Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni said after losing to Pakistan that India were three bowlers short. This was true, after a fashion. Harbhajan Singh had an off day, and so did the rest with the exception of Ashish Nehra. But what the skipper didn’t say was that India had eliminated one of the modes of dismissal. Except when they batted. The run out was not a part of the Indian planning when Pakistan were batting, but played a major role in dismissing the top two Indian batsmen, Gautam Gambhir and Rahul Dravid.
Most international teams take the field knowing there is nothing like an early run out to scatter the enemy. It peps up the fielding side, and causes corrosive introspection in the batting side. The batsman at fault, if he lives on, carries with him the guilt of survival. It is not an accident that the word associated with a run out most often is ‘suicidal’. A run out implies waste, pointlessness, futility. Top fielding sides know they have an extra wicket-taker in their armoury when they have an outstanding fielder at cover point or within the 30-yard circle who can cut short an innings in its prime.
No Indian fielder is guaranteed to hit the stumps even when he deigns to attempt to do so. Fielding coach Robin Singh was a superb all-round fielder in his playing days, taking blinders close-in or athletically chasing down everything and throwing in flat from the deep. But, Suresh Raina and possibly Virat Kohli apart, and they too not consistently, the Indian fielders neither attack the ball nor threaten any time.
To add to this lethargy is the attitude of the wicketkeeper or the fielder receiving the throw when there is a chance of a run out. Dhoni usually receives standing between the fielder and the stumps, which means he needs to have eyes at the back of his head and take an extra swing of the arm. What happened to the classic method of standing behind the stumps so no time is wasted? The difference between a wicket and a safe run is just a split second, and Dhoni’s reluctance to follow the basics is appalling. If a schoolboy wicketkeeper received the throws thus, he would be banned from the second XI.
Against Pakistan, knowing that India’s bowling was falling apart, there was need to focus on every half chance. Early on during the Yousuf-Shoaib Malik association, there was a chance of run out that the skipper missed because he was out of position; his attempt to make up for it by trying to hit the stumps at the other end finished with his glove coming loose. The old-fashioned wicketkeeper would have removed his glove quickly in order to throw hard and accurately.
That alone cannot be the cause of India’s defeat, of course, but the point here is that increasingly players are ignoring the basics of the game, so under pressure things go awry. When a fielding side is as ordinary as India is, it has to fall back on the basics to get the batsmen run out. Only in two of the first eight matches of the Champions Trophy have run outs not played a role.
The late Bob Woolmer taught South African fielders to receive the ball beside the wicket so their hands had a shorter distance to travel. This works when the throws are accurate. No coach will advice the receiver to act as a buffer between the thrower and the stumps. A slight adjustment here could go a long way in improving India’s record of run outs.