India v Sri Lanka, Champions Trophy, semi-final, Cardiff June 19, 2013

India lifted by quick feet and safe hands

India's fielding unit in this Champions Trophy is more skilled than those of past tournaments, and the difference it's made has been remarkable
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"Three points if you put a dive in and break the stumps," Trevor Penney, India's fielding coach, said in an encouraging voice to the players. Penny's encouragement came during the final segment of an exhaustive fielding drill, during which the players had to charge in, swoop on the ball and throw underarm.

On cue, Ravindra Jadeja went sprawling into the stumps and yelled "three points, three points," making everyone laugh, including India's coach Duncan Fletcher, who was closely observing Penney's training methods.

In the morning, Penney had split the players into groups of seven, with two sets of stumps at a 20-yard distance from each other. He stood at one end, hitting balls with one hand and a mitt on his other. The two group were stationed opposite each other, forming a triangle with Penny. When a player broke the stumps at the unmanned end, a charging fielder would pick up the ball and throw it to Penny. The goal was for one group was to break the stumps while the other had to throw into the mitt, the main idea of this exercise being to create pressure on the batsman.

It was the first drill of the day, and Penney was unimpressed by the players' lack of intensity. He wanted them to create a buzz around the empty Sophia Gardens, to run in fast, get into the right position, pick up swift, and throw hard. The idea was to get every step right and make the process look smooth.

Penney, who played for Warwickshire and in Zimbabwe, turned 45 this month, but is as active and hardworking as he was as a player. His best asset was his instinct and he has been trying hard to help the Indians cultivate that. "That is a run-out chance. Don't dolly it to me. Hit into the mitt, boys. Don't run and throw at me," he shouted when he noticed the intensity dipping.

On another occasion, Penny dropped the bat and mitt to explain to one player that he was taking a couple of unnecessary steps before collecting, turning and getting into position to throw. "I know you want to be cautious, but do not take those two or three over steps. Don't over exaggerate. You have to save time," Penney said, stressing that being minimal was key to getting to the ball quickly and releasing it.

India have been one of the best fielding units in the Champions Trophy. They have effected the most run-outs - four - so far, revealing a significant development in this facet of their game, which has often been an Achilles heel. Several players, who were liabilities on the field, had been included because of their batting or bowling skills. Fletcher and Dhoni, however, have no desire for such men anymore. They want the selectors to scout for those with fielding skills; excellence in the field is no more a novelty, it is mandatory.

The upshot is that nimble players have replaced flat-footed ones who had to be hidden in the field. Proactive sentries patrol the inner circle now, leaping and charging at every opportunity. Diving, sliding, and breaking the stumps from awkward angles, once alien to Indian cricket, are abilities that come naturally now.

In Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli, Jadeja, Rohit Sharma and Dinesh Karthik, India have a group that is as good as the best in the world. They are natural athletes who have absorbed the knowledge imparted to them in the last few years by various overseas coaches, especially in the IPL.

Fielding has always been important but it has become more relevant now because of the restrictions imposed by the new ODI rules - a maximum of four players outside the circle in non-Powerplay overs. A lethal fielding unit creates doubts for the batsmen. Can he risk a cheeky single? Whose arm from the deep can he take a chance on?

"Fielding is very important, especially nowadays. If you can save close to 15-20 runs it can have a big impact on the game," Dhoni said. "This was one aspect missing in Indian cricket. For us it was more about the batting and bowling. We still had some good fielders but when you don't have too many good fielders you cannot use them at too many places and have to keep switching them always.

"When you have bunch of fielders who are very good, it helps you and then you do not need to bring a guy from deep point if you need a slip fielder. Now most guys can field at slips. So overall it helps, including maintaining a good over rate."

Teams like South Africa and West Indies have power fielders. India's men are not yet in that league but as this tournament has shown they can be a robust group. Good fielding breeds good spirit. Players feed off each other. It was evident during Penny's fielding drills and it played a large part in India making the semi-finals.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • on June 20, 2013, 0:52 GMT

    The trick to being a good fielding side (apart from being fit and nimble) is to enjoy it. In the past not many Indian teams have enjoyed fielding. This is partially because the bowling is very weak that they hardly create any opportunities. However in limited over games, fielding is very vital and can actually create opportunities as the batting teams take risks. If this Indian team really starts to enjoy fielding they have the potential to be a very good fielding side for a long time.

  • SensibleCricket on June 19, 2013, 22:33 GMT

    The bowling unit still lacks the sting - Bhuvaneshwar Kumar is excellent, but there is no other bowler that can match his skills. Ishant is good on 'his days', but they are very rare!Batting is solidified with Shikhar Dhawan - It is still early days to applaud Rohit. He needs to prove himself consistently over a few more tournaments to cement his spot as the opener. With his technique he can do it. Fielding, of course, has never been this good. Also more important is the temperament - with hungry young players and one of the finest captains the game has ever seen, India is moving in the right direction - too early to say "we are there" though....you never are!

  • on June 20, 2013, 14:28 GMT

    @Front-Foot-Lunge..to put it mildy India's fielding in CT is far better than England..also England is not up there with SA and NZ

  • maddy20 on June 20, 2013, 13:53 GMT

    @ CRLShamalka Even rain cannot save SL now. Dhawan and Rohit will help India chase down the target with relative ease. 181/8 is nowhere close to challenging this batting line up. They are atleast 40 runs short!

  • Front-Foot-Lunge on June 20, 2013, 13:39 GMT

    India's reputation in the past for fielding has not been particularly good to put it mildly, but there has been an improvement this year. It's still not near to the standard of England or South Africa but it's good to see progress is being made especially with the more recent additions to the squad.

  • Neelima1184 on June 20, 2013, 13:02 GMT

    @Un_Citoyen_Indien - I think Nagraj is talking about Bravo, Pollard, Devilliers, etc.

  • on June 20, 2013, 9:25 GMT

    Apart from Dhoni, Raina, Jadeja, Ashwin & Virat, no one in the remaining 10s was a regular fixture in the Indian team before the start of this tournament. These 10s are trying hard to cement their place in India's ODI team and still they went on to beat SL, Australia, SA, Pakistan & West Indies on England's bouncing tracks. I think this is the best run of form India ever had in ODIs.

  • on June 20, 2013, 9:22 GMT

    Apart from Dhoni, Raina, Jadeja, Ashwin & Virat, no one in the remaining 10s was a regular fixture in the Indian team before the start of this tournament. These 10s are trying hard to cement their place in India's ODI team and still they went on to beat SL, Australia, SA, Pakistan & West Indies on England's bouncing tracks. I think this is the best run of form India ever had in ODIs.

  • spot_on on June 20, 2013, 7:51 GMT

    Every team has an off day, even the mighty OZ'z of 2000's did. That doesn't mean that the team is weak. Compared to any fielding side in the world, India has the best right now. It's laughable that many SL fans commenting on this Indian lineup. They should look at the stats between these two over the last five years. The sam SL lineup has been butchered by the same Indian Lineup... Especially at their home. I agree, people have the right of speech and right to dream.. Happy dreams, SL fans... I hope it doesn't rain today otherwise I can see y'all coming up with excuses.

  • loonykiwirocker on June 20, 2013, 7:33 GMT

    @CRLShamalka - didnt know that you were an astrologer by profession. We had similar comments from hyper SL fans during the World Cup, where they predicted that India's campaign would end once they run into Sri Lanka. We all know the result - you guys were left with egg on your face. So lets keep calm and hope that the team which plays better today wins. Btw Cpt Meanster was talking about the current Indian team that are World Champions and ranked No 1 in ODIs - no intention of comparing with the great teams of the past. Kindly bother to read before commenting.

  • on June 20, 2013, 0:52 GMT

    The trick to being a good fielding side (apart from being fit and nimble) is to enjoy it. In the past not many Indian teams have enjoyed fielding. This is partially because the bowling is very weak that they hardly create any opportunities. However in limited over games, fielding is very vital and can actually create opportunities as the batting teams take risks. If this Indian team really starts to enjoy fielding they have the potential to be a very good fielding side for a long time.

  • SensibleCricket on June 19, 2013, 22:33 GMT

    The bowling unit still lacks the sting - Bhuvaneshwar Kumar is excellent, but there is no other bowler that can match his skills. Ishant is good on 'his days', but they are very rare!Batting is solidified with Shikhar Dhawan - It is still early days to applaud Rohit. He needs to prove himself consistently over a few more tournaments to cement his spot as the opener. With his technique he can do it. Fielding, of course, has never been this good. Also more important is the temperament - with hungry young players and one of the finest captains the game has ever seen, India is moving in the right direction - too early to say "we are there" though....you never are!

  • on June 20, 2013, 14:28 GMT

    @Front-Foot-Lunge..to put it mildy India's fielding in CT is far better than England..also England is not up there with SA and NZ

  • maddy20 on June 20, 2013, 13:53 GMT

    @ CRLShamalka Even rain cannot save SL now. Dhawan and Rohit will help India chase down the target with relative ease. 181/8 is nowhere close to challenging this batting line up. They are atleast 40 runs short!

  • Front-Foot-Lunge on June 20, 2013, 13:39 GMT

    India's reputation in the past for fielding has not been particularly good to put it mildly, but there has been an improvement this year. It's still not near to the standard of England or South Africa but it's good to see progress is being made especially with the more recent additions to the squad.

  • Neelima1184 on June 20, 2013, 13:02 GMT

    @Un_Citoyen_Indien - I think Nagraj is talking about Bravo, Pollard, Devilliers, etc.

  • on June 20, 2013, 9:25 GMT

    Apart from Dhoni, Raina, Jadeja, Ashwin & Virat, no one in the remaining 10s was a regular fixture in the Indian team before the start of this tournament. These 10s are trying hard to cement their place in India's ODI team and still they went on to beat SL, Australia, SA, Pakistan & West Indies on England's bouncing tracks. I think this is the best run of form India ever had in ODIs.

  • on June 20, 2013, 9:22 GMT

    Apart from Dhoni, Raina, Jadeja, Ashwin & Virat, no one in the remaining 10s was a regular fixture in the Indian team before the start of this tournament. These 10s are trying hard to cement their place in India's ODI team and still they went on to beat SL, Australia, SA, Pakistan & West Indies on England's bouncing tracks. I think this is the best run of form India ever had in ODIs.

  • spot_on on June 20, 2013, 7:51 GMT

    Every team has an off day, even the mighty OZ'z of 2000's did. That doesn't mean that the team is weak. Compared to any fielding side in the world, India has the best right now. It's laughable that many SL fans commenting on this Indian lineup. They should look at the stats between these two over the last five years. The sam SL lineup has been butchered by the same Indian Lineup... Especially at their home. I agree, people have the right of speech and right to dream.. Happy dreams, SL fans... I hope it doesn't rain today otherwise I can see y'all coming up with excuses.

  • loonykiwirocker on June 20, 2013, 7:33 GMT

    @CRLShamalka - didnt know that you were an astrologer by profession. We had similar comments from hyper SL fans during the World Cup, where they predicted that India's campaign would end once they run into Sri Lanka. We all know the result - you guys were left with egg on your face. So lets keep calm and hope that the team which plays better today wins. Btw Cpt Meanster was talking about the current Indian team that are World Champions and ranked No 1 in ODIs - no intention of comparing with the great teams of the past. Kindly bother to read before commenting.

  • PeterJerome on June 20, 2013, 7:32 GMT

    @Sanil Sarang; Fully agree with you. The level of cricketing prowess overall has dropped. But the Indian Team is not responsible for that. I am also yearning to read an article about the technicalities in the Indian team, not just the fielding drills. I really think its time we have an Indian batting coach, R. Dravid, who can sustain the hunger of the youngsters over the longer format and period of time.

  • MelbourneMiracle on June 20, 2013, 5:24 GMT

    @Cpt.Meanster: Dream on friend! The only thing that can save India today is rain. The best ODI team on the planet by far??? Then you wouldn't have seen the Lankan team during later 90's which made Manoj Prabakhar to change his occupation from cricket to politics, the Aussies in the millennium that thrashed the Indian team in the WC final in 2003 or even the mighty WI team in 80's....don't get so excited after a couple of wins

  • satishchandar on June 20, 2013, 5:18 GMT

    @sportofpain: Yes mate.. I would disagree that anyone can become a good fielder.. The role fielding plays cant be matched by other two departments.. Good fielding unit will add more value to the team.. A brilliant catch/run out will add more energy to the entire team than a outswinger edged to keeper or mistimed loft to long on or top edged pull to square leg..

  • Un_Citoyen_Indien on June 20, 2013, 4:58 GMT

    @ Nagraj Gollapudi: What exactly is a "power fielder"? I've never heard of this expression/ term before.

    So, who are these so called "power fielders" in the W. Indian and S. African teams?

  • on June 20, 2013, 4:37 GMT

    More or less , India have shortlisted the players for the next world cup . The present bunch of youngsters are hungry for success and are not afraid of big names in opposition camps , which is a very good sign . Jadeja has really matured into a good allrounder which is amply supported by his performances during the last one year . Let us not talk about past performers and persist with the youngsters . If you look in details , of all teams in transition , India appears to have found the right man for the right job . I doubt whether SL has the capacity to reach the final , beating the present Indian outfit ,.

  • on June 20, 2013, 4:26 GMT

    The good things - Great Indian Fielding Unit ever seen, Batting clicked, There's not much swing in the air, Didn't face fierce pacers like Steyn nor consistent bowlers like Anderson The bad things - Hyped Ishant and Umesh not even decent, Bad death bowling, Over hype and expectations. They're doing good. Just good. Please give rest of the things a break

  • sandy_bangalore on June 20, 2013, 4:25 GMT

    Team India is the best today, no doubt about it. In fact, i feel that in current form it has to be among the TOP 3 ODI sides of all time. Difficult to pinpoint a single weakness. Pace-Ishant, Umesh. Swing-B Kumar Spin-R Ashwin, jadeja. Keeper-MS(the best in the world). Batting-Shikhar,virat,DK Finishers-Jadeja,MSD. Come on, Men in Blue!

  • on June 19, 2013, 22:21 GMT

    Come on ... Give me a break. Just because the team is doing well everything it does you seem worth reporting. Or is it that there is nothing else to write.

    These fielding drills of hitting the stumps are done at at grass root levels. Even the summer cricket camps for children do that.

    If the ball starts swinging, do you think the fielding drills will help to win. Also, IMO the standard of other teams has fallen. Australia, S.Africa, Pakistan, N. Zealand are mere shadows of the past teams. Thats why the Indian team is doing well.

  • Al_Bundy1 on June 19, 2013, 21:42 GMT

    All the young players, with the exception of Ashwin, are good fielders. How come Ashwin is such a lousy fielder? He makes Munaf look like a good fielder. It may not be a bad idea to try Parvez Rasool. That lad is a better bowler and fielder than Ashwin. At least Ashwin is a decent bowler. Can the Selectors explain why they keep selecting Ishant Sharma? There's no talented shortage of medium pacers in India.

  • on June 19, 2013, 21:42 GMT

    I think India just need to bring in Yuvraj. Give him some time and he'll be what he is. He's not only a great fielder but an excellent batsman too. Never to mention he's lucky charm along with Dhoni to brought T20 & World Cup.

  • sportofpain on June 19, 2013, 21:36 GMT

    Re fielding - it has to be good. There is no excuse for bad fielding because it is all about effort. I played Cricket as a Junior state cricketer in India and it was clear to me that the folks who were putting in the effort were becoming better fielders.

    While batting and bowling rely on a foundation of talent, anybody can become a good fielder and at the professional level there is really no excuse.

  • GL74 on June 19, 2013, 21:04 GMT

    The most dangerous sides in history have been the most balanced ones. I think India has a pretty long way for it's bowling to win the game for it, like its batsmen can. But that's stating the obvious. I just feel it's a little unjust and early to peg this fresh new team with such a heavy burden of hype and expectation.

  • TNAmarkFromIndia on June 19, 2013, 19:35 GMT

    To say that they were picked on the basis of their fielding skills is wrong. The truth is the newer generations of Indian cricketers are good fielders. The likes of Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Karthik were chosen based on their batting. It just so happens that they are great fielders too. Providing Dhawan and Sharma can be consistent with the bat and maintain their place in the team, this team has the potential to be a really dangerous one in the coming future.

  • GL74 on June 19, 2013, 19:24 GMT

    India has batted well, but it's bowling is truly functional. Dhoni, with his impeccable changes and field settings, has made it look good. If the bowling is found out, and if the batting has an off day, which is what cricket and the law of averages is all about, then India might suddenly not look so unbeatable at the end of the day's play.

  • Cpt.Meanster on June 19, 2013, 18:40 GMT

    This Indian team is an AWESOME team with little weakness. They bat well, bowl decently enough, and field brilliantly. The best ODI team on the planet by far. As an Indian fan, I can say with utmost confident that India can win this tournament. If any team can do it, India is that team. So God bless Team India and looking forward to seeing the cup brought home.

  • Cpt.Meanster on June 19, 2013, 18:40 GMT

    This Indian team is an AWESOME team with little weakness. They bat well, bowl decently enough, and field brilliantly. The best ODI team on the planet by far. As an Indian fan, I can say with utmost confident that India can win this tournament. If any team can do it, India is that team. So God bless Team India and looking forward to seeing the cup brought home.

  • GL74 on June 19, 2013, 19:24 GMT

    India has batted well, but it's bowling is truly functional. Dhoni, with his impeccable changes and field settings, has made it look good. If the bowling is found out, and if the batting has an off day, which is what cricket and the law of averages is all about, then India might suddenly not look so unbeatable at the end of the day's play.

  • TNAmarkFromIndia on June 19, 2013, 19:35 GMT

    To say that they were picked on the basis of their fielding skills is wrong. The truth is the newer generations of Indian cricketers are good fielders. The likes of Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Karthik were chosen based on their batting. It just so happens that they are great fielders too. Providing Dhawan and Sharma can be consistent with the bat and maintain their place in the team, this team has the potential to be a really dangerous one in the coming future.

  • GL74 on June 19, 2013, 21:04 GMT

    The most dangerous sides in history have been the most balanced ones. I think India has a pretty long way for it's bowling to win the game for it, like its batsmen can. But that's stating the obvious. I just feel it's a little unjust and early to peg this fresh new team with such a heavy burden of hype and expectation.

  • sportofpain on June 19, 2013, 21:36 GMT

    Re fielding - it has to be good. There is no excuse for bad fielding because it is all about effort. I played Cricket as a Junior state cricketer in India and it was clear to me that the folks who were putting in the effort were becoming better fielders.

    While batting and bowling rely on a foundation of talent, anybody can become a good fielder and at the professional level there is really no excuse.

  • on June 19, 2013, 21:42 GMT

    I think India just need to bring in Yuvraj. Give him some time and he'll be what he is. He's not only a great fielder but an excellent batsman too. Never to mention he's lucky charm along with Dhoni to brought T20 & World Cup.

  • Al_Bundy1 on June 19, 2013, 21:42 GMT

    All the young players, with the exception of Ashwin, are good fielders. How come Ashwin is such a lousy fielder? He makes Munaf look like a good fielder. It may not be a bad idea to try Parvez Rasool. That lad is a better bowler and fielder than Ashwin. At least Ashwin is a decent bowler. Can the Selectors explain why they keep selecting Ishant Sharma? There's no talented shortage of medium pacers in India.

  • on June 19, 2013, 22:21 GMT

    Come on ... Give me a break. Just because the team is doing well everything it does you seem worth reporting. Or is it that there is nothing else to write.

    These fielding drills of hitting the stumps are done at at grass root levels. Even the summer cricket camps for children do that.

    If the ball starts swinging, do you think the fielding drills will help to win. Also, IMO the standard of other teams has fallen. Australia, S.Africa, Pakistan, N. Zealand are mere shadows of the past teams. Thats why the Indian team is doing well.

  • sandy_bangalore on June 20, 2013, 4:25 GMT

    Team India is the best today, no doubt about it. In fact, i feel that in current form it has to be among the TOP 3 ODI sides of all time. Difficult to pinpoint a single weakness. Pace-Ishant, Umesh. Swing-B Kumar Spin-R Ashwin, jadeja. Keeper-MS(the best in the world). Batting-Shikhar,virat,DK Finishers-Jadeja,MSD. Come on, Men in Blue!

  • on June 20, 2013, 4:26 GMT

    The good things - Great Indian Fielding Unit ever seen, Batting clicked, There's not much swing in the air, Didn't face fierce pacers like Steyn nor consistent bowlers like Anderson The bad things - Hyped Ishant and Umesh not even decent, Bad death bowling, Over hype and expectations. They're doing good. Just good. Please give rest of the things a break