Indian Premier League April 12, 2010

The IPL has featured breath-taking fielding


Blinders such David Hussey's involve several hours of practice © Indian Premier League

IPL 2010 may well be about the Mongoose, the inexplicably mammoth fines for slow over-rates, Yuvraj Singh’s incessant form-woes, Sreesanth’s daft flare-up, and other peripherals that have the tendency to become talking points. Yet, there is something about this particular season that reassures me, there is still much cricket left.

Remember that stupendous catch David Hussey took on the boundary line to dismiss Paul Collingwood? Or the one that Doug Bollinger grasped to get rid of the dangerous Yusuf Pathan? And many more such moments of brilliance that strike when you least expect them to. Yes, I am talking about fielding, the one aspect of the game that has been beyond belief during this IPL.

Both these catches were exceptional, involving presence of mind to keep the ball in play, immense core strength to come back into the field of play after stepping out, and above all a lot of practice. While some may dismiss them as flukes, I choose to give credit to the amount of practice involved. Yes, players do practice taking such catches and several other fielding moves in this day and age. While saving runs and taking catches are important in all formats, it is at times, the deciding factor in Twenty20 where the difference between a win and loss is only a few runs.

It’s not only the youngsters who’re raising the bar, seniors are also contributing equally. Remember those sparkling catches by Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid? Dada’s direct-hit to get rid of the hazardous Gautam Gambhir, a quick runner between the wickets, is certainly etched in our minds.

So what has made this turnaround on the field that has made us sit up take notice? Most teams get together only a few days prior to the tournament. There’s only so much a team can do in such a short time. With regards to batting and bowling, it’s mostly about assigning roles to individuals, for if you try to change the way someone plays, there isn’t enough time to imbibe the changes.

The only practical thing that a team can and must do is spend time on getting the fielding right. Last year, at Kolkata Knight Riders, we had spent countless hours in improving our fielding skills: in getting our throws more accurate and getting our slides perfect and even the bare basics such as calling loudly to avoid misunderstandings in the noisy match-situations. Since diving did not come naturally to a lot of players, the coaches had spread mattresses for us to jump on. We were told that at least two players should converge on every ball and try to help each other. We even practiced relay throws in case the situation demanded it. The idea was to cover all grounds with regards to fielding; indeed, every run saved, is a run scored.

Most teams are doing the same this year and the brilliance on the field is an outcome of the efforts put in the practice sessions.

Coming back to Hussey’s and Bollinger’s catches, teams have included that drill in their fielding sessions where you stand next to the rope and try to save the six or catch it, if possible. I saw Jonty Rhodes showing the fielders from Mumbai Indians how to do it. Similarly, Ponting taught us how to line ourselves up while attempting a direct hit. There’s a specific way of throwing which increases the chances of a hitting the stumps. I daresay, Dada might have picked up the basics from him. David Warner would tell his teammates how to cut the angles on the field to cover more ground and also restrict the batsman from taking that all-important extra run.

The IPL has indeed brought together an array of thinking cricketers and coaches. Their attention to detail is what makes them brilliant in specific deartments and they’re happily sharing it with others.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here