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The fielder continues to use old techniques to meet new challenges
by Suresh Menon
May 16, 2009
By Suresh Menon

A couple of years ago, before the Twenty20 World Cup, one thing was accepted as obvious. That fielding would play a key role in the new format. Soon there would be new techniques of picking up and throwing, new ways of reducing the time between stopping the ball and hitting the stumps, new ways of converting threes into twos and twos into singles and discouraging the single altogether.

Yet, while batsmanship has evolved, and bowlers have begun to assert themselves in the IPL, the fielder continues to use old techniques to meet new challenges. A team of fit and innovative fielders might be able to save 30 or 40 runs, and that is often the difference between victory and defeat. And if the percentage of direct hits is improved (practice is the only way), then teams can win a whole tournament on their fielding alone. Somehow the teams and their various managers and coaches don't seem to have worked this out.

Perhaps we will have to wait for a whole new generation before the ambidextrous cover point is fully functional. If coaches prepare ten and 12-year olds to throw with either hand now, in a few years' time they might give rise to such outstanding fielders. Sometimes coaches (or parents, as in the case of Lala Amarnath who converted Surinder into a left handed batsman to increase his chances of playing for India) 'convert' batsmen or bowlers into a different type. But fielding is left alone.

In soccer, the one-footed striker has virtually faded out of the game; to be successful you have to be able to shoot off either foot. If fielding is given the attention it deserves, then batsmen will no longer play to a fielder's weak side because there won't be one. Push to the left of cover, and he will pick up with his left hand and throw; to the right and he is equally comfortable on that side. Twenty20 clearly calls for such skills, and necessity might be the mother of training.

In Ranji's The Jubilee Book of Cricket, the first great cover fielder is identified as Vernon Royle, a Lancashire star over a century ago. He was ambidextrous - so such skills are not unheard of. There is no more exciting sight than a fielder 'taking wickets' for his side with a brilliant pick-up and throw.

The cover point is the Hamlet among fielders. Not just for the prevarication, but for the challenges and subtleties involved. Old cricketing wisdom had it that there should never be a run for a stroke to cover. The fielder's responsibility was to save the single as well as the boundary - no other fielder has such an onerous task. The right hander's cover drive tends to curl to the left, so he has to make allowance for that. The split second saved by lunging with the hand nearest the ball could make all the difference. Sometimes the choice is between going for the ball or staying back. To go or not to go, as Hamlet might have said had he been a cover point.

Great fielding is about getting rid of the ball in the most efficient way possible. In the short game, being able to use either hand would discourage batsmen from taking singles near the circle, and give the fielder a wider arc of control in the outfield. Hitting the stumps from different angles, while on the run, off balance and off either hand cannot be an impossible task given modern methods of training and keeping fit. The fielder must know that he has a doosra too.
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