Little things that make the difference
MS Dhoni's statement in a media conference that "Sehwag, Sachin and Gambhir are slow in the field and that costs 20 runs to the team which has to be made up by batsmen" generated lot of heat and more sound bytes than any of his statements since he became India's captain.
This appeared to have created lot of bad blood resulting in counter accusation by the vice-captain Virender Sehwag and raised questions about India's dressing room atmosphere. However, Dhoni's observation regarding fielding should be looked into dispassionately without bringing in any names.
Fielding is an important part of cricket, be it in Tests or shorter versions of the game. Batting and bowling are given prominence but teams that neglect fielding do so at their own peril. I might add running between the wickets too to this.
When Brian Lara scored 375 in Antigua in 1994 against England and broke Matthew Hayden's record of 380 by scoring 400 not out against England in Antigua in 2004, he was jokingly asked whether he would like to carry that venue in his hip pocket and spread it wherever he went. Anil Kumble too was asked the same question when he took 10 wickets against Pakistan at the Feroz Shah Kotla in 1998-99.
Of course, batsmen and bowlers cannot carry their favorite grounds with them, but a team of 11 committed top-class fielders can carry their fielding to any part of the world. No matter what the pitch has to offer or who their opponents are, such a fielding unit always has an edge even before they take the field. It is this reputation that is feared and turns a match on its head at crucial times.
Statistics indicate that India have won around 110 close matches in ODI cricket; 40 of these by a margin of one to 16 runs; 30 matches by a margin of one to three wickets; 40 matches in the last over of the game. Likewise, India have lost quite a few close matches in similar fashion.
Let us look at India's overall performance with other countries in ODIs. India have won only 37% of their matches against Australia, 37.5% against South Africa and 40.5% against Pakistan. This is definitely not an impressive record.
India's performance against other countries is more or less even. They have 44% wins over West Indies, 55% over New Zealand, 56% over England and 57% over Sri Lanka.
If India want to consistently remain amongst the top three, they have to improve their record against Australia and South Africa both home and away. They both have a decisive edge over India in fielding as well as in running between the wickets.
No offence meant to former captain Sourav Ganguly, but he was averse to running - be it while fielding or between the wickets. Generally he was not very enthusiastic to run a third run and quite a few times Sachin Tendulkar had to go back seeing his captain content with just a two. More often Indian stars like Sehwag and others are content to admire their shots waiting for it to cross the ropes and only when they realize it won't cross the boundary do they start scrambling for a second run. Quite a few runs are lost to the team in this way.
Just the opposite is true of top players from other teams. They start running and invariably run three even as the ball is likely to cross the ropes. These are little things which can make a difference between victory and defeat. They all add up and it is on such things that the result of a match finally hinges.
Discipline is the key here. Too many no balls, wides and overthrows all count in the end when the margin of defeat or victory comes down to single-digit runs, wickets or just a few balls to spare.
One can understand the odd overthrow, a wide or dropping a skier in tense situations when the pressure gets to the player. But a team that shows an attitude to save that single without letting it cross the boundary already has several pluses over its opponents. Glenn McGrath would chase the ball, dive and retrieve it before it reached the boundary even if he had bowled the over just before. Most of our bowlers, younger by at least 10 years, hardly show the same zeal or commitment. It is not about fitness alone, but an attitude and commitment to the side. A team that takes pride in its fielding becomes a well-knit fielding unit hard to crack.
Low-margin victories are full of such things. When a match is heading towards a thriller, the side which has consistently practiced how to take care of 'little things' will more often find themselves on the winning side.
There is no fluke here. It is sum total of good practices that pay at the end. This is where a good coach can make a difference to the team. If India take care of such things, there is no reason why their record against Australia and South Africa cannot change.
More about E R RamachandranE.R. Ramachandran, a corporate manager-turned-columnist has contributed to Hindustan times and Deccan Herald. He is a regular contributor to the Churumuri blog and writes a weekly column for Mysore Mail, a local Newspaper. Satire being his forte, he combines cricket and other sports with politics, in 'tongue in cheek' articles. He firmly believes that another 22-ball century can never happen again in any format of cricket like the one Don Bradman did in November 1931. And feels it is time for BCCI to do something to improve India's fielding and running between the wickets.
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