Ashish Bagai showed grit, determination, patience and character trying to add respect to Canada's pursuit of a massive target. Unfortunately cramps and a mounting asking rate took their toll on Canada's captain. It was sad that Bagai missed out on a becoming the first centurion for Canada in this World Cup on a day they made their highest score against a Test-playing country. It was a sore miss. But looking at the broader picture, Bagai will be more disappointed at the rubbish fielding on display when New Zealand's batsmen built their domination. All those qualities Bagai brought to his batting, Canada's fielders neglected. It only cast them in poor light.
The frustrating part was the errors were mostly to do with the basics of fielding: positioning, lining up, being pro-active, backing up to throws, holding catches with soft hands, improvising... the list of things Canada's fielders failed in doing was longer than the longest boundary at the Wankhede. Take for example Henry Osinde, who was standing at short fine-leg when Brendon McCullum, on 71, swept Balaji Rao and tried going for a single. Osinde, a tall man no doubt, failed to cleanly collect the ball initially because he had failed to take a start. Then when McCullum was casual in returning to the crease, the Canadian failed to throw back the ball or worse go for a direct hit. Fielding coaches like Mike Young have always drilled this into a fielder: when the doubt exists whether or not to throw at the stumps, do so. It only builds an aggressive mindset.
It was just not the ground fielding. Even straightforward catches like Zubin Sarkari, failing to latch on to a low catch from Jesse Ryder, John Davison shelling a return catch from Kane Williamson when the batsman was on 1 only dented the confidence of the bowlers. Williamson survived another chance when Harvir Baidwan managed to let one slither through his hands and between his feet. The New Zealander, playing his first match, finished unbeaten on 34. But the worst mistake came when Rizwan Cheema, standing at long-on, failed to improvise trying to hold on to the big hit from Ross Taylor. It was a difficult chance as Cheema, standing on the edges of boundary, had to intercept the ball's flight while making sure he did not touch the rope or cross over. Teams now have customised training sessions for such catches and make sure fielders understand the right methods to carry out such catches in order to avoid any mishaps during a match.
Of all the three departments of cricket, fielding is one area where every team stands at par - there is absolutely no distinction in the quality between Test-playing countries and the Associates. Fielding is a discipline that can only be sharpened by working hard on it, by finding ways to exert pressure, by training specialist fielders for specific positions. You don't need experience or exposure. What you need is a presence of mind, more than a little bit of agility, reflexes and to remain pro-active. The best fielders don't react, they just put themselves in a spot where they can make a difference.
Bagai was honest about admitting that Canada were terrible in the field. "It was very, very frustrating to me. I will be very honest. It was probably the worst effort we had in a very long time in the field," Bagai said after the 100-run defeat. "The catches and the ground fielding were awful. That put us back and put is in a hole chasing 350. We did not put any pressure on them by letting couple of guys having singles and twos in the outfield. It was a collective poor fielding effort by the team."
Automatically if the fielders are alert sometimes even a bad ball can be offset. The biggest advantage is it puts pressure on the batsman, who is then forced to change his gameplans. Otherwise, as Canada found out today, batsmen can even sleepwalk and get away with the crime.