is about accuracy of the throw. Hicks is one of few players who regularly accomplish this feat. Having someone like him to effect long-distance run outs creates all sorts of problems for the opponent, such as indecision in the running between the wickets. Also, Heath Streak of Zimbabwe, has run out countless batsmen delivering a throw from the cover boundary over the top of the stumps. Ominously for Bangladesh he is definitely a man to be wary of in the next series. So can we be more aggressive in the field? Yes, we have seen that the Aussies use their throwing prowess quite liberally, with stinging returns to the wicket-keeper from the in-field even when the batsmen haven?t considered running. This is truly psychological. It?s a reminder that they?re alert to make the batsmen?s lives as uncomfortable as possible. And conversely it is also a complement to their capable wicketkeeper. Actually, we have quite a reasonable wicketkeeper too and it would be satisfying to see Khaled Mashud given more challenging tasks by receiving more quality throws from our boundary fielders.

? Catching is also an art that requires a lot of attention. Position, Footwork and Handiwork are the mantras for a good catch. Footwork is the key to that and plays a vital part before the hands come into operation. The hand position is one of personal preference, but wherever possible the hands should make sort of a baseball style catch. The fingers still point upwards but the thumbs are touching, combined with the agility that Herschelle Gibbs musters when taking a diving catch at square leg. While all this brilliance makes for superb action replay, the basis of taking any kind of catch is the safe pair of hands and to do it without injury.

? Slip Fielding needs to be improved in Bangladesh. In this position we have seen Rafique and Bashar regularly. It is the most important fielding position in the game where a quick dismissal can be effected through the determination of a mentally agile fielder. The acquired wisdom is that the opening batsmen with his superior powers of concentration (an invaluable trait) make good ?slippers?. It is especially crucial in test matches and needs to be addressed because few overs are bowled in a Test match without at least one man in the slips. Without one, a batsman will feel much more at liberty to have a go at good balls outside the off stump, knowing, if he gets a thickish edge, there?s no one there to catch it. A decisive factor is the bounce, which would inform slip positions accordingly. Due to this, in Australia, where the bounce was consistently higher, their slip fielders adopt a more upright stance. Slip fielders can stand as close as they dare to the bat. Daily practice will determine who goes for what in the slip cordon when the ball flies between two of them (like tennis doubles), but sometimes plain instinct rules the day.

? Boundary fielding is usually left to the bowlers or less-agile movers dispatched to outfield. It was traditionally an area to recuperate after delivering a tiring over; or to let off steam if they?ve been hammered; or it may be to hide them for awful fielding with slow reflexes. But in all seriousness, these bowlers need pretty good throwing arms as a rule, and even the tallest ones will put in a dive these days to stop the four, rather than the age-old tactic of sticking out a leg. Again, it pays to be alert on the boundary too, since the odd dynamic acrobatics can lift the team. Darren Gough of England?s stunning full-length catch at third man to catch Sherwin Campbell at Lord?s in 2000 turned the match and the series. We also recall how Ash, very close to the ropes, came dangerously close to get Youhana out in the last tour to Pakistan.

? Cover Point is the area where a team?s more agile fielder is stationed. Jonty Rhodes made this position his own, as has Ricky Ponting; Derek Randall was a legend there for England, as were Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards. It?s a vital position and many a captain have contributed successfully from this location. Tillekratne and Aravinda De Silva fell to crucial diving catches at point by the fielding master and captain of India Azhar at the 3rd test of 1993. With deadly underarm throwing both Rhodes and Ponting?s have taken regular ?wickets? with direct hits on the stumps. As you can expect batsmen to look for quick singles in that area, it is also a good place to block all the cut drives, pushes and defensive shots so that an offensive tactics can be initiated by the bowling side.

Fielding maestros of the world such as: Jonty Rhodes, Herschelle Gibbs, Derek Randall or Garner, did not get their acts overnight and have excelled through practice, practice and more practice from the day they played the game. It is a formula that works and is ignored perilously by coaches who are responsible for getting young players ready for their progression into ?A? teams. This is a culture that needs to be instilled at school level and it is an area where subcontinental teams need to excel in if they seriously want to compete with the Australians.

"People ask me how I take catches like that; well, I practise them. My hips are shot, my elbows are sore and my knees are grazed - but that's what we do?? J.Rhodes.