LEEDS: There was a time when India lost close ODI matches because of poor fielding. They more than matched their opponents in batting and bowling but often missed a catch or botched run-out opportunities and gifted away extra runs, only to gift the game away.

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In Test cricket, India used to be the back-benchers in this department of the game. Fielding was a neglected occupation, something many top stars were inimical to. The standard began improving with the advent of limited-overs cricket, in which excellence in fielding became necessary for success. Fortunately, in the 1980 and ’90s, India had captains like Kapil Dev and Azharuddin who were great fielders themselves. They set an example for others in the team to follow. From then to now, the Indian dressing room has evolved into a good fielding unit.
In modern cricket, fielding has been turned into a critical part of the game, as important as batting and bowling, especially in limited-overs cricket. Specialist fielding coaches keep a hawk’s eye as players huff and puff to make themselves better in the field. They are expected to be reasonably good, if not brilliant, in this department.

While batting and bowling performances are highlighted and showcased, good fielding efforts often fail to get the recognition they deserve but they do impact the results big time. For example, India have dropped the least number of catches in the 2019 World Cup. That certainly has played a role in the team making the semifinals after clinching seven out of the eight matches they have played.
However, there are areas which need improvement. Rishabh Pant, who is now part of the XI, needs to improve as an outfielder. The problem is, in a generally competent fielding environment, even an average attempt becomes glaring.
India fielding coach R Sridhar admitted that Pant was some way off acceptable standards. “A lot of work has to go into him because he has to improve his throwing technique and needs to be more athletic to be a good outfielder. But we will have to work with what we have for now and use him in an appropriate positions. That is what Virat (Kohli) and MS (Dhoni) are keen on, to keep him at the right place at the right time,” Sridhar said after the Bangladesh game in Birmingham. The coach also had a word of praise for Pant: “In the last game (against England) he saved five runs and also took a catch, which is a bonus.”
India played three wicketkeepers against Bangladesh – Dhoni, Pant and Dinesh Karthik. When Dhoni was off the pitch for a while, it was Pant who kept wickets. For those who were wondering why Karthik, who is supposed to be the better stumper, did not keep, the answer is that Karthik is also a better outfielder that Pant. And for the team, his presence in the outfield was more important.
But isn’t playing three wicketkeepers a handicap, as they may not be used to outfielding? “Obviously… but Dinesh is quite a good outfielder. Rishabh needs to develop awareness. That’s why we keep fielders in the same positions to let them develop a hang of it,” Sridhar said.
England batsmen used the short boundary at Edgbaston to their advantage, hitting the two Indian wrist spinners for 160 in their 20 overs. India may have to play the semifinal at the same ground. How does the team prepare for a ground dimension like this in such little time?
“Yes, Edgbaston is somewhat like the Eden Gardens. Once the ball has beaten you, there is no way you can chase it. So there is no point in running towards the boundary line. You have to cut the angle on such fast outfields,” Sridhar said.

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