If you thought runs and wickets were all that the game of cricket was about, you’re mistaken.
Fielding is as much a key aspect as the other two. Although barely acknowledged, it was this very fielding forced India out of the 2019 World Cup a year ago on this very day.
A direct hit by Martin Guptil, saw MS Dhoni inches short of the crease ending India’s fight for the trophy.
We toast batsmen and bowlers for their runs and wickets, but rarely do we hear as much praise for a run saved in the outfield or for boundary cut off at the edge of the rope.
The newspaper headlines the morning after scream aloud the bowling and batting feats, merely a paragraph would be dedicated to a stupendous fielding effort, or, worse still, it will make the footnote.
When fielding got its due
Before the arrival of Jonty Rhodes into the cricketing conscience, fielding hardly figured in the general discourse about the game.
His superhuman acts on the field, rapier-like throws right on top of the bails and lunging leaps to score direct hits forced cricket fanatics to sit up and take notice of his incredible feats but also wake up to the relevance of fielding to the game.
Even before Jonty Rhodes, some cricketers have enjoyed a fair reputation as able fielders. Gus Logie of West Indies and Mohammed Azharuddin of India were among them. Back in the seventies, Eknath Solkar used to be known for his tigerish exploits on the field.
A close-in catcher by choice, he snaffled up some memorable catches of the bowling of India’s famed spinning quartet, Bedi, Prasanna, Chandrashekhar and Venkataraghavan.
As for Azhar, he is considered to have been one the safest catchers of his time. He was neat in the field as well, hardly letting anything past his fingers. He used to take pride in his fielding and was visibly annoyed when a rare ball slipped past him. He mostly marshalled the Point region, which is reserved for the better fielders, before switching to the slip cordon later in his career.
While known as ‘The Wall’ for his impregnable defence and technique, Indian batting legend Rahul Dravid was also one of the best fielders and catchers the game has ever seen.
And, true to his reputation as a fieldsman, Dravid, or ‘Jammy’ as he is known to his admirers, holds the record for the highest number of Test catches at 210.
That’s more than a fair return for someone who averaged 52.31 with the bat in Test match cricket. And it appears as though his record will hold for some time to come.
Among the others who were known for their fielding exploits were Mark Waugh of Australia and Mahela Jayawardene. Both marshalled the slip cordon and hardly ever shelled a catch.
Jimmy Adams and Keith Arthurton were also considered gun fielders during their heydays in Windies colours.
Primacy in the modern day cricket
From a less celebrated aspect of the game, fielding has emerged as the core of modern day cricket. So much so that to merit selection to the national team, players have to come through certain tough fielding drills.
More than batting or bowling form, it’s your ability to marshall the field that determines whether you find a place in the final squad.
Dhoni, during his captaincy days, put a lot of weight on fielding. And, true to his word, he picked the likes of Raina and Jadeja who were gun fielders in their own right.
It was also under his stewardship that the likes of Laxman and Sehwag, not the fastest of fielders, were eased out of the limited overs squad.
Virat Kohli, MSD’s successor, has carried on in the same.
Himself a fitness enthusiast, he has ensured that every single member of the team watch their diet and bring another dimension to the game, in the field.
It’s this focussed approach to fitness that has made the current Indian unit under Kohli one of the best fielding sides in world cricket, if not the best.
Hence, fielding is no longer a neglected aspect of the game. It’s what drives modern day cricket to new heights.