Fountain tweaking Tigers' fielding
It has often been said that a good fielding team adds runs to the total. This means that, for instance, when defending a score of 220 a fielding side, by being alert to every run-saving opportunity, can actually make the batting side feel that the total they are pursuing is, say, 20 runs higher.
This is even truer of younger, more inexperienced sides like Bangladesh; what they may lack in batting or bowling can be made up by the runs 'scored' on the field.
To this end, national fielding coach Julien Fountain has been working tirelessly with the Tigers. The fruits of this effort have been in evidence in certain instances; think Shafiul Islam's brilliant catch to dismiss Daniel Vettori during the fifth ODI against New Zealand at Mirpur last October.
“The fielding's shaping up really well, I am very happy with the way things are progressing,” said the UK-born national fielding coach.
“You've got to enjoy it, you've got to want the ball to come to you. As soon as there is a fear element it's horrible. The fun element is very important, but also a big thing is attention to detail,” Fountain said.
“You've got to give it a hundred percent; you can't give it seventy-five percent and then wonder what went wrong. Every time you touch the ball you have to give it a hundred percent, be it a practice match, an international match or a practice session.”
This attention to detail is evident in some of the drills that the team go through, which at first glance might seem irrelevant to a layman. One such drill is one where all the players throw different-sized and different- coloured balls to each other and catch with one hand.
“It is part of my SPACE program, which expands to Safety, Power, Accuracy, Control and Excellence. It is to try and bring them on as a whole, not just as a right-arm thrower, but to try and bring out every aspect of their agility, strength and balance. We work very much on an ambidextrous level, so that when a ball is hit you don't instinctively stick out your right hand. A golden rule I live by is that you need to be happy taking any ball at any angle,” he said and went on to explain the drill with different sized balls. “I work with different sized balls, different coloured balls, different shaped balls just to mess with a fielder's senses. Let's take the slips as an example. A slip fielder doesn't generally drop a catch because he can't catch. It's usually because of a lapse in concentration. Practising with different balls makes the fielder refocus every time.”
One crucial indicator of a side's fielding strength is the direct hits they make over the course of the game. “I can't quote you the statistics from the last two series, because I haven't got them at hand unfortunately. But our direct hits are increasing every fixture we play. It's the law of averages, the more you hit the stumps, the higher the chances that you are going to get run-outs. We set a target that in every fifty-over game we are going to hit the stumps ten times. Currently, the number stands at four or five, so we need to raise that up, but it's getting there,” said the animated fielding coach.
There are few better ways to gauge the health of a cricket team than to observe the players on the field. To an extent, fielding is the one discipline in which a player can achieve high levels of proficiency without possessing a great deal of natural talent. The higher the number of good fielders in the side, the higher the number of players exhibiting a good work ethic. Happily, thanks to the efforts of people like Fountain, the fielding seems to be an aspect of the Tiger's cricket supporters can be confident about when they take the field on February 19.