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Cricket beckons USA baseball coaches
by Venu Palaparthi
Apr 04, 2007
Cricketers have never thought much of the glove-wearing baseball fielders. But everyone from Tony Cozier to Jonty Rhodes are now clamoring for baseball coaches to help their sides improve their fielding skills. Just this week, Pakistan Cricket Chief Nasim Ashraf hinted that Pakistan would be hiring a baseball coach to improve fielding standards - from USA no less.

There are good reasons why baseball coaches are all the rage. Fielding is one of baseball’s strengths. A single error on the field could really make a huge difference in baseball, where scores are lower. It is extremely important in baseball not to make an error. While it is true that the mitt makes it easier to field ground balls and also makes it a breeze to pick up the moving ball, the baseball fielder’s strength is unparalleled in deadly accurate throwing and in generally being aware of where the batters and their own team mates are. It is that split-second decision-making when throwing that cricket is striving to pick up from baseball.

The debate has never been about whether fielding is more challenging in cricket, which it undoubtedly is. The fielders cover a larger area in cricket and fielding in cricket requires more focus because a fielder may stand in his position for hours without seeing any action in his direction. Yet he must stay focused and be ready for the first ball that comes his way.

Saving even a single run is as precious to cricketers as it is in baseball. And accurate throwing is now a must-have in cricket.

According to Craig Savage, the manager of a UK baseball club Brighton Buccaneers, who has been working with Sussex cricket team for several years, “fielding is a huge part of cricket but teams don’t spend enough time on it.” “Technique is hugely important. You need to learn how the ball comes off the bat, how to run into position and above all you need to have soft hands, if your hands are tensed up, you will spill the ball.” Savage is said to have received some good tips from the legendary Hall of Fame Inductee Tony Gwynn of San Diego Padres.

Australians began to pay special attention to fielding back when Bobby Simpson was their coach. Over the years, they frequently consulted Mike Young, an American baseball coach who trained with San Francisco Giants and worked for Cleveland Indians and Baltimore Orioles.

Australian fielding came into sharp focus during the 2005 Ashes series when much of the blame was put on Australia’s fielding mishaps. Australians, who were regarded as the game’s best fielding side, were traveling with just two coaches, Buchanan and Jamie Siddons. Mike Young had spent four weeks with England in 2004 and the English fielding improved greatly with Duncan Fletcher pushing hard to recreate match situations in practice. The pundits claimed that the English fielders had won them some crucial breakthroughs.

After that historic Ashes loss, the Australians quickly summoned Mike Young in October of 2005 and hired him on a full-time basis. “Mike’s coaching background in baseball adds much value in terms of his general coaching knowledge. He will work across a number of programs within Australian cricket with his area of expertise in fielding and throwing,” Michael Brown, Cricket Australia’s General Manager, said in a statement welcoming Mike Young.

By all accounts, Mike is very happy to be associated with cricket. “I have said that I want to do this full-time. It is my goal, my passion and I want to finish my career with it.” Mike is currently touring the Caribbean and is a key part of the Australian World Cup coaching team.

South Africans are no slackers when it comes to fielding. But it wasn’t until Jonty Rhodes, rated among the greatest fielders of the ball, any ball, came out in support of a fielding coach for the South African side did people sit up and take notice of this trend. Raymond Tew, South Africa’s newly recruited fielding coach began his career in baseball. He managed South Africa’s team that beat Netherlands in the 2000 Olympics, South Africa’s first Olympic win.

“Baseball coaches have helped with our throwing, but it’s a lot about body position,” Jonty Rhodes said before the World Cup. “Most of the inner ring of fielders are short guys who get down and back up again quickly into a throwing position.”

Tony Cozier raised the issue of West Indies team’s weak throwing arms and expressed his desire to see some baseball style throwing earlier this year. His concern stems from the fact that “as many as half dozen players in the West Indies team have had their arms enfeebled by poor throwing technique. The deficiency diminishes the entire fielding effort and frustrates the bowlers.” Corey Collymore either bowls the ball from the deep or throws it underarm. Others too don’t present a happy picture when they hold their shoulder after throwing from the deep. “Baseball coaches can teach the correct, injury-free method of throwing a ball from the outfield.”

Nasim Ashraf of Pakistan seems to be convinced that Pakistan needs a bit of the baseball magic as well. Pakistan has a vastly demoralized team – and need to find a coach as well as name a captain. So when Ashraf announced some changes were in the pipeline, without revealing any details, not many were surprised.

The only really progressive statement he made was that PCB was looking for a baseball coach from USA to improve fielding standards. “The coach will not be for three months or four months, we would hire him for at least one year,” Ashraf said.

It remains to be seen who will want to take this job. One thing is for certain, Joe Torre is not going to Pakistan any time soon!

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