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From Onkar Walavalkar, USA
I always get excited when a youngster does well. Particularly if he is some Indian youth throwing himself around on the field and pulling off a few electric saves, it's more reason for a toast. But somehow since some of the consistently breathtaking acts of Mohammed Kaif, no one seems to be in the league. And that brings me to the greatest fielder of all time: Jonty Rhodes
The special thing about Jonty was that I never remember him botching up what we can call a 'regulation act' in the field. We have seen Herschelle Gibbs drop the World Cup and Yuvraj Singh hold his knee and let go a few runs. But somehow that never happened with Jonty. Before being a spectacular fielder, he was a very, very safe fielder. He got all the basics right before going for the flamboyant. And unlike Yuvraj Singh, who at 26 is beginning to resemble a typical 30+ Indian veteran, Jonty's standards never dipped. Probably he sensed his moment and retired before the reflexes got slow. All this for a man who suffered from epilepsy and the effort becomes even more commendable.
Men grow slower as they become older. If they are Indian, they tend to grow complacent as well. It is probably something to do with the Indian cricket culture. As a junior cricketer, you are made the sacrificial lamb fielding at forward short leg. So when you have grown and secured a place in the side, you do the same to others. Which is why we see no Indian matching Justin Langer's skills at that position, even at the age of 36. Apart from Dravid (1st slip), Laxman (2nd slip) and Azhar (point for ODIs), I don't remember many Indians developing indispensable fielding specialties. By the time they are good at short leg, they have grown senior enough to move out of that position and a new rookie has to start the learning process all over.
A long-given excuse for the below standards fielding of Indians is the lack of lush green fields for kids learning their skills. But I think the Indian setup is now rich enough to afford all these facilities for people who want to maintain their standards, if not for those who are still developing the art. And that is precisely my point about Jonty. He started at level extra-ordinary with the first ever Man of the Match for fielding effort alone and remained the best fielder in the world for over a decade.
The passion that keeps Tendulkar's batting or Anil Kumble's bowling going - even after two decades - is what is lacking in the psyche of Indian fielders. An incident before I conclude will illustrate this.
It was the 3rd morning of the Mohali test, Michael Hussey and Shane Watson were batting against the inspired duo of Zaheer and Ishant. Zaheer is getting some healthy reverse swing and shape back into Hussey, who is desperate to get the pad out of harm's way and push it to the offside and to hand the strike over to Watson. Dhoni and Zaheer work out a 'short point' position precisely to stop Hussey getting that single. After tapping one of the balls straight to the man, Hussey manages to get the next one under him and steal a run from under the nose of Sehwag, who is a tad too heavy to bend down in time to prevent it.
If I were Zaheer, I would have emptied my glossary of expletives on Sehwag. No such thing happened. And that's because Indians don't care much for fielding.
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