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Aids that cure fielding ills

cricket Updated: Aug 31, 2007 06:27 IST
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In this time of a fielding crisis for India, any fielding novelties take on a much larger role than they would normally.

Thus the innovations by the father-son duo of Michael and James Conford have become something of a talking point, their special orange bats a fad in the quest to raise fielding standards.

These bats have a light, rubbery material pasted on the face of a small fielding bat. So if you hit the ball, it goes twice as fast with half the effort, and there is no loud thwack of willow on leather. Thus the fielders don't get a clue how hard the ball is coming at them and the absence of sound forces them to sharpen their reflexes. They have to watch the ball only.

There's another device, the Snicker; a piece of plasticy-wood, it uses the pace (of the delivery) a lot more without giving away the point of impact. It also generates more pace from the top and can be manoeuvred better than a regular bat. This comes in handy for catch practice behind the wickets (for snicks or edges).

The fielders also learn to get an idea of where the ball will go by gauging the timing, in what is as close to match-simulation as possible. These Snickers come in four categories, each differing in the speed generated from the bat surface.

"It helps first-class and international cricketers improve their flexibility since the ball comes much faster than in normal match situations," says James, who turned out for England U-19 a decade ago before realising he wouldn't make the big league and joining his furniture- and bat-maker father in expanding their sports product line, Fusion Sports.

"The England management and a number of England players have found the innovative products supplied by Fusion to be an excellent aid," an England team spokesperson told HT. "They particularly like how these products help simulate match-like environments specific to fielding. We are able to construct comprehensive fielding drills which the players have responded to."

There is also a more simplistic innovation, a kind of foam "leg" with a nail attached to the foot part (which is stuck into the grass) and is used by bowlers to practice their yorkers, instead of using "cones". The aim is, of course, to hit the batsman's toe.

Interestingly, the Confords, who work out of a workshop in their Crewe home, spent seven years of trial and error in getting their rubbery fielding bats to gain national-level attention.

Michael says that not long ago, before Peter Moores acknowledged the usefulness of these innovations when he was the ECB's High Performance Academy director before taking over as the national coach, quite a few laughed off the equipment as "a Mickey Mouse thing" after just looking at it.

"But those same coaches from first-class county sides are now using the stuff and have apologised for their comments," he adds with a wry smile.