ICC Champions Trophy 2017: India's fielding against South Africa marks the rise of a fit and athletic unit

On India’s disastrous tour of England in 2011, former England captain Nasser Hussain famously remarked on commentary that India had a "few donkeys" in the field. For many years India had been regarded as a poor fielding side — they were slow and un-athletic, and not particularly enthusiastic either. Even in ODI cricket India lagged behind sides like Australia and South Africa in the fielding department for a very long time.

However the current Indian ODI team is a markedly more athletic, fit, and an enthusiastic fielding unit. Gone are the ‘donkeys’ of the past, replaced by vibrant and strong young men who have no hesitation in throwing themselves around the field. Not only is the current Indian side a better fielding team than those of the past, but they are also up there as one of the best fielding units in world cricket.

The image of a fit and athletic new India is epitomised by captain Virat Kohli, and like him, the team now sets high standards and has high expectations when it comes to fielding. Despite dominating arch-rivals Pakistan in all aspects of the game in their opening Champions Trophy encounter, Kohli was not satisfied with his team’s effort in the field, labeling the performance only a six out of 10, compared to nine out of 10 for the batting and bowling. Even though the victory was comprehensive, India dropped a few catches and were below the high standards they had themselves in the fielding department in recent times.

Fielders complemented the bowlers well. Reuters

Fielders complemented the bowlers well. Reuters

In the past, it would have been an accepted part of watching India play 50-over cricket to see them fumble in the outfield, drop catches, and allow the opposition batsmen to take extra runs on their throwing arms. That is no longer the case. When India are sloppy in the field, it is more of a surprise, and one suspects they are not ‘on’ as a side.

After the below-par fielding performance against Pakistan, India turned it around in their must-win final group stage encounter against South Africa. Helped by some comical and suicidal running from the Proteas, India managed three run-outs and their overall fielding display was much sharper than their opponents as well. The alertness in the field showed that India had come to play, and with good fielding backing up good bowling, they restricted the South Africans to just 191 on a true batting surface at The Oval.

When India won the 2011 World Cup they did so on the back of some great bowling and brilliant batting throughout the tournament, but that squad, save a young Kohli, was not a sharp fielding side. Even before 2011 India have had legendary cricketers in one-day and Test cricket, but the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Zaheer Khan and Virender Sehwag were never fielders of the highest calibre.

Yes, players such as Tendulkar, Dravid and Gautam Gambhir were generally safe, but they were unlikely to affect run-outs in the manner that Ravindra Jadeja does with such regularity. Yuvraj Singh was once considered one of India’s best ever fielders; granted he has aged but he is now considered one of the less capable fielders in the team and has been surpassed by the likes of Hardik Pandya and Jadeja. Where Yuvraj was said to be a great fielder by Indian standards, Jadeja is considered one of the best fielders in the world.

The way the Indian side is spoken about in the field has also changed. They are no longer described as lacklustre and slow, but intense and athletic. In days gone by, fast bowlers Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra and Munaf Patel had to be hidden in the field. Now Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav are safe outfielders, with Yadav in particular being quite the athlete patrolling the boundary. Even the often clumsy Jasprit Bumrah shows plenty of effort and enthusiasm, something that cannot be said for some of his predecessors in Zaheer and Nehra.

Whether it is through the exposure of domestic cricketers to high standards in the Indian Premier League, or a directive from coaches, captains and the country’s cricketing hierarchy, there is no doubt India’s fielding has finally come into the 21st century, led by the likes of Jadeja, Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Pandya. The modern India player is now expected to not only be skilled with bat and ball, but to maintain high standards of fitness and give everything in the field.

For sides like Australia, fielding has always been a non-negotiable. No matter what your athletic capabilities, there was no excuse for a lack of effort and intensity in the field. With a similar hard-nosed approach, India have set themselves high standards, and expectation will be they will maintain the level of performance and intensity from the South Africa match for the rest of the tournament.

Updated Date: Jun 13, 2017 09:49 AM

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