Cricket is progressing by leaps and bounds and as happens in every industry, with the passage of time, cricketers are becoming more professional with each passing year.
There were times when, broadly speaking, either a cricketer was a full-time bowler, batsman, all-rounder or a wicket-keeper. Then the world of cricket saw a fielding all-rounder during the World Cup 1992. The cricket world, especially Pakistan, remembers how Jonty Rhodes came flying to run Inzamam-ul-Haq out.
The 1992 triumph of the “cornered tigers” is without a doubt the best memory of Pakistani cricket fans. They still cherish Inzamam’s splendid quick knocks, Miandad’s perseverance on the crease, Wasim Akram’s swing and Imran Khan leading from the front.
However, the nation also remembers the scene of South Africa’s Rhodes flying to run Inzamam out. Rhodes’ brilliant run-out effort left the Pakistani nation in awe.
“I had been an average batsman scoring 25 to 30 runs. But on the field I used to save some 25 to 30 runs during a match. That earned me a permanent spot in the team,” Jonty once said.
Fast forward into late 2000s and 2010s, Indian skipper MS Dhoni started taking tough decisions and brought in youngsters into the team while showing doors to many senior cricketers, including the likes of Virender Sehwag. Under Dhoni’s captaincy, India achieved excellent results: World T20 triumph in 2007 and World Cup triumph in 2011.
Although his decisions were criticised, India’s impressive record under his captaincy silenced everyone. And now India could easily be said to be among the best teams. India’s batsmen haven’t changed much.
There were Tendulkar, Saurav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid and now there are Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane to name few. Bowlers are more or less the same. The main difference has been seen in their fielding.
A former Pakistan fielding coach Julien Fountain had been highly critical of Pakistan players and criticised them for being stubborn and unwilling to learn.
Fountain said Pakistan faces perennial fielding problem because the players coming in the national circuit have been a relative of this or that person and the players are not willing to go an “extra mile” when it comes to fielding.
Fountain had also said that Pakistanis believe in polishing a good batsman or bowler into a good cricketer. But, according to him, around the world, top class cricket playing nations want cricketers to be athletic first.
However, if here in Pakistan we take Fountain’s suggestion seriously then we wouldn’t have Inzamam or Saeed Ajmal wearing national colours and many such other star cricketers.
Recently, in a TV show during the first Test between Pakistan and West Indies, former Pakistan Test cricketer Sarfraz Nawaz said fielding has been the Green-shirts’ Achilles heel since the inception of cricket in Pakistan.
“We have had this problem since we started cricket. It is of no use to even talk about it. The team should focus on other departments of the game, especially bowling department, which has always been our strength,” said Sarfraz.
“Once I was furious at someone for misfielding during a match during my over. Another person asked me not to get too upset because soon I would also be misfielding,” Sarfraz said.
Whenever, a case has been built for a player’s selection in the national sides like Pakistan or Pakistan ‘A’, only his batting or bowling figures are taken into account.
After all a good catch taken is comparable with a bowler bowling out a batsman. There’s a lingo in cricket circles that “Catches win matches”. Moreover, a good fielding side saves runs that could change the results in its favour.
When a catch is dropped, it is a tormenting experience for bowlers. And in Pakistan’s case, where fielders are known for dropping dollies, it is an understatement. However, this regular feature in Pakistan team may have ‘strengthened’ bowlers’ to perform in unfavorable conditions – that is from ancient times is called ‘Spartan Strategy’. According to this particular strategy, a warrior was exposed to highly unfavorable and hostile environment so that he could be made strong.
Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka are at the top in terms of number of “bowled” dismissals. Muttiah Muralitharan is at the top with 290 “bowled” dismissals, just over 21 percent. Pakistan’s Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis have 278 and 253 bowled dismissals, 30 and 32 percent, respectively. Anil Kumble and Kapil Dev have 186 and 167 “bowled” dismissals, 19 and 24 percent, respectively.
Sixth and seventh are Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath with 16 and 17 percent bowled dismissals, respectively. The wickets taken bowled out shows a solo effort by a bowler.
Pakistan should lift its fielding by working on cricketers from the grassroots level. A bowler must have all options available when he is trying to take a wicket.