Abhay Sharma: Cricket is a three-skill game

“Once I knew I had the freedom to do work my way it cleared the way for an excellent partnership,” Abhay said in praise of the head coach.

For fielding coach Abhay Sharma (left) what also mattered was the free hand that the support staff gained from Rahul Dravid.   -  Twitter

Simulation of conditions to be encountered in New Zealand was the key to India’s dominance at the ICC U19 World Cup. For fielding coach Abhay Sharma what also mattered was the free hand that the support staff gained from Rahul Dravid.

“Once I knew I had the freedom to do work my way it cleared the way for an excellent partnership,” Abhay said in praise of the head coach.

The challenge of succeeding overseas created a fierce sense of commitment from the players and the support staff. “It is always said that India is good at home mainly. We wanted to change that perception. We are known to adapt slowly but the trend has changed in the last few years and this time what counted was the preparation.”

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The team, camping at Alur, worked diligently. “There were no distractions of a big city. We has asked for green surfaces and pitches with spongy bounce keeping in mind what we were to encounter in New Zealand. Each session was planned,” insisted Abhay.

He set up innovative drills and even prepared for wind conditions by using synthetic balls. “The ball wobbles in New Zealand and it becomes tough when the ball gains height. I used bowling machines to slice the catches to fielders in the slips, gully, point and square leg. The terrific catching that you saw in the slips was the result of the preparation.”

Another aspect that Abhay worked on was to reduce the reaction time of the fielders to a catch or a shot. “We worked a lot on how to react to the ball changing direction in the air. We also practised the second attempt to catch the ball.” Abhay pointed out a catch by Shiva Singh, where he failed to grasp the catch but recovered to return the ball in a flash to generate a run out. “This was the work of our fielding drills,” said Abhay.

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A former India under-19 captain, Abhay observed the changes in the game. “Cricket is not one skill game. You could do it on the 70s and 80s. Not anymore. It is a three-skill game (batting, bowling and fielding). Each skill complements the other. Brilliant fielders not stop runs but also create opportunity for catches and run outs. We always had three fielders to cover a throw. It encouraged direct hits.”

For Abhay, a comment from Dravid summed up his work. The other coaches were keen to know from Dravid about the fielding drills. “Rahul said in team meetings that our fielding standards have become bench mark for the others,” noted Abhay, who plans to come up with more innovations to make fielding an enjoyable part of a cricketer’s grooming.