HindustanTimes Mon,14 Jul 2014
On the field, not quite Proteas of old
Khurram Habib, Hindustan Times
Johannesburg, December 05, 2013
First Published: 00:13 IST(5/12/2013)
Last Updated: 01:47 IST(10/12/2013)

The tide has somewhat turned these days with the South Africans, trendsetters in the art of fielding, now beginning to lag behind. While the Indians have got rid of players skipper MS Dhoni had termed as slow movers last year, it is South Africa who are struggling on that count.

The talking point here is Jacques Kallis. He has been one of the country’s most valued sporting treasures and is unquestionably now a part of South Africa’s 2015 World Cup plans Down Under. His experience matters and perhaps realising that, the Cricket South Africa has made him part of bigger plans.

But what the 38-year-old Kallis does apart from blocking spots of a few newcomers like Faf du Plessis who, miraculously saved them a Test in Australia, is add to the average age of the South African side that is not getting any younger. The Proteas now are not the exact reflection of the great fielding side it used to be over the years in the days of Jonty Rhodes and Herschelle Gibbs.

Young legs help but with Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Ryan McLaren, Imran Tahir, skipper AB de Villiers ensure that the team’s average age is much higher than India’s. It is showing on the field. While the average age of the visitors is over 26 that of South Africa is well over 29. Over the past few months, against Pakistan and earlier against Sri Lanka, South Africa have been sloppy, dropping catches even regulation ones in the slips. Worse was against Zimbabwe last year, where the loss in an ODI in Bulawayo could easily be attributed to their poor catching.

Apart from dropping sitters, they have struggled with ground fielding, especially if there has been dew around like in Sri Lanka.Former players have said how the return of Kallis in the ODIs has disturbed the balance, especially in a squad that is preparing for the World Cup one and a half years from now.

Indians though, have less of a worry on this count. They have grown quicker and more agile, as per their skipper’s higher standards and demands. But they too are failing on one count – dropping far too many catches. Sanjay Manjrekar, recently, commented a worry on how India’s ground fielding has got better but it is the catching that’s suffered. In the last few games, they’ve been quick on the ball but they’ve dropped fairly simple chances, with the skipper leading from the front.

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