The need to fix fielding woes


Rex Clementine in Dubai

When Sri Lanka won the Asia Cup in 1997 beating India in the final, there were five outstanding catches. Roshan Mahanama, Upul Chandana, Muttiah Muralitharan and Sanath Jayasuriya were all top class fielders and they were as good as Ricky Ponting or Herschelle Gibbs. Sri Lanka were easily the best fielding team in Asia and globally were rubbing shoulders with the likes of Australia and South Africa. For a team that had not many wicket taking bowlers, fielding was a vital aspect. Direct hits that produced run outs out of the blue and converting half chances were a treat to watch. Twenty years down the line Sri Lankan cricket team is a pale shadow of its former self.

The warning signs were there not too long ago when a 38 -year-old Tillakaratne Dilshan retired as the team’s best fielder. When your team’s oldest player is the best fielder, that doesn’t augur well for the sport.

Fielding excellence is not something that you associated with Pakistan. The improvement they have made over the years under Mickey Arthur and Steve Rixon is remarkable. Fielding is a discipline that certainly can be improved with effort. Sri Lanka’s lack of enthusiasm to improve this discipline is frustrating for the followers of the team. The national cricket team’s conduct over the years has been unprofessional to say the least.

When Sri Lanka crashed out of the Champions Trophy last year after losing to Pakistan in a must win game in Cardiff, the fielding woes of the team were badly exposed. After Thisara Perera left Sarfraz Ahmed off the hook, the Pakistani captain was making fun claiming, ‘Thisara will remember it for the rest of his life and I will remember it for the rest of my life.’ Lessons have not been learnt and corrective measures have not been taken.

Captain Angelo Mathews was not willing to admit that dropped catches has been a curse to his team. He was rather blaming the batting claiming that Sri Lanka should have chased down both targets against Bangladesh and Afghanistan. He himself was culprit putting down one of the five catches that Sri Lanka dropped during the campaign including four against Bangladesh.

We also often here excuses like that the team having too many wicketkeepers as the reason for poor fielding. After a series of dropped catches in the first game of the recent series against South Africa, the team management even pointed out that the poor quality lights at Dambulla was the reason for such a bad display. There is also talk of that fielding not being so bad but consistency being lacking.

The time has come for the team to bite the bullet, stop giving excuses and admit that their sloppy fielding has cost them dearly in recent times. As highly paid professionals, they need to show commitment and desire to raise the fielding standards that will serve the team well in future assignments.

If you go and watch the Sri Lankans team train, you will realize that without fail the team engages in a football match before the training starts. Football skills is not going to win them cricket contests.

The attitude the Sri Lankan team has shown for fielding gives an indication that they haven’t realized the gravity of the situation.

Fielding drills by the team is restricted to individual training and very rarely do we see the team training as a whole. Our teams avoid fielding practices like the plague and cleverly Fielding Coach Nuwan Seneviratne was sidelined saying that his drills were too hard. India saw the opportunity and were quick to pounce on it and Senevirtatne is currently India’s Assistant Fielding Coach.

The old school fielding drills of Ranjit Fernando brought the Sri Lankan teams of yesteryear immense success and perhaps it is time to go back to the same method. At the age of 74, Mr. Fernando is not in a position to conduct fielding drills, but the coaching staff can certainly tap into his vast knowledge.

Sri Lanka’s poor Asia Cup campaign should bring about change and infusing young blood is the only way forward for a struggling team.

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