Gone are the days when the pace bowlers would relay the ball under-arm from the deep in order to protect their injury-prone shoulders. Also a thing of the past is the myth that fast bowlers are poor fielders.
Today, one has to be multi-skilled than just specialise in his own department. Fitness plays a key role in the fast bowlers becoming more agile on the field, particularly in the deep. And, they have a good arm, not just relay under-arm to the wicketkeeper in one or two bounces but direct into the gloves. Remember Umesh Yadav’s direct throw from the deep to run out Australia’s Mitchell Marsh in an ODI in Melbourne earlier this year?Yadav is also a sharp catcher, as he took a blinder in the first ODI against New Zealand at mid-off to dismiss Corey Anderson. He has had the odd error in judgement as was seen in the same ODI when he dropped a simpler offering in the deep off Tim Southee.
Nontheless, the 28-year-old right-arm pacer from Vidarbha has been singled out by Team India’s fielding coach R Sridhar as the best fielder among fast bowlers.
“We are blessed to have some fast bowlers who are really good athletes. Umesh is fabulous, has a great arm, moves really well across the ground,” Sridhar said in New Delhi on Tuesday, two days before the second ODI at the Ferozeshah Kotla. “Because of the condition of the players in terms of strengths and fitness, most of the fast bowlers have great arms. Umesh is the kind of fielder you want to take with you in a one-day game. It has got a lot to with his strength work, improved fitness.
“Umesh is an exception. It is not just because of his athleticsm that he is good. It is also that he puts in quite a bit of yards during practice sessions in terms of fielding and catching. That has given him the edge and set a new bench mark as far as fast bowlers’ fielding is concerned.”
Sridhar added that Yadav’s pace partner Md Shami, who has been rested for the ongoing ODIs, as “a pretty good athlete”.
Sridhar mentioned Virat Kohli and Ravindra Jadeja to be blessed with strong arms that can throw with equal ease from the infield and the deep.
“Jadeja and Kohli have rocket arms, you can take them to war. They are pretty accurate with their arms,” Sridhar, who returned as fielding coach for this series after missing the tour of Zimbabwe and the West Indies, said.
The aim of the current ODI team was to make life difficult for batsmen and make them work hard for runs. Sridhar explained: “In one-dayers, the main challenge is to suffocate the batsmen. That is where fielders like Manish (Pandey), Rohit (Sharma), Ajinkya (Rahane), Virat are useful inside the 30-yard circle. Axar (Patel) is also there when Jadeja is not there. They are also allround in terms of their skills and agility in terms of the 20-metre speed.
“Once you get into the slog overs, these are the guys who go to the deep. We try and develop multi-specialist fielders rather than sticking to specialist fielders. That is the aim for this fielding unit that comes down from MS (Dhoni), Virat, Anil (Kumble) who give as much importance to fielding as any other skill and create multi-specialist fielders wherein the team benefits at different phases of the game.”
While the team has quite a few players who did not feature in the recent Test series, there are some key players who were involved in them. Sridhar said that the adjustment from Tests to ODIs as regards fielding is in the mental adjustment.
“The biggest switch is in the mindset. As far as Test cricket is concerned, we focus on close-in catching abilities that are more pertinent to that format of the game. The switch from Tests to ODIs is more in the mindset because the skills are always present. Players have skills but it is important to train the mindset. We have also identified fielders who are more agile in terms of changing directions and have them more in the 30-yard circle and fielders who are good in 20-metre speed and have a good arm. We use them as often as possible especially in the death overs and in the outfield. That’s how we try and create pressure, try and suffocate batsmen and force them into making errors.”