Whenever there is dew about in limited-overs’ cricket, captains usually tend to like a 15-20 runs’ buffer in their total. It accounts for the bowlers to come to grips with the wet ball, in a way creating more scorecard pressure on the batsmen than their attack possibly can.
From the first moment on Sunday then, Thiruvananthapuram’s dewy conditions were a threat to the team batting first and let it be said here that India did not have that 15-20 runs’ buffer in their score (170-7). Virat Kohli lamented this lack of extra runs in the post-match presentation, when he underlined the target was to ‘score 40-50 runs in the last four overs and not 30’.
This, though, isn’t about India’s perennial T20 headache when batting first. This, instead, is about a new worry that’s starting to rear its head. It is a phenomenon of regular missed chances in the field – whether through dropped catches or general miss fielding. And it is an issue that has consistently plagued the Men in Blue since the onset of November.
It began against Bangladesh when Krunal Pandya dropped Mushfiqur Rahim in the deep at Delhi and India lost the first T20 back in the first week of November. In Kohli’s absence, the fielding was a general worry for India with the Tigers pushing them all the way into that short series. In fact, it was during the last passage of play in the third T20 at Nagpur, wherein stand-in skipper Rohit Sharma was witnessed giving an impassioned lecture that brought about a raise in fielding efforts, allowing for a 2-1 win.
Something else happened during the Test series against Bangladesh then. India’s slip catching in both the Indore and Kolkata Tests left much to be desired. There were umpteen drops, the ball flew between slips on occasions and there was increased focus on whether the slip cordon was positioned properly at all. There were easy drops and misfields in the first T20 as well. In that light, this poor ground effort against West Indies on Sunday night is but an extension to India’s teething fielding problems over the past six weeks.
“We were a few runs short, but with that sort of fielding, it would be difficult to defend any total,” lamented Kohli, after experiencing an exasperating fielding effort from his side. There were three drops, a plethora of easy fielding chances went begging, and West Indies never really suffered from any sort of scorecard pressure in an easy chase.
While India’s batting always undercooks itself when given first strike (a long-standing problem they need to solve), Sunday’s defeat had its turning point in the fifth over when both Lendl Simmons and Evin Lewis were dropped in the space of three deliveries. First, Washington Sundar dropped a skier, going completely wrong with the reverse cup. Then, Rishabh Pant spilled an obvious take and led to a wild reaction from Kohli in the field. These were regulation catches that need to be taken at every possible opportunity. Of course then, they cost India the game.
Fielding, along with batting and bowling, is considered of the three legs of the tri-pod especially in limited overs’ cricket. More often than not, it is the other two traits that take precedence in any given game – get the runs on board and take the requisite number of wickets, win or lose, easy. At times though, fielding helps turn games as well.
There is that brief moment of pure athletic magic – a diving catch or run-out, which swells the watching crowd just like a magnificent cover drive or a perfectly executed yorker – and helps turn the game. Mostly, these moments come when fielding becomes an enjoyable exercise, when the pressure of batting and bowling is off. Yes, scorecard pressure works both ways but the vital element to fielding well is to enjoy it, oblivious to the situation at hand.
So, the question to ask here is, if the Indian team is enjoying its time in the field? They would answer in the affirmative, of course. There have been brief moments of magic – Rohit Sharma’s double save in the first T20, his catches at slip in the Test series against Bangladesh prior, Kohli’s magical efforts in the deep, especially on Sunday. They have lifted India’s effort at times, even if the overall classification ranges from poor to shockingly poor.
The aforementioned slip catching ordeal against Bangladesh brings up a pertinent argument, herein. When the coaching staff came up for overhaul after the 2019 ODI World Cup, only one change was made – Vikram Rathour came in as the new batting coach to replace Sanjay Bangar. Bangar did a good job, but the team sought a new direction in their quest for more improvement’ was the reasoning underlined for it.
Here’s the point though. In 2018-19, India batsmen scored 14 Test hundreds, most of them overseas, and most for any team in world cricket. Even then, the batting coach was changed for 'more improvement and a new direction'. Fair enough, but then what about fielding? Over the past years, let alone in 2018-19, slip fielding has been such a major headache for India. Why wasn’t R Sridhar replaced then?
Going by the logic to replace Bangar, a change in fielding coach was optimal too for the slip catching in Tests – and now general out-fielding in T20s – can definitely do with improvement and a new direction. It is not to say Sridhar hasn’t done a good job – if on the market, he will be snapped up quickly by any T20 franchise. It is simply a matter of bringing in a new philosophy, a new approach to performing the same tricks again and again.
However, at this point in time, it is nothing but argumentative. Crux of the matter being India need to improve their fielding before the series’ decider in Mumbai on Wednesday. Sridhar’s task is cut out in that regard to turn things around within two days, for winning this series with a similar poor fielding effort will be near impossible for Kohli’s Men in Blue.
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