The mantra for success

The importance of fielding can never be overemphasised. `Catches win matches' is the adage. Though it is absolutely true and is applicable to both Tests and one-day internationals, runs saved either at the boundary line or closein positions are absolutely vital for a team to win matches.

The early bird catches the worm is the famous adage, but as far as I am concerned even among the early birds only the earliest of them gets the prey that he wants. The purpose of this article is to bring out the part played by speed for success in any sport.

Any cricket buff would agree when I say that the most fascinating sight in cricket is the fast bowler marking his run-up to deliver the first ball! He uses his run-up to generate "speed" to terrorise the batsman.

No batsman in the world would like to face bumpers directed towards his head or body at speeds of more than 90mph. It is interesting to note that at that speed when the ball travels through the air, i.e. 90x22/15 — 132'/sec — the distance between the wickets is only 58' having reduced 4' on either side. The batsman has to react within -.4 seconds to negotiate the delivery. It is indeed awesome, and sometimes nerve-wracking.

I had the opportunity to watch a Test match at the Corporation Stadium (now Nehru Stadium) in 1959 when two West Indies speed merchants, Roy Gilchrist and Wes Hall, operated in tandem. I vividly remember both were running in to bowl from almost 10 yards from the boundary line. One could not but feel sorry for the Indian openers, Pankaj Roy and Sengupta.

Today's Test cricketers are all equipped to handle the speed merchants with helmets, chest guards, arm guards etc., but in those days the batsmen had to rely on their survival instincts.

One cannot forget the "famous" or should I say the "infamous" tour of Australia by England in the early 1930s under Douglas Jardine. Though it was called the bodyline theory to harm the batsmen, the basis was `speed' generated by Larwood & Co. It was primarily aimed at Sir Don Bradman to prevent him from scoring freely. It is to the credit of the great man that, in spite of pace and bodyline bowling, he scored a century and even averaged over 50!

In the modern era, Viv Richards of West Indies never donned a helmet. He encouraged or even taunted the speedsters to bounce at him and used their pace — speed through the air — to score freely and consistently. Sunil Gavaskar, during the later half of his career, used a shield, not helmet, to protect himself from the pace of Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner, Andy Roberts and Michael Holding.

The importance of fielding can never be over-emphasised in cricket. `Catches win matches' is the adage. Though it is absolutely true and is applicable to both Tests and one-day internationals, runs saved either at the boundary line or close-in positions (inside the 30-yard circle) are absolutely vital for a team to win matches. In order to save runs, the fielder has got to be not only agile and fit but should be able to get to the ball fast, the bottom line here being `speed'. If the fielder gets to the ball early, thanks to the speed and spring in his legs, he would not only save runs but also effect crucial run outs.

In the early 1960s, I had the opportunity to watch one of the greatest fieldsmen of the modern era — Colin Bland of South Africa. He even held an exhibition for the spectators to show his prowess — speed and accuracy. It is probably a coincidence that in the modern era, after the advent of one-day cricket, Jonty Rhodes of South Africa emerged as the greatest fielder. It was a pleasure to watch him field at backward point. He not only took some amazing catches but saved so many runs inside the 30-yard circle. He was the architect of quite a few South African victories in one-day internationals. I strongly advocate that the modern day coaches should encourage the players to improve their speed and agility.

As long as Yuvraj Singh was fit and Mohammad Kaif was playing in the side the Indian fielding looked exceptional. I have always believed in the fact that fielding is one department where even an ordinary player can transform himself into a brilliant fielder through sheer hard work and practice.

Running between the wickets is an art. The batsmen should be able to judge the runs and run faster between the wickets. If only singles can be converted to twos and twos to threes by running fast between the wickets, a team's total would swell imperceptibly. There is no substitute to speed as far as running between the wickets is concerned.

It was indeed a pleasure to watch Javed Miandad and Asif Iqbal run so fast between the wickets. They both perfected it to such an extent that the present generation can learn a lot from watching the videos — should they be available — of the two running between the wickets.

Speed plays an important role not only in cricket but in other sports as well.