It’s not just Virat Kohli‘s runs that are giving joy to India. The one-handed pick up followed by an acrobatic direct hit to have Tim David run out, then another one-handed blinder at long on to get rid of Pat Cummins during India’s warm-up game against Australia, gave some relief to India’s present fielding coach T Dilip.
Of late, the team’s biggest worry has been its fielding. During the home T20Is against Australia and South Africa, India’s sloppy fielding stuck out like a sore thumb. Fielding could well be the team’s Achilles heel in the T20 World Cup, especially on the big grounds of Australia.
India’s previous coach Ravi Shastri talked about the team’s “fielding problem” during a recent chat in Mumbai. “One area that India will have to pick up and start right from the beginning is fielding. They need to work hard and get their A game on the field when they step out against Pakistan. Those 15-20 runs that you save can make all the difference. Sides like Australia, England, South Africa field like crazy. Look at what Sri Lanka did at the Asia Cup; they won a tight game against Pakistan with the help of their fielding,” Shastri said.
Pointing out reasons behind India’s fielding slump, Shastri said, “For a long time, we were among the best fielding sides in the world. During that time, high standards of fitness was paramount. We had the yoyo (test). People laughed at it. Yo-yo was never for selection, it was about creating awareness amongst the players: ‘Get fit; it’s only better for you.’ It made a massive difference. Not just in the way they played, but the way they moved on the field. The number of run outs they could create was unreal. A big worrying fact has been the number of times you’ve allowed the opposition to score over 200 in the last few months. People will blame the bowling, but it’s also the fielding. If you save those 20-25 runs, then 200 becomes 175-180.”
R Sridhar, who was India’s fielding coach when Shastri was the head coach, agrees with Shastri. “I can definitely see a dip in India’s fielding,” Sridhar told TOI. Given India’s limited bowling resources, being sharp on the field is a must. What’s not helping matters is the Indian team’s average age; it can well be referred to as ‘Dad’s Army’. The team lacks youthful exuberance and that is a direct reason for the dip in fielding standards.
Sridhar, however, is optimistic for the T20 World Cup, “Basically, you’ve to work with what you have. When it comes to an ICC tournament, the Indian team always raises the bar in all departments. I’m expecting our fielding to go up a notch,” said Sridhar. “I would only be worried if the trend (of poor fielding) continues after the first two games.”
Giving insight into what needs to be done to improve fielding, Sridhar said, “Roles have to be assigned. You’ve to identify the slower fielders and work hard on them. You’ve to empower them with the kind of awareness that’s required to excel on Australian grounds.”
Elaborating on how the team needs to have different fielding plans for each venue in Australia, Sridhar said, “The dimensions at each venue are different. For example, at Adelaide, it’s prudent to have your fastest-moving fielders on the side boundaries and the ones with best arms should be on the straight boundaries. But when you come to Perth, Brisbane or Melbourne, you’ve to do exactly the opposite. The strategies keep changing as the dimensions of the grounds keep changing.”
He added: “I’m sure the support staff will chalk out those plans well in advance. The captain cannot look into everything. He’s already got too much on his plate. The right kind of communication has to go to the individual fielders even before the match starts. As I said, you’ve to empower the fielders.”
In a place like Australia, which has big grounds, efficient fielding from the deep is a must. “There are acres of open spaces on the grounds Down Under. You need to have your best athletes manning the boundary line. You’ve to work in pairs while fielding in Australia. Due to the true bounce in Australian grounds, the ball will go above the head and two fielders will have to combine to save the runs. The relay throw has to be put in use as much as possible,” said Sridhar.
“A spinner gets a lot of over spin in Australia, rather than side spin. So, if you’re standing at short cover, your angles will change.”