When Herschelle Gibbs flew through the air and into the stumps to dismiss Chamara Silva last Wednesday to revive memories of a sensation from fifteen years ago, there was a knowing smile in the dressing room. Jonty Rhodes, now the South African fielding coach, in an interview with Cricinfo:
The fielding coach is a fairly new phenomenon. How much has it/can it raise the standard of an individual fielder and a fielding side?
I believe that a specialist fielding coach can make a huge difference to the fielding team, as a whole, and as individuals. Professional cricketers spend a great deal of time working on their other skills, batting and bowling, and if as much time and intensity could be added to their fielding, you would see a remarkable improvement.
What is your approach as a fielding coach? Do you train them as you trained yourself?
The way I threw a ball was incorrect, and this is what I am trying to change in the current South African cricket team. I got a baseball coach to come down to one of our practices, and he gave us some good ideas and useful training tips with regards to throwing. The catching drills are pretty much the ones that I used when I was playing. Fortunately, most of the current team have been on the field with me, and have seen the results of the way I used to practice during my international career.
What are the newer throwing techniques?
A correct throwing technique means that the throwing arm comes up and over your shoulder, as opposed to a quick release throw, which means that the arm is extended parallel to the ground, and not over the top.
How hard are you on the boys in training. How much do you like pushing them? I've heard you don't let them leave till they knock down a single stump three times.
Nope, that is a load of rubbish! Fielding should be fun - well, I enjoyed it anyway - and I usually practice short and sharp with the guys. However, the intensity of my practice is very high. I would rather not have a fielding practice, than have the players less than 100 per cent committed to my drills. So we never practice just for the sake of it - if I feel that they have caught and thrown enough cricket balls, I don't make them do any more.
Do you like introducing many off-beat drills or prefer to stick to the basic drills?
I prefer the drills that are tried and tested. Once the players can do these without ever dropping a ball or missing the stumps, then we will work on other drills. Most of my drills simulate game situations.
The way I threw a ball was incorrect, and this is what I am trying to change in the current South African cricket team. I got a baseball coach to come down to one of our practices, and he gave us some good ideas and useful training tips with regards to throwing
How much have throwing, diving and sliding techniques evolved over the last five years or so?
I think that diving and sliding have remained pretty much the same over the last five years - just more people doing it more often! Throwing is where I think that you will see quite a few changes, as us cricket players still have a lot to learn about throwing from baseball.
How do you teach a team to have a greater presence on the field?
The team's presence in the field has a lot to do with the accuracy of their opening bowlers. If the ball is being thrashed to all corners of the field, even the best fielders will be unable to create a presence. However, if the bowlers are bowling in good areas, then your better fielders will be right in the action, and this is when a strong presence is created.
Has age much to do with being a good fielder? Can cricketers make a significant improvement after a certain stage?
I think that it is hard to change a habit that you have had for the past ten years, on and off the field, so yes, the older a player, the more difficult it will become to change things. However, I have seen with the current South African team that they are happy to work at the small changes I have asked them to implement in the field. So I guess it all boils down to their attitude - do they want to continually improve?
Is there a place in contemporary one-day cricket for players who cannot save runs in the field or affect an extraordinary dismissal?
Many teams are very evenly matched these days, and the easiest way to have a competitive advantage over your opponents these days is in the field. I believe that there is still a place for specialist bowlers and batsmen, but they have to be able to contribute in the field - there is no where for them to hide.
Do you feel that sides like India and Pakistan, among the worst two fielding sides in the world, could benefit significantly from a fielding coach?
Yes, I believe that any team that employs a fielding coach, and are prepared to implement his drills and ideas can turn around their performances in the field.
Finally, what did you think when you saw Gibbs flying through the air to break the stumps against Sri Lanka the other day?
It was good to see that Herschelle finally put into practice all the advice I had given him over the years!