Biju George’s attention was firmly on the IPL — where he works with Kolkata Knight Riders as a part of their support staff — when he received a message on his phone, from an unknown number. “Call me,” it said.
The number was from a BCCI official, who wanted to know if George was free after the IPL. The Indian women’s team needed a fielding coach.
The request for a fielding coach had been made after the Indian team toured South Africa for a quadrangular tournament in May. Captain Mithali Raj said before the World Cup, “The coach (Tushar Arothe) felt he needs an assistant coach. He can’t really manage batting, bowling, and fielding; he can’t be in two places at once. The players also felt we need to have somebody as a fielding coach for a major event.”
George was the chosen one, with good reason; he is an NIS and BCCI (level three) certified coach, who has specialised in fielding. He was among the first to complete the NCA specialist fielding course where current men’s team fielding coach R Sridhar was his batchmate. He had previously coached the India U-19 team and the Kuwait national team. He was even head coach of an NCA women’s Under-19 camp in Guntur some years ago.
In India’s first two World Cup games since his appointment, the team effected five run outs (three with direct hits), but also dropped six catches. Firstpost caught up with him at the Derbyshire County Cricket Ground to chat about the fielding, training under pressure, the team’s chances, and much more.
What was the mandate given to you from the head coach and senior players when you joined the team?
Nothing, it was a free hand. Tushar, hats off to him, has been very supportive. "Do your job," was all he said. It’s a privilege to work with him. Mithali and Harmanpreet Kaur, they have no hang-ups. Jhulan (Goswami) will be the first on the field. She does everything. I really admire her.
What was the pre-tournament routine for the training camp in Mumbai before the World Cup?
We were doing indoor practice only. The space was small, so we devised five or six drills that we kept doing. These were mainly concerned with inner circle fielding and direct hits. The direct hits (practice) came good.
On the other hand, we are dropping the simplest of catches — very simple straightforward catches. You really can’t understand, because they take the hard catches. It’s lollipop catches that are being dropped.
In every game, there will be shifts in momentum. The team that grabs the momentum shift and rides that momentum wins the match. The best way — as a fielding unit — to get momentum for your side, is an outstanding catch or a direct hit. We are doing (those things).
Is it the pressure of playing a World Cup, the sense of occasion?
It might be. See, everything has a process. The first thing in fielding is you (must) want the ball to come to you. Second, is you expect the ball to come to you. You anticipate and see the ball at right moment. You judge its position, you intercept it and throw it forward.
When you are overexcited, you tend to skip simple things, like taking your eyes off the ball, (which) can cause a ball to pop. You have to make sure that your eyes are on the ball.
So (here's) what we are doing now: I wrote numbers on the balls, and even in ground fielding, I’m asking them to count the (numbers on the) balls. Now they are keeping their eyes on the ball. The other thing is when these girls are taking catches, I got our manager to stand behind them and talk to them, trying to distract them. Asking them what is five times four, or four times fifteen, so their mind is diverted, but they still have to focus on the task.
Have you taught them any new fielding techniques?
No, I have worked on what they (existing techniques) are. I’ve just (tried to) bring out the best in them. Like today, Mona (Meshram) was surprised, (and said) "arre main itni door gayi (oh, I moved that far)". They were limited by their thoughts, (the idea) that merese itna hi hoga (I can do only so much). Try karo tab maloom hoga (try it, and then you will realise). It gives them wings.
When these girls start developing more speed, more agility and more confidence, the gaps start narrowing without anyone noticing. They make stops that they previously could not. That’s because they train over a period of time. It’s not because of one month or one week.
Overall, are you happy with the standard of fielding in the team?
One thing, when these girls’ physical fitness level comes to a stage where they can throw as strong as the West Indies, or run as fast as the Australian girls, they will come to the next level. Fitness is directly proportional to fielding. If you’re not fit enough but you have the skill, you can execute the skill once. The second time or third time, you’ll lag. You tend to tire. You have to be very strong.
Is it a concern that overall they may have the weakest throwing arms among the big four teams?
They might be the weakest, but I believe we are the most accurate. If you look at the number of direct hits; we have the maximum number of direct hits.
The World Cup is all about handling pressure. How do you train for that?
We do a lot of pressure drills. We stress on time. When you stress on time, you put (the fielder) under pressure.
Some people enjoy pressure. Some perform under pressure. Under pressure, they focus on what has to be done. They enjoy being put under the pump. Other people are concerned with what will happen. Those are people who pull out of a dive. You can call them 'grey people'.
They never fail badly, but they never perform very well. They stay in the middle, stay safe. Those people never win matches for you.
Are there any grey people in the team?
There are no grey people in this team. That is why you might see the odd throw being taken and missed. Others will just lob it back to the keeper.
Do you think this World Cup is a pioneer moment in women’s cricket?
I believe this is a 1983 team. I sincerely pray that life changes for them. They should earn the same money (as the men), they should enjoy the same fame. I’m not saying they should walk around the street and get mobbed, but at least be recognised for what they are doing. They should get big endorsements, they should feature in premiere leagues. I’ve worked with male cricketers who have been there, done that. If their (male cricketers) faces can sell a product, why not these people?
It’s up to the media to make them famous, and keep them in the limelight round the year, not just for one month. Mithali Raj is a star, Jhulan Goswami is a star, Smriti Mandhana is a star. Smriti Mandhana can sell all products — other than a shaving razor (laughs).