With so many games in a tournament like the IPL, there's a lot more intensity and energy. One way to retain the momentum is to keep the warm-ups shorter. The intensity can be maximised by making the fielding drills competitive. On match days get there an hour or two prior to the game and then loosen up for 40-odd minutes doing a little bit of fielding along with the bowling and batting to get the tempo right.
Jonty Rhodes and Ricky Ponting are the best infielders of my generation. For them, anticipation was the absolute key. Setting up goals individually is a good way to learn anticipation. For example, for a backward-point fielder, you get someone throwing hard at a batsman on a wicket, and the batsman cutting the ball into the ground - so you have to find a way to not only protect the boundary but also to prevent the single.
You have to read from the bowler's hand what shot the batsman might play. I quite liked what Rhodes used to do: he would start pretty close to the batsman and cut the angle down. The outfields in India are lightning fast, so if you are standing back on the ring thinking of saving a boundary, by the time the ball gets to you the angle is even wider, so you are not even going to get close to it. I like to adopt the Rhodes approach, particularly when the batsman is new to the crease.
A batsman can definitely be studied. Everybody seems to know and talk about it but it's only a handful of great fielders who have really succeeded. It is just those little things you do, like walking in at a slightly different angle or starting a bit further back so the batsman might think there's a gap there, but you're actually walking in from a different angle that will cut short his scoring option. As a fielder you should be thinking well ahead about what the batsman is going to do and for 20 overs you should have a game with him. Not once should he beat you, not once should he a get a single, and not once should he get it past you. That's the difference between a real, real good fielder and the average.
When a new batsman comes in, at least two of your fielders should be right in on him. Even a good batsman, who normally looks for a boundary instantly, will drop his bat to pick up a single. So you as a fielder have to think, "If he hits over my head I can't do anything, but if he does drop the ball I can get to it." If you are sitting on the ring they are going to get their fours and they are going to get their singles. That's totally negative.
A lot of players still throw with incorrect technique. There needs to be a quick release and a lot of that needs to be practised and coached. But it's not just about how quickly you release but how quickly you can get into position, get your arm up and high and then throw the ball. That's one way to develop accuracy. With many fielders they have this tendency to let the ball go, but I try to calm people down and tell them, "You are in control. Get your technique right, then the throw is going to come up right and more accurate."
This can be perfected in practice, where players hit short stumps that are a foot high. The smaller stumps help the fielder get his length right. What happens often with fielders is, they just want to release the ball quickly and often the throws land short of the target. If you throw two or three metres short, it could land in the footholds and deviate. But when he throws short at the foot-high stumps, the ball bounces over each time, so that gets him to throw fuller and eventually he starts aiming at the base of the stump. Length is absolutely crucial. You've got to get your length right almost before you get your line right. Once you get the length right and are hitting the stumps all the time, you can hit from any side of the wicket.
|As a fielder you should be thinking well ahead about what the batsman is going to do and for 20 overs you should have a game with him. Not once should he beat you, not once should he a get a single, and not once should he get it past you|
The outfields here are like ice rinks. If the ball is within your range, dive. Staying low to the ground is very important rather than standing tall, which makes it difficult to dive.
This is the most important aspect for a good fielder. A real good fielder is like a panther - he will move in fast and yet be low to the ground, not upright. Sports like squash and hockey make your thigh and stomach muscles stronger in that low position. So cross training is very good exercise to increase core stability.
In the outfield I tell the fielders to start from outside the boundary ropes (since the boundaries are very short in Twenty20) and advance three or four yards and maintain a level of intensity that is as good as that of the fielder at point. You need your good fielders protecting the boundaries because even after the Powerplay overs batsmen are looking for gaps to get fours or steal twos, so you need someone who is ever active. That's a real change that has come about because of Twenty20.
For catching, the best way is to simulate the match situation, so you have the player walking in from a specific position in the deep without and under lights. This way he gets to adjust his vision, understand his movements, so that he can get it right when a high catch comes his way in a live match. The key is moving as fast as you can to where you think the ball is going to land, which gives you a much better chance of catching it. A lot of dropped catches are due to improper technique, where the fielder has tried to catch it by his chest and not above or in front of his eyeline.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo