Confident India will ‘fill the gaps’ by T20 World Cup: Ex-fielding coach Sridhar

Published on Sep 25, 2022 08:33 PM IST

Under the Hyderabad coach, India had touched great heights in fielding which helped take on top rivals like Australia and South Africa on their home turf.

Former India fielding coach R Sridhar.(Getty Images) PREMIUM
Former India fielding coach R Sridhar.(Getty Images)
By, Hyderabad

The last time India played in Hyderabad before Sunday was in December 2019, with R Sridhar the fielding coach. The Virat Kohli-led side was enjoying a fine run, ranked No 1 in Tests and dominating in the white-ball formats too. The batters were in good form and the bowlers, led by pacers, were hunting in a pack. What also caught the attention of the cricket world was India’s electric fielding.

They had started to outshine even the likes of Australia, who usually set the benchmark in fielding. Much credit had to go to the work done by Sridhar since August, 2014 as part of the team under coach Ravi Shastri.

As India returned to Hyderabad, much had changed. Sridhar has moved on after his seven-year stint ended in 2021, establishing an academy in his home town in association with Shastri and former India bowling coach Bharat Arun.

He reminisced about the high point of his India coaching career. “We were part of a team which played very well. I would like to believe I played a very small role in that. I look at it fondly, cherish a lot of moments during the seven-year tenure,” Sridhar said in a chat while putting his wards through their drills at the St John’s Cricket Ground.

Playing with high energy, dynamic performances in the field became a norm. Ravindra Jadeja set the standard in the outfield, Kohli was a livewire, Ajinkya Rahane had the safest pair of hands while the likes of KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma left little to get away. Sridhar recalls former Australia ‘keeper Brad Haddin walked up to compliment him for the team’s show.

Learning the right technique is key to becoming a good fielder just like fitness. Sridhar says, “A lot of the credit should go to Virat and Ravi than me because he built a fitness culture that was second to none, not seen before in Indian cricket. Fitness was mandatory, reports were made public, selections were based on that, all those things somewhere contributed to the team being fit, which reflects on the field. During the 2017 series versus Australia, Haddin asked “is your team on steroids or something, wherever the ball goes there is a fielder, you have completely out-fielded the Australian team.” It was nice to hear that from Haddin.”

One standout aspect was how he galvanised India into a good slip catching unit. Rahane took eight catches in the position in the 2015 Galle Test. It helped India compete on the touring cycle starting in 2018 with the South Africa series followed by England and Australia.

The work started with identifying the players. “It was a challenge. Virat improved a lot in his career as a slip fielder. Rohit is somebody who is very, very good but was not always available for Test cricket. Rahul is also a product of hard work in terms of close catching. In 2015 in Sri Lanka he was a work in progress but he really worked hard on his hands; he then created the record in England with 14 slip catches in a series; it was magnificent. We were able to get a good slip cordon together.”

The result of that hard work showed in the 2021 Test series in England when India led 2-1 after four Tests. After the fourth Test at The Oval, the official broadcaster put out data which put India’s slip catching conversion at 84%. “In the 2018 Test series against South Africa, our slip catching conversion was around 64% as per the data provided by our data team. To see a 20% jump was very satisfying.”

The key to a good slip cordon is a consistent batting line-up. “If my batters are in good form I am happy because the slip catching unit is well taken care of. If they are not confident, then there will be a lot of problems because the slip cordon keeps changing. If the batters not happy, they are always thinking about their batting standing at slips; their concentration is also wavering so there is a bit of negativity. It affects slip catching. Fortunately for me, the batters who were getting runs. KL Rahul had settled down, Rohit was batting well, Virat and Puji (Cheteshwar Pujara) were doing extremely well, and Ajinkya was a fixed part of the team.”

The standards though have slipped a bit now under T Dilip, also from Hyderabad. During the Asia Cup and in the first T20 at Mohali, the catching was poor.

“I wouldn’t say they are fielding brilliantly... From my observation, that is the form thing. I was part of almost 40-50 series with India, for every two or three good series you have one series where the form slumps a little bit. You must take it in the stride. It gives you the opportunity to identify and fill the gaps before the big tournament. So, a few catches dropped here and there, I would look at it as not too bad.

“It is an opportunity for you to go and have a conversation with the players when the mood is not good. They are a little vulnerable and more coachable. So, it’s not all gloom. There is a silver lining, they will work hard and will fill the gaps. They will definitely be a very, very potent fielding team come the World T20.”

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