September 17, 2010

Why are India a poor fielding side?

Fielding is more important in cricket than ever, as the game gets shorter, but India lag behind as they always have done

India's cricketers have always looked at fielding the way a chef might at a chutney in a thali; it's there to complete the offering, occasionally add some zing to the meal, but you wouldn't practise making it the way you would a main course. Cricket was always about batting and bowling - mainly batting - and fielding was what you did to warm up, or something you had to do at the end of training, just before the shower. It wasn't something that defined you, and so good fielders have always been talked about like the distant aunt remembered only for her pickle.

But as the game becomes shorter, as the menu shrinks and every bite becomes important, fielding, the country cousin, is demanding to be heard. When you have just a hot dog the mustard becomes important, or since I'm vegetarian, when you only eat a dosa the chutney is critical. And so India's cricketers, brought up on batting and bowling, are looking out of place, like they don't belong. Singles hit to them become twos, catches fall short and direct hits are infrequent. With only 120 balls to play, the one percenters are getting more and more important, but young India is looking the other way.

You saw that when the Mumbai Indians played with Teflon hands against the Highveld Lions and the Southern Redbacks. And you saw the importance of it when Davey Jacobs and the Warriors from Port Elizabeth fielded like every ball was their last in the game against Victoria. Jacobs himself created two wickets with his fielding and those really turned the game their way. In the 20-overs game, fielding is nudging its way up the value chain; a fielder who saves 15 and scores 20 is better than a batsman who scores 40 and lets go 10.

In Durban you saw the difference in athleticism between the Mumbai Indians and the Southern Redbacks. Daniel Harris created a catch when Ambati Rayudu was well set and saw two go down when he batted.

So what is it about India? Why is it that we rarely produce athletes? At different times in history India have been a very good catching side but rarely an athletic one, and that is increasingly what Twenty20 demands. Is it a gene? Is it the hard outfields that make diving a hazard? I'm not convinced of either answer.

The importance of diving is grossly over-emphasised. The best fielders don't always need to dive, since they get to the ball quicker. And that means the time they need to accelerate is small. It can only come with practice, but while a coach can teach that, a player must feel it from within. It is the same as studying mathematics, preparing for the ballet or cooking a fine dish. If you feel the need to, you will do what it takes. And it worries me that not enough Indian players want to be athletes, even though it gives them a better chance of being selected - as with Sathish of Tamil Nadu and the Mumbai Indians, who, I suspect, shines brighter because of the lethargy that defines his surroundings.

So too with the throwing arm. Five throws rifled in from the deep can save five runs, and once you build a reputation for a great throwing arm, you save even more. Increasingly, too, as the boundaries come in, you no longer need to throw 70 yards, but even over 60 a fielder must feel the need to practise, to save his side that extra run, and in doing so to add one to his contribution to the side.

India's ambition to remain a world power on the cricket field, as opposed to off it, will depend on how quickly the new generation adapts to the requirements of the shortest form and on whether they have the rigour to sustain their game in Test cricket. The requirements are vastly different and the shortcomings are standing out increasingly. India is still the top Test side, a legacy of the cricket a departing generation played, but they are struggling in Twenty20 cricket, the trademark of the new kids on the block. Maybe there is a story there.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Arul on September 20, 2010, 16:01 GMT

    Its all in the mind. When the players start their career, they are more active and do everything on the field to get attention and famous. Once they established as the good players, then the mind and head weight comes in to play (in the last couple of decades only Sachin, Kumble and Dravid - only exception), then of course politics between players. Its not only in cricket,for India it is in everything. See Australian, see their attitude on field, always wants to win, no complacency. that missing knockout instinct, is what makes India what it is on the field. See Harbajan, Zaheer, Yuvi - all are very lazy nowadays on the field.

  • Dummy4 on September 20, 2010, 7:15 GMT

    Indian are not athletic at all.. this is bigest country with no olympic medal for athletics. Even Sri Lanka had.. 200m silver medal (lost gold from 0.01s) in 2000 Sydney Olympics.. I think main problem is their vegetarian diet.. eat some meat.. not grass..

  • Dish on September 19, 2010, 22:12 GMT

    I think problem with fielding runs deep into the Indian sporting culture. With selectors looking for sheer number of runs or wickets, youngsters are forced to concerntrate on only those aspects. Who has heard of a cricketer selected in the team becuse he has good fielding? So why if you are trying to get into Indian team, why would you pay any attention to the fielding? People like Gambhir who are exteremely poor fielders and catchers find themselves permanent members of Indian cricket due to the runs scored.

  • GV on September 19, 2010, 13:42 GMT

    Talk of athleticism - I believe many Indian batsmen have a bigger problem taking singles (which batsmen of other teams take), converting the ones and twos into twos and threes. Except for a few players, Indians are notorious for wasting balls and looking to make up in 4s - whcih they are admittedly good at. Imagine the difference, if they ran more runs.

  • Dummy4 on September 19, 2010, 8:10 GMT

    I wonder why people always indian cricket has 100 billion followers. There are many people who does not about cricket

  • Dummy4 on September 19, 2010, 6:08 GMT

    india in cricket is like england in football!!

  • Rakesh on September 19, 2010, 3:06 GMT

    India is never good in any athletic sport.They are good in msports which needs silken or beter soft touch like chess, billiards shooting etc. Cricket is a game in which batting is more on a non athletic side except for the fact you have to run singles.Even for running it is more of calculated pacing rather than sprinting. India can never match fielding of Australia or south Africa . More so 95 % of Cricket audience in the world are indians. Despite this India is no 1 by chance as the standard of Australia and WI fell almost to average level. Indian standard will always be above average considering that 1 billion people support it . In other countries like Australia it is basically around 5 to 10 millions at the most. It is i billion against miniscule population. No world class bowler and dreaming of being no.1 which 99.9 % of world countries do not care.

  • J Ranjith on September 19, 2010, 0:43 GMT

    India's fielding is not generally poor when you look into its international side. India's desire to become or be the no.1 team would be based on the selectors. They do not have any idea what team is going to be in world cup with all the youngsters they back are pathetically poor in technique, arrogant in behavior, sloppy in improving themselves. This refers to Virat, Rohit, Dinesh, Jadeja and Yuvraj. They have been given umpteen chances without any improvement at all, which is going to bring yet another shame for India. But, the selectors are not giving continuous support to proven technically sound players in Ranji format like Badri, Pujara and Ashwin. They do not even give chance to Ashwin to play tests or ODIs given his tremendous technique compared to Mishra or Ojha or Jadeja. Looks like Pujara would never get Indian cap. If only India makes another first round exit in world cup, selectors would recognize players from Ranji and not from IPL or U-19, that too not guaranteed!!

  • laxman on September 18, 2010, 18:49 GMT

    continued... seems not interested in giving priority to fielding. Indians are not the best at field placements and their bowlers often do not bowl to the field. Whatever be the facts are present indian team, its captain, its selector, its coach are neither eager nor too optimistic to improvise in this aspect.Otherwise why on the other day, the skipper Dhoni said if fielding does not improve, its not in our hands. That precisely sums up the whole story.

  • Alok on September 18, 2010, 16:37 GMT

    @sweetspot - spot on. Exactly my thought when I read that part! @Tumtum - Runs saved do not increase gross runs scored by a team, or lower gross runs scored by its opponents. So, if a team scores 20 runs per batsman on an avg, it will always lose to the team whose every batsman scores 40 runs on an avg, irrespective of the number of runs saved.

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