Looking to revive Pune Warriors after a batting slump against Kings XI Punjab, Ross Taylor played what he thought was the safest shot in the book — a flick off his toes that was flying over the square leg boundary for a certain six. But the New Zealand batsman’s jaw dropped when Gurkeerat Singh Mann did a Superman act, leaping in the air to pull off the catch.
Cut to a few days ago, and Chennai Super Kings’ S Badrinath, with just one stump visible from mid on, pulled off a direct hit to catch Jacques Kallis short of the crease at the non-striker’s end. While the first two propelled the respective teams to victories, the way pacer Ashok Dinda’s pick, turn and hit on his follow-through ran out Royal Challengers Bangalore skipper Virat Kohli provided the only bright moment for Pune Warriors as Chris Gayle was wreaking havoc at the other end on Tuesday.
If it has taken a fortnight for the sixth edition of the T20 league to see centuries being hit, a big reason is the quality of fielding and catching. Indian players too have come to the forefront in displaying the kind of athleticism once regarded as the preserve of Australia or South Africa.
Long seen as a useful add-on to the batting and bowling skills of a player, fielding has become an aggressive tool to rein in opposing teams in T20. While each of the past editions have seen some great efforts on the field, this tournament is testimony to how much fielding and catching have become weapons even for teams not stacked with classy batsmen and bowlers.
Mumbai Indians captain Ricky Ponting, 38, provided one of the most memorable such moments when he, despite slipping, leapt to complete a stunning catch to dismiss Delhi Daredevils opener Unmukt Chand first ball. Punter’s was somewhat a standalone effort as the hosts had already notched the season’s first 200-plus total to deflate their opponents. But there are other moments of sheer brilliance that have made the difference between victory and loss.
Nothing exemplifies that better than Kieron Pollard’s airborne attempt on the boundary to catch a power-packed hit by MS Dhoni. That clinched a nine-run win for Mumbai Indians at the MA Chidambaram Stadium.
Fielding drills have undergone a sea change from the time one-day cricket began taking big strides in the early 1990s. An area once left to naturally athletic West Indies players, and to players from unfancied sides like Zimbabwe who during the 1987 World Cup in the sub-continent did not hesitate to get their shirts dirty with full-length dives, is the norm these days.
“The basic reason is that the younger generation is very fitness conscious and that shows in their agility. That is why they are stronger and more powerful, and it is evident and also looks good on TV,” Shankar Basu, RCB conditioning coach, told HT.
“Today, most of the players have personal trainers as well, and that is why they are better athletes. If you are an athlete of the calibre of Rafael Nadal or Usain Bolt, naturally you will move better and faster.”
Australia first, and then South Africa, used fielding to choke run-scoring. The dynamics of fielding has rapidly changed like batting and bowling with the proliferation of T20, where it is as important to stop runs and take the catches as it is to put on a grand show to keep fans rivetted to their seats in the stadiums and in front of their television sets.