Attack key to Fields' glory
Most captains would have rested their two star bowlers after making the initial breakthroughs in a World Cup final. But Jodie Fields isn't like most captains
Before probably the biggest game
of your career begins, you already have a tough decision to make. Do you take a punt on the fitness of your star fast bowler? She's missed the previous three matches with an ankle injury. Making the decision tougher is the performance of her replacement, a 17-year-old quick who was told to run in hard and "hit the deck" by the injured star she idolises, and did exactly that for three successive games. You go for the star, leaving the kid in tears. You yourself are left hoping that the star doesn't break down.
Your batsmen don't let you down, for once, but the opposition openers build a base during the chase. You turn to the star. She starts her long run-up, and aborts it midway. You hold your breath. She re-starts, and aborts again, feeling her suspect leg. Your heartbeat quickens and you throw a glance to the dressing room with your usual half-worried, half-hopeful expression. But this time you're actually feeling what the expression shows.
Fortunately, the moment passes without harm. The star delivers with the last ball of her first over. With the fourth of her second. With the third of her third. Her figures read 3-2-2-3. The asking rate has gone past six. There are well over 200 runs still in the bank to defend. At that point, the usual response of captains would be take off the star, and your best spinner, bowling from the other end, and replace them with lesser bowlers so that you are not left with egg on your face come the death overs. You can almost visualise MS Dhoni turning to a Rohit Sharma or a Suresh Raina in such a situation.
Nope. Not happening. The star, Ellyse Perry, is given three more overs, making it six on the trot for someone who is limping during changeovers. The best spinner, Lisa Sthalekar, is given four more, making it seven. Incredibly, when they are finally taken off and the next two overs go for 12 and seven with your opponent's most powerful batsman in the middle, both are brought back again. With 27 overs left in the innings. Though they deliver you the wickets again, thereby all but winning the World Cup, you have got to be insanely aggressive to attempt all this. Or you have to be Jodie Fields
. Welcome to the Fields world of captaincy, which has two world titles to boast of in four months.
"My bowlers have allowed me to be aggressive. You need to keep the field up to create chances. That is my style and I am not going to change it too much"
In this world, getting wickets is your sole purpose. Containment is an ugly word. Aggression is not an occasional state of mind, it is a normal day at office. Fielders are given to you so that you can crowd the inner circle with them. Just one fielder in the deep is your preferred setting, at all times. Mandatory Powerplay, non-Powerplay overs, batting Powerplay, death overs, are fancy terms someone came up with to set maximum limits on deep fielders. You have no use for them, and they don't influence your field settings in any way. Probably, in an ideal world, you would settle for no boundary riders. You scoff in disdain when edges fly to the third man boundary regularly in a growing partnership, keep the same field, and eventually break through. You make exceptions only for the most powerful batsmen, and send back the maximum permissible four fielders to various corners of the boundary when Deandra Dottin walks in. Others are greeted with, varyingly, forward short leg, two gullys, two slips, two points, short mid-on, and so on.
Somewhat disappointingly, Fields' bravado as a leader does not carry over into eloquence at press conferences. She will answer even the most probing of questions with generalities as long as she can. She would only say this much when asked whether she had been tempted to take off Perry and Sthalekar with Australia on top and with the fast bowler's injury concerns. "My bowlers have allowed me to be aggressive," Fields said. "You need to keep the field up to create chances. That is my style and I am not going to change it too much."
She should have no reason to change it even a bit. It has won Australia the World Twenty20 in October 2012 and the World Cup in February 2013, making her the only captain and Australia the only team to hold both titles at the same time, across the men's and women's games. Were Fields a man, she would have been celebrated as a great captain and all sorts of accolades would have been showered on her. It would be a shame if she is denied all of that now. For she can teach the men more than a thing or two about making games interesting for everyone through plain gutsy captaincy. In the modern 50-over game that needs constant rule tinkering from the ICC to inject some artificial excitement into it, Jodie Fields is a rarity, and deserves to be celebrated for that.
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo