#INDvAUS | For the first time, India go into a series as a better fielding unit than Australia: R Sridhar – A good fielder makes a difficult play look difficult, a great fielding makes a difficult play look easy. Just because somebody is all over the park, it doesn't make him the best fielder
India fielding coach R Sridhar believes the change in mindset about fielding in Team India has been led by captain Virat Kohli himself (DNA – Aadesh Choudhari)
R Sridhar was appointed as India’s fielding coach in 2014, being with the team till the World T20 last year before coming back in September under new head coach Anil Kumble. He talks to Rutvick Mehta about transformation in mindset and fitness of current crop of players, captain Kohli demanding nothing less than 100% on field and why fielding is the engine room of this Indian team
You must be happy to be back as fielding coach of the Indian team…
Oh, definitely. There's no other place I'd like to be at the moment, especially working with the likes of Anil (Kumble), Sanjay (Bangar) and Virat (Kohli). It's amazing to be there, especially under Anil. The kind of knowledge bank that he is, when you chat with him, exchange information with him, there is so much to take up and implement. Not only in terms of fielding, but all other things as well.
In the couple of years that you've been with the team, the Indian fielding has undergone a sea change, from being a sloppy fielding outfit in England in 2014 to being one of the best fielding units in the world now. What would you attribute that to: change in mindset of players or the fitness levels?
You pretty much answered your own question. It was heartening to see Sachin (Tendulkar) say a fortnight ago that this was probably the best Indian fielding team in the world. That was very heartening to hear. As for the change, it's mainly coming down from the top. When Virat took over — even when MS (Dhoni) was there — the emphasis was on being a good fielding team. Anil also made sure each guy takes more than 30-40 catches in every session in terms of their skill work. Fielding in practice has become non-negotiable now. It has become a primary skill. And I'll be right in saying that the fitness levels have gone up, the awareness has gone up. All our players spend more time at the gym and doing the conditioning work on the ground. That, in turn, reflects on the field, not only in the players' physical ability but also the fitter you are, the better you're able to concentrate for longer periods. That is what matters while taking a catch towards the end of the day.
Virat literally walks the talk in that aspect. He takes nothing less from anybody else in his team. Virat doesn't accept anything less that 100 per cent on the field, and he does the same. So, that really drives all the players to improve and keep up with him.
That must be infectious, isn't it, if your captain is the fittest person in the team?
100 per cent. When you have a leader who knows what he's doing in terms of fitness, in terms of mindset, in terms of intensity and aggression, it really makes a difference. Like I said, he leads the way in what he says. So, that motivates the other members in the team, especially the young guys coming in. They see what it takes to be as successful as Virat, and they want to emulate him or take a leaf out of his book and do the same things. They know that in order to do that, they need to work on their mindset and their fitness, which will help them become better fielders.
Also, you're neglecting technique in fielding at your own peril. Technique is something that's equally important as fitness and mindset in fielding. There are so many nuances that make you a good fielder. That's where we as coaches come in, to instill that right kind of technique where they can amplify their skills and make it into a positive impact for the team in terms of fielding.
You say fielding is non-negotiable now. Not too long ago, fielding was something that was done just for the sake of being done in Indian training. But it is now a primary facet, isn't it?
Yes. Earlier, it was something you did when you're not batting or bowling. But now, you take it as a primary skill. An equal time is devoted to fielding as much as batting and bowling, and also to train players for specialised fielding positions. The challenge for us is to maintain the workload, and that's something Anil is very particular about before he draws out a plan for training. We have to make sure that we balance the intensity of practice and also the rest of the players. I strongly believe fielding-related injuries happen more in practice than in matches. Because for 10 balls that you field in a match, you practice 100 balls during training. So, we have to try and balance it out, and at the same time not negotiate on the kind of workload that is done. You try and have innovative drills so that players are interested in coming and doing the fielding drills, and also make sure that you work on their technique. So, the balance is the key. But fielding is non-negotiable in this team now, and that comes from Virat and Anil, and even with Ravi (Shastri) before. Fielding is the engine room of this Indian team.
Does it also help that you don't have any fielders to hide now? Even the fast bowlers are solid fielders with a good arm…
Exactly. And that's what Mahi was saying in the 2015 World Cup as well, that he doesn't have to worry where his fast bowlers are standing, because probably his fast bowler is standing at a high traffic zone from where he can get a run out. So, it's key to have fast bowlers with good arms, and Umesh (Yadav) and (Mohammed) Shami have that. Bhuvi (Bhuvneshwar Kumar) has really upped his fielding now. Ishant (Sharma) always gives his best when he is there, for a tall guy he comes down quickly. Not to forget, Mohit (Sharma), who is not in the team now, has been fabulous. (Jasprit) Bumrah is, I would say, the biggest gain for this Indian team over the last 12 months in terms of fielding. Hardik (Pandya) also is a good fielder along with being an all-rounder, so it adds a third value to his game.
But there's also need for improvement. They know that fielding is what drives them, because they know from where it's coming: from Anil and Virat and MS before that. So they know they have to get better at their fielding, and my part is to make them technically good and in the right frame of mind to enhance their fielding skills.
Talking of improvement, India dropped a few catches against England, especially close in. How crucial will it be to take those half chances in the upcoming series against Australia?
Any series for that matter, when you take those half chances, they add that much more pressure on the batsmen. More so in India, when a new batsman walks in and sees all those close in fielders, the rough patches, the crowd. So, fielders taking those half chances certainly adds a spring in the step of the bowlers. The entire effort for us is to make the batsman pay for every mistake they make. You have to take every catch that comes your way, but that doesn't happen all the time. However, that intent to take every catch and the energy on the field is crucial. That is something that we would like to maintain consistently rather than fluctuate. That is something we want to achieve.
Definitely, if there is any room for improvement, it is the close in catches. That is an area that we're very keen to set right from the England series going into this Australian series. So, we're having new leaderboards and charts to fortify the efforts that each player puts on the field. We get an idea of who is saving more runs, who is taking more catches, who is being more productive on the field. Those kinds of things Anil has introduced into the team, and we're fortifying it better than before. So that's something that is motivating the players.
Like In the Bangladesh Test, we saved as many as 42 runs. It may not seem a lot in the context of the game, but it was huge for us over a period of two innings. Most of those runs were saved by Virat himself and the fast bowlers. So, it augurs well for the team.
In most other India-Australia series in the past, fielding was one aspect in which the Aussies always had an upper hand over India. But we seem to be on par leading into this series in terms of fielding…
If you go a year back to the World T20 quarterfinal, MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli did to Australia what their batsmen used to do to us 10 years back. They ran them ragged, and it was something they couldn't do to us. That pretty much sums up the improvement in fielding that the Indian cricket team has gone through.
That must make the team believe it goes into the series as a better fielding unit than the Aussies…
Definitely. It reflects on the fitness, preparation and intensity level of the current crop of Indian cricketers. It is a welcome change that Indian cricket has been striving for over the past decade or so. And now being there on the cusp of the change and seeing that happen is really heartening.
But a lot of credit for the change in fielding mindset has to be given to the domestic set up as well, from the IPL to down. We have good fielding coaches in our country today, and most of the state teams have a designated fielding coach who understands the game. IPL has played a big role, so have the better grounds around the country by the BCCI and state associations. And young players see the likes of Virat and Jadeja on TV, and they want to field like them as well. So it's the entire system which has brought about the change since 2006-07. And 10 years down the line, India goes into a series as a better fielding unit than the Australia cricket team. That tells you the story.
One is almost reminded of Rahul Dravid while watching Ajinkya Rahane taking catches at slip. What makes him feel so at home there?
I think Rahane is on his way to mastering the slip position. He's right up there with one of the better slip fielders in the world today. I think it's purely because of practice, dedication to that job and his willingness to learn and improve. Also, standing there over a period of time only got him better. If you stand in one position over a period of time, your anticipation becomes better, you know when a catch is coming at you, you know the angles, you know the depth, you adjust to the bowler, you adjust to the pitch. So, all that comes when you stand in a certain position for a long period of time, and Ajju has mastered that.
Any reason why Ravichandran Ashwin, who was a regular slip fielder a couple of years ago, doesn't stand there any more?
That is something which Virat spoke to me a couple of months ago, getting Ashwin back in the slip. When he became the full-time captain, that was one of the first things he mentioned to me. But in the sub-continent, and in Tests especially, the amount of bowling that Ashwin does, the kind of emotional energy and mental stamina which it takes to bowl over after over to top quality batsmen and deliver the kind of results that he's delivered, I would rather have him in a position where he can just relax a little for one or two minutes. Rather than have him concentrate on every ball again at slips. We had in mind that in the home season, we don't want to use him too much in the slips because of his bowling. But when we tour abroad, you'll see Ashwin back in the slips.
A good fielder makes a difficult play look difficult, a great fielding makes a difficult play look easy. Just because somebody is all over the park, it doesn't make him the best fielder. If you see Ravindra Jadeja, he dives very rarely, only when it's absolutely necessary. Otherwise he just slides. The catch he took off Jonny Bairstow in Chennai, where he ran back 35m, he didn't even bat an eyelid for that. He didn't dive, fly or make a hue and cry. He just made it look incredibly easy. That is the real hallmark of a great fielder
R Sridhar, India's fielding coach