Tigers Need To Pick Up on their fielding
TheHE recently concluded World T20 Championship in India started with a bang – with Martin Guptill of New Zealand hitting the first ball of the championship for a six – and ended with a series of bangs – with the new Champion West Indies' Carlos Brathwaite hitting the last four balls of the tournament for four sixes!
Bangladesh had a chance for some bangs of its own. With three balls remaining, requiring one run to tie, and two runs to win over India, the Bangladeshi batsmen lost their nerves and went WWW! A dispirited Bangladesh ended the tournament with a whimper – bundled out for a paltry 70 runs by New Zealand.
Although Bangladesh has improved significantly in all three formats of international cricket – tests, ODIs and T20s – under the excellent coaching of Chandika Hathurusingha, to be competitive against the best cricketing nations, they have to improve much more. The good news is, if the other subcontinental teams – India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka – can win ODI and T20 world championships, so can Bangladesh.
To win international championships, a team has to excel in all the three components of cricket – batting, bowling and fielding. While Bangladesh has a long way to go before catching up with the likes of the Aussies in batting and bowling, the country's fielding is its Achilles heel.
Top fielding teams like the Aussies, the Kiwis, the Windies and the Proteas are so adept at fielding that they risk injury while diving head-first to save a boundary! The subcontinental teams, on the other hand, are historically inept at fielding.
Indian fielding was atrocious until Nawab of Pataudi (Mansoor Ali Khan) was appointed Indian test cricket team's captain in 1962 at the age of 21. Pataudi had played cricket in his high school at Winchester in England and later at Oxford (where he was the first Indian to be the captain of the cricket team), and county cricket at Sussex. He understood and stressed on the importance of fielding, and made the Indian team better at it.
Test batsmen are highly skilled. They know how to keep the ball on the ground, and make sure that it is away from fielders when they hit it in the air. Yet, despite their best efforts, most batsmen are out caught. They do not offer many chances. But, when they do, the chances must be grabbed with both hands, literally.
Slip fielding is simpler in the sense that it requires good reflexes. The ball does not travel long distances, and does not do much more than travel fast. The balls lofted to long-on and long-off, travel a long distance, and as the balls desperately long to reunite with the ground, gravity and wind make them wobbly. These are harder to catch because the balls are heavier. Bangladeshi fielders drop too many of such catches. Only Soumya Sarkar seems to have sure hands when dealing with them. A fielder's hands must be like the roach motel – once a ball checks in, it cannot check out! Dropped catches equal dropped matches.
A cricketer does not need to have a superior physique to be an excellent batsman. The greatest batsmen of them all, Sir Donald Bradman (5' 7"), as well as other greats such as Sunil Gavaskar (5'5"), Sachin Tendulkar (5'5") and the "Little Master" Hanif Mohammad (5'6") were all diminutive. Their centre of gravity was low, so their footwork was excellent, and they could swivel around quicker than tall players.
Height and muscle do not hurt either. Jacques Kallis (6'2") and Kumar Sangakkara's (6'2") physique made them invaluable in all formats of cricket. Muscular batsmen are an asset in shorter formats, as demonstrated by Aussie batsmen in last year's World ODI Championship, and by the Windies sluggers in the recent T20 championship.
Sports is getting more scientific by the day. Batsmen can learn much from other sports where slugging is essential, such as golf (driving) and baseball. Bangladeshi batsmen should emulate Virat Kohli's technique, and enlist the assistance of sub-continental greats like Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar to improve their batting.
Spinning is one area of bowling where the sub-continentals are superior. Bangladesh too should excel in the spin department. Why not employ the services of the best spinner of them all, Muttiah Muralitharan, to coach Bangladeshi spinners?
Fazal Mahmood put Pakistan on the cricket map by helping defeat England at the Oval test in 1954, taking 12 wickets in the match with leg cutters. England's Sir Alec Bedser also had tremendous success with leg cutters. His tally of 236 wickets was the highest in test cricket for nine years.
Freddie Truman, Richard Hadlee, Glenn McGrath and Waqar Younus used off-cutters as a variation of pace to surprise the batsmen. I have wondered why there are so few leg- and off-cutters today. Bangladesh currently has one off-cutter in Mustafizur Rahman. If nurtured properly, he could be Bangladesh's Fazal Mahmood. Why not employ Glenn McGrath or Waqar Younis to coach Mustafiz and other pacemen?
I am intrigued by how players of sub-continental origin are cropping up in every test playing nation. Starting with the great Rohan Kanhai, who complemented Sir Gary Sobers perfectly, to Alvin Kallicharran, the great Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Denesh Ramdin, sub-continental-origin players have always been a staple of West Indies cricket.
The senior Nawab of Pataudi, Iftikhar Ali Khan, is the only cricketer to have played for England (1932-34) and India. He captained the Indian cricket team in England (1946). In his honour the Pataudi Trophy is awarded to the winner of the India-England test series. During England's tour of Australia in 1932-33, a spectator kept heckling Pataudi: "Hey Gandhi, where's your goat?" The Nawab turned around and shouted: "Must be with you, mate, judging by the smell!" Since then, many more cricketers of sub-continental heritage have played for England – Raman Subba Row, Monty Panesar, the immensely successful English captain Nasser Hussain OBE, and currently, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid.
South Africa has one of the world's best batsmen in all three formats, Hashim Amla, as well as Imran Tahir and Farhaan Behardein. New Zealand has Ish Sodhi. And the ascendant Aussie star, Usman Khawaja of Pakistani heritage, now bats third for Australia in tests, the same hallowed slot once occupied by the demigod of cricket, Sir Donald Bradman.
The writer is a Rhodes Scholar.