The importance of fielding

FIELDING is often the mantra for success these days. It's an aspect that makes a crucial difference on occasions, separating the winner from the loser.

K. SRIKKANTH

FIELDING is often the mantra for success these days. It's an aspect that makes a crucial difference on occasions, separating the winner from the loser.

Viv Richards takes a return catch with alacrity. He was a great all-round fielder. -- Pic.N. SRIDHARAN-

During my playing days, and the eras before that, a cricketer might have made the side for his batting or bowling ability alone, even if his fielding were to be poor. In today's cricket, the chances of this happening are not very high. Lack of fielding ability will put a player at a great disadvantage while competing for a place, at any level.

Fielding is also something that can be worked on. Not all great fielders were born that way. There have been cases of average fielders becoming outstanding ones due to sheer practice and hard work. Importantly, a cricketer must strive to enjoy his fielding. Fielding has so many elements to it — running, throwing, catching. Things like anticipation and reflexes also come into the picture. Reflexes are the lifeline for a close-in catcher, at, say, silly point or short leg. In the deep, especially on bigger grounds such as in Australia, speed and a strong arm are a must.

One man who was quite the complete fielder was Vivian Richards. He is the greatest all-round fielder that I have seen.

Put him in any position, in the deep, single saving spots, or catching positions and he could whip up magic. Even before Richards made his mark as one of the greatest batsmen of all time, he swung a tense 1975 World Cup final the West Indies' way, through his genius on the field.

Those direct hits, resulting in run-outs, certainly nailed Australia. Everything came so naturally to Richards. He had speed, reflexes, a strong arm and great anticipation.

The last mentioned quality is crucial. The fielders, who anticipate well, save so much time. These are the fielders who do not have to resort to desperate dives.

Richards was so brilliant with the willow, that his fielding ability was often overlooked. I, for one, can never ever forget his cat-like movement on the field.

Taking the second spot in my list of great fielders would be Jonty Rhodes. He is someone who, when he first came in, won a place for his fielding ability alone.

Rhodes developed as a bastman over the years; however, it is as a cricketer who revolutionised fielding that he will be remembered. He was simply sensational.

With Rhodes, the sliding stops became popular. The South African was so quick that he could pounce on the most powerful of shots in a flash, fielding at gully, point or cover. And he would be up so soon to release the ball.

Even if he fell cheaply with the bat, Rhodes would be worth at least 30 to 40 runs on the field. After the Proteas returned from a dark phase in 1991-92, it was Rhodes, as much as that great fast bowler Allan Donald, who put South Africa on the world cricketing map. This man too was a superstar — for his fielding.

Mark Waugh has to occupy the next slot in my top five. This Aussie was a natural every inch of the way. I mean, he made even the most difficult of catches appear so easy.

He was extremely relaxed, very important for a fielder, and anticipated brilliantly. Standing in the slips, he would never grab at the ball but allow it to ease into his hands.

Mark Waugh held some absolute blinders with such effortless ease that it often took my breath away. And, like Richards, he could field at most positions. He was exceptional in the slips, of course, and his often superb catches contributed to a lot of Aussie wins; not to speak of his silken batting skills.

I would go for Kapil Dev as the fourth in my list. Another fabulous athlete, who made it appear simple. He could cover a lot of ground without seeming to do so, and timed his runs perfectly. I will never ever forget that stunning catch he pouched to dismiss Vivian Richards in the '83 World Cup final. It was a high-pressure game, and running with your back to a skier and then holding it is often the most difficult catch to pull off. There is so much noise in the first place, and the fielder cannot even see the ball as he is sprinting. The judgment has to be perfect. Kapil was spot on.

Kapil had a great throwing arm, too and the batsmen dared not steal a run from him. What makes his performances even more creditworthy is that as India's strike and stock bowler, and a paceman at that, Kapil could have so easily become a touch tired on the field. He never let that happen. A remarkable cricketer. The fifth spot will have to go to Ricky Ponting. He is so swift, sharp, and accurate. When he takes aim at the stumps, he seldom misses. I think he is the most dangerous fielder today in limited overs cricket. Talking about limited overs cricket and fielding, when we won the World Cup in '83, we dropped only one catch in the entire tournament and that came in the early stages of the competition.

Apart from Kapil Dev, we had Binny, Madan Lal, Yashpal Sharma, who were all fine fielders and others such as Mohinder Amarnath, Sunil Gavaskar, and Kirti Azad, who were safe. The commitment we displayed on the field played a big part in our success. Fielding always gave me a lot of satisfaction. I can never forget catching Derek Pringle at short leg, in the '86 Test at Leeds. Pringle had flicked from the middle of the blade, and the ball was travelling, but it settled in my hands.

And had so many camera angles been available then, I am sure my direct hit from cover point would have resulted in the run-out of Faoud Bacchus in the '83 World Cup final at Lord's. Bacchus survived, but fortunately, that umpiring decision did not cost us dear. Fielding is a lot of hard work. It is also a lot of fun.