If there was a glamour meter attached to the three trades on a cricket field, fielding would score the least, at least in the pre-T20 era. Even now, when one glances through a team sheet, there’d be hardly anyone who will count the number of good fielders in a side, and rather look only for the number of quality batsmen and bowlers in it.
But the advent of T20 cricket has opened new possibilities, on the fielding front, and Saturday’s clash between Kolkata Knight Riders and Sunrisers Hyderabad brought under the spotlight a team’s conscious efforts to become a better fielding unit.
Both KKR and SRH came to the Eden Gardens on the back of some poor fielding in their previous outing. While SRH had dropped three catches against Mumbai Indians, KKR had dropped two catches and missed a run-out chance against Chennai Super Kings, one of them being a match-defining drop of Sam Billings, who went from 9 to 56 to win CSK the nervy contest.
The blame that night though was entirely copped by R Vinay Kumar, who failed to defend 17 in the final over. The other problem – sloppy fieldwork – wasn’t swept under the carpet though, according to skipper Dinesh Karthik. “There’s little time to change things too much. We have addressed the issue and this is something all players are aware of. At the end of the day, it’s one skill that all the players can contribute,” he added.
While Karthik felt there was little turnaround time to overhaul their fielding show, SRH, in Manish Pandey’s words, did ample brainstorming over it. “Important to work hard on fielding. We had a long fielding session in Hyderabad and we talked about contributing in the field,” Pandey, who took two stellar catches, said in the mid-innings break.
Surely, SRH had put in a lot of thought after an ordinary night the last time and it was visible when the fielders inside the ring came charging onto the ball every time Robin Uthappa tried to steal a single and comfort himself at a position he hadn’t batted in, for some time. The first real stamp of intent though came from the skipper himself as Kane Williamson got out of the blocks early at mid off and while backtracking on a miscued loft from Chris Lynn, he almost pulled off a blinder. It was a ball that was realistically in no one’s radar but Williamson’s quick dash seemingly made it catchable – at least for a few seconds, and had a point to prove.
Then came a point in the match when everyone in Kolkata would have thought that this piece of fielding cannot be beaten on that particular evening. But SRH fielders managed to raise the bar higher, every single time, especially the ex-Knight Rider Manish Pandey. When Nitish Rana timed the pants off a widish Billy Stanlake delivery, Pandey, at point, hardly had the time to move. He flung himself to his right before the ball popped out of his outstretched hand, but in a matter of a few milliseconds, he swept off the ball before it could have touched the grass. Pandey would later reveal that the ball had come so quickly that he had ‘no time to react.’
In the next over, Pandey proved he wasn’t done yet when he leaped up at the edge of the long on fence and caught a miscued Sunil Narine loft. However, as his body’s centre of gravity fell apart, he parried the ball back in the field of play. He tried with all his might but couldn’t trace it back on the second attempt. He’d saved five runs for his team though.
It was not just one former KKR player on show on Saturday evening. Bowling the 13th over, Shakib Al Hasan caught the big fish off his own bowling. Lynn had been undone by an arm-ball and the thick leading edge was certain to fall beyond the bowler’s reach. However, Shakib grew himself into double his height by diving full length to his left and taking a stellar catch, merely inches off the ground. As the television producer broke the effort down into the minutest of frames and zoomed in, Shakib’s reach and stature grew further, quite literally.
Pandey though was not happy to share screen space with anyone. Andre Russell had just miscued a big slog into the night skies and that was enough to challenge Pandey to attempt the incredible again. Backtracking from point with the ball coming from over his shoulders, Pandey threw himself in the air to take his second outstanding catch of the evening. There was a third man fielder who had closed in on the ball too, but the point fielder’s confidence to call for it and complete it safely was incredible.
There were more exemplary displays apart from these instances. Rashid Khan, in the 10th over, covered a lot of ground from long on to almost snaffle Narine when he had lofted one off Siddarth Kaul. The teenager eventually carried the ball over the ropes but to make an almost impossible chance look possible was praiseworthy.
There was a moment in the KKR innings when Deepak Hooda too flung himself in the air and reverse-cupped a fierce Russell hit at the deep cover fence, only to land on the edge of the boundary skirting though. However, even through their not-so-successful attempts, the message had been sent loud and clear from the SRH camp that they weren’t here to repeat the mistakes.
One of the unsaid yet critical attributes of fielding is how it helps in building a healthy ecosystem within the team. Especially, when a bowler like Billy Stanlake comes charging in to unleash 140-plus kph deliveries down the pitch, efforts like those of Pandey, encourages him to bend his back further and give it all that he has.
Rightly, when interviewed after receiving his Man of the Match award, Stanlake credited two of his wickets to Pandey, because for however well Stanlake had bowled for his magical figures of 2 for 21 from four overs, his wickets column would have had nothing to show if not for those fielding efforts.
By his own admission, he owes Pandey a couple of beers for it. #KhabarLive