Kieron Pollard dives to take a catch during an IPL match © AFP
Kieron Pollard dives to take a catch during an IPL match © AFP

 

By Suneer Chowdhary

 

In many ways, T20 has revolutionised fielding. A format as condensed as this is bound to be decided by the most miniscule of margins on many an occasion and the coaches would have realised that players with excellent fielding skills would be an obvious plus.

 

Unfortunately, what has changed over the time that T20 cricket was introduced about seven years back is the amount of cricket. The increase has been directly proportional to upswing in the number of eyeballs that the sport has received due to this format and in the process, the life as a cricketer has become as stressful as it is enriched. That, in turn, has undoubtedly affected some of the rising fielding standards and it would be safe to conclude the introduction of T20 cricket has been a paradox of sorts.

 

The net result still points to an overall improvement of fielding standards.

 

However, in this edition of the Indian Premier League, it was first seen in Mumbai’s win over Pune. All catches were held – and there were eight of them – with Kieron Pollard leading the way with the dismissal of the man who could turn it all around, Robin Uthappa. It was one of those catches, which if dropped, would have not led to much castigation of the fielder, given its stiff nature.

 

Against Chennai, Pollard not only repeated his magic but seemed to have also inspired his teammates. The dangerous-looking Michael Hussey was sent back by Pollard’s diving effort at short mid-wicket and Mahendra Singh Dhoni fell to another difficult diving catch by Rohit Sharma. Incidentally, both fielders had dived forward to hold their catches. And catches diving forward are never easy. Later, Harbhajan Singh held on to a skier off his bowling.

 

Catching, however, is only one aspect of fielding. Ground-fielding and cutting the runs off is another. More importantly, hitting the stumps direct or getting the throw quickly and accurately enough to the wicket-keeper is another vital factor.

 

Mumbai’s game against the Deccan Chargers had abundance of that too. In fact, so stunning was the ground fielding that one sensed that they seemed to have done better than their own expectations, as the run-out of Sunny Sohal showed. It looked to be an easy single as Sohal was getting to the crease, but Pollard threw down the stumps quickly to catch the batsman short. The surprised looks on the fielding side’s faces were worth a thousand words when they found that Sohal was actually out when they had earlier thought that the on-field’s umpire to go for the third umpire’s decision was a precautionary one more than anything else.

 

Lasith Malinga ran Cameron White out with a direct throw and Andrew Symonds had Dale Steyn way out of the crease in the same game. There was another small matter of a stumping of Dan Christian by Davy Jacobs, which was one of the quickest in the business.

 

Good fielding seemed to be the flavour of the Chennai-Pune game as well. Restricted to 142 in their 20 overs, Chennai’s only chance of coming back into the game was through early wickets.

 

There were four early wickets – all bowled, but what the scoreboard will probably not show is the manner of their ground fielding through those 20 overs. Fours were regularly cut off, twos were reduced to ones and ones to none, easily saving 10-15 runs in the entire duration of the innings. And when you consider that the game was decided by 25 runs, it was only fair to say that Chennai had outfielded the Warriors.

 

There is no doubt in my mind that other teams will now begin to take fielding a tad more seriously than they have so far. And that can only heighten the joy for the spectators.

 

(Suneer is a Mumbai-based cricket writer and can be contacted at suneerchowdhary@gmail.com and Tweets here: @suneerchowdhary)