Over and above the contest between the New Zealand bowling and the Indian batting, or Bumrah-Bhuvaneshwar versus Williamson-Taylor, what the fans missed out due to the washout at Trent Bridge was India’s line-up against the best fielding side in the competition. New Zealand opened their World Cup with a display that was slick and professional and did not slacken no matter how far ahead they were in the game.
India’s against Australia at The Oval was an “out-of-their-skins” display, according to the team’s fielding coach R Sridhar. Sridhar would like the team “to out-field opponents not only in the next game but also in all games, and we expect our opponents to do the same. We should go out there with the best intensity as possible.”
India’s intensity is manifest in captain Virat Kohli but versus Australia, it was an inspired flat, sharp throw from the outfield from an unexpected source that broke the opening partnership. David Warner’s shot had got Kedar Jadhav running to his left on the point boundary, covering ground, and his radar throw landed up in Hardik Pandya’s hands at the bowler’s end.
It was the energy of the fielders outside the “usual suspects” – Kohli, Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja – that pleased Sridhar the mosr. “We saw [Yuzvendra] Chahal and [Jasprit] Bumrah crack it up in the last game, diving after bowling long spells. We were in the penultimate ball of the inning, Chahal was diving and stopping runs.”
Working with the non-athletic fielders in his side begins, Sridhar says, with giving them awareness with respect to fielding, and working with fitness coach Shankar Basu. The lead-up to the World Cup gave the support staff time to focus on Chahal, Bumrah and Jadhav, “guys like this who are willing to work hard and to work on their skills.” The urgency to up their fielding skills, and greater fitness, helps the coaches step in to “chip in with the technical aspect of fielding and awareness and anticipation” to ensure that the weakest link is strengthened. Bumrah for example may still be a “work in progress”, but had been a “massive improvement” from the time he joined the India team in 2016.
Sridhar said in the field the Indians “had put the team ahead of themselves,” in the sense of not fearing injury while trying to stop a run. “These are the qualities which you need when you want to go out and win championships.”
In the match against Australia, Jadhav’s throw for the run-out and catches by Kohli and Jadeja were notable highlights on the field. Sridhar had taken note of missed shies at the stumps in India’s tournament-opener against South Africa, and the fielders had practiced and worked on the percentages.
“I would say converting, whether it’s an run-out or non-run-out, converting one in three or four throws is a good conversion rate, in my opinion.” One out of four, he said, was a good job for a “direct [hit] unit.”
That number had been badly skewed in the match against South Africa. “We had over ten strikes and we hit only once. In some days, we hit three out of four. It’s a practice thing and a system best thing, but that is one area we work hard on in every session. Yeah, it’s a good observation. We should maybe get better on that and get a couple in the next game.”
The flashy throwing, Sridhar said, came from the encouragement given to the fielders to go for the stumps. “Because we believe that his teammate will have his back, by backing up the throw. Sometimes it happens, and very rarely it doesn’t happen. So we encourage fielders to create an opportunity where none exists. We encourage fielders to try and convert an opportunity which they have created. So that is a rule we would like to take as a fielding unit, to be more on the aggressive side, and we all know where it comes from. It comes from the captain himself.”
The biggest challenge was to “stay consistent”, Sridhar said, and reduce what he called “the time between the good days and the bad – that is integral” – or rather, a greater frequency of good days over bad.
When he was asked whether the faster bowlers were advised to go easy on their shoulders when drilling in throws, Sridhar said, “no going easy. This is the World Cup.”