One cannot emphasize enough on the importance of catches in the game of cricket, as the popular saying goes, Catches Win Matches. Taking a crucial catch at an important phase can change the course of the game, while drop catches have often proved costly. “You just dropped the World Cup mate”, is what former Australian captain Steve Waugh famously said to Herschelle Gibbs of South Africa during the 1999 Cricket World Cup match, after the later dropped the former at mid-wicket and Australia went on to win that match. The expression has since lived on even though Steve has denied saying this.
Couple of decades ago, India were considered to be a terrible fielding side, when most Indian players were slow movers on the field and the drop rates were high. But Indian fielding standards had improved a lot over the past decade or so, with the advent of specialist fielding coaches, who’ve introduced special fielding drills. The average age of the side has also reduced with the younger lot getting a lot more chances. As a result, India was the best catching side during the 2019 Cricket World Cup held in England.
However, post the 2019 World Cup India’s fortunes have taken a downward turn when it comes to catching, with a total of 56 catches being grassed in 37 games since the World Cup in all formats of the game. Which makes an average of 1.51 catches going down every match. It would only be appropriate to call the fielding effort displayed as Butter-Fingers Brand of Fielding. Indian skipper Virat Kohli who takes pride in being one of the quickest and fittest on the field, would be the most disappointed as the butter-finger syndrome got a grip even on him. Kohli has dropped 11 catches post the World Cup which is the most by any Indian player. Catching has been his worry in recent years, with most dropped catches in the 2019 edition of the Indian Premier League and most Test Drops in 2017 also to his name. The syndrome has proved to be infectious and has spread to his fellow mates. Other guilty fielders include Rishabh Pant, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane and Shreyas Iyer who have also put down quite a few chances adding to the woes of Team India’s fielding coach R Sridhar. Below is the list containing number of drop catches per player since Aug 2019 –
With T20 World Cup coming up later this year, sloppy work in the field has become a cause of great concern. R Sridhar, the Indian fielding coach, who is reportedly getting Rs 3.5 crore annually for his services blamed the tight schedule and lack of practice for the below par performance on the field.
“That’s the nature of the current schedule, we have to take it. We have to play around it but we hardly had a session during the entire T20 schedule. There is not much we can put in, in terms of technical work on the ground,” said Sridhar in New Zealand during the ODI series between India and NZ.
Notwithstanding fielding coach’s apologetics, it is the fielding coach’s responsibility to identify the cause of the downtrend trend and remediate the same. His comments may appear to be an act of self-defence to some, so instead he should be focusing on infusing fresh ideas and taking a more innovative approach to make this side a top fielding side. It was shocking to hear from him that there has been no time for the (fielding) sessions due to the schedule.
Interestingly, Sridhar who was appointed as the fielding coach of Indian cricket team in Aug 2014, has no international playing experience and is into his 6th year with Team India. It came as a surprise to many in Aug 2019, when MSK Prasad led selection committee ignored South African great Jonty Rhodes (who is one of the best fielders to have played the game) and chose R Sridhar as the top candidate for the fielding coach’s position. Jonty has worked with IPL franchise Mumbai Indians for nine seasons in the past and was given the title of ‘Flying Jonty’ for his famous flying run-out of Inzamam-ul-Haq from Pakistan in 1992. As soon as news of Rhodes applying for the fielding coach position came out, expectations were that he would be soon seen working with Team India. Fans took to social media and expressed their opinion by tweets such as below-
But BCCI which was in turmoil at that time (due to administrative issues), had different thoughts. BCCI’s decision to reject Jonty Rhodes has since proved costly with 56 catches going down in six months or so. Rhodes, named his daughter as India which shows his love for the country. He wanted to make Indian team a side which takes most half chances. Let alone taking most half chances, Indian fielders in recent times have been rather listless, dropping even absolute sitters at times. Although there have been occasional sparks of brilliance in the field exhibited by the likes Ravindra Jadeja, Manish Pandey and Virat Kohli himself, but overall the fielding effort has been disappointing. It’s not just the catching even the ground fielding has looked off track with fast bowlers like Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah finding it difficult to bend down and dive in the outfield, while the spin duo of Kuldeep Yadav-Yuzvendra Chahal, along with Kedar Jadhav have appeared sluggish. Slip catching in the test matches has also been ordinary. You cannot be a great fielding unit with so many people to hide in the field.
Almost six years as the coach of the national side is a long tenure, no other fielding coach has been given such a run, Sridhar seems to have outlived his welcome with the side. But we hope Team India is able fix it’s catching woes quickly running into the T20 World Cup and come up with a fantastic performance on the field during the marquee event later this year. With that Sridhar gets an opportunity for a graceful exist when his tenure comes to and end post the event.
In the end, the question I would want to ask my readers is – Will any other team in the world pick R Sridhar over Jonty Rhodes?
Let us know your thoughts in comments section.