Dubai: There was a time when he felt that Indians were just not comfortable diving to stop a ball but South Africa's yesteryears' fielder-par-excellence, Jonty Rhodes, says the current Team India is full off "brilliant" fielders who have taken their standard to a new level.
Rhodes, who is the fielding coach of reigning IPL champions Mumbai Indians, said his opinion of Indian fielders not being up to it has changed. "You see the current Indian team and it is full of brilliant fielders, not afraid to dive around. The Sri Lankans have always been agile fielders but in recent years the Indians and Pakistanis have taken their standard of fielding to a new level," Rhodes told the IPL's official website ahead of the seventh edition of the event starting tomorrow.
"Good fielding is no more just the monopoly of countries like Australia or South Africa. It has become an integral part of most cricket teams."
Also in IPL, if you see some of the greatest catches taken, it will not feature only the international players. A number of young Indian domestic players have pulled off stunners, and that, excites me," added the South African, who became a sensation for his sheer agility on the field during his playing days.
Rhodes said younger members of the team like Virat Kohli have succeeded in emulating some Australian techniques in fielding. "Virat, for instance, catches the ball with reversed cup (finger pointing skywards). Now, he has been exposed to international cricketers from a young age and that it is possible he has picked that technique up," Rhodes explained.
"I personally feel that technique helps you get under the ball well and move your feet more briskly. However, there is no one way Ravindra Jadeja is a brilliant fielder and he catches the ball with straight cupped hands," he said.
Asked if improving standards are making the fielding coach's job tougher, Rhodes said, "In these times the players cannot hide in the field and so you need all your players to be good fielders. The expectation of the captain becomes high and hence a fielding coach's job becomes more challenging."
Rhodes said fielding is toughest in the Test format even though T20 is considered a young man's game. "Test cricket! No doubt about it. Sometimes, the whole team has to sit in the dressing room for two days as your batsmen go on and on. At other times, it gets tiring spending hours in the field and the energy levels dip. In the T20 format, I can pep the boys up by telling them, 'Come on! It's only 120 balls' but motivating them to field for five hours straight can be difficult.
"However, having said that, I imagine my basic preparation for the team would remain the same. I start preparing the team for fielding two-three days prior to the match. That's all I can do, at the end of the day. I get out of the picture once they take field," he said. On his experience of working with the Mumbai Indians, Rhodes said one of the most satisfactory aspects of it has been improving Munaf Patel's fielding.
"...When I first joined Mumbai Indians, Munaf Patel was in our squad. There were people who said to me, 'Well, good luck on that' because he was considered to be one of the worst fielders in India .... It took a bit of time but then he realized that he had to be prepared for every ball to come to him. Eventually, he ended up a much improved fielder," Rhodes said.
"I just wanted him to be the best Munaf Patel he could be. In the 2012 season he did pretty well in the field. Every time the ball would go up and we saw Munaf under it, we all were like 'Oh, there's another drop!' When we looked up, he'd have gobbled it up. The more catches he took, the more confident he became," he added.
"Like it does in batting and bowling, confidence plays a big part in fielding. For instance, Yuvraj Singh is one of India's greatest fielders but during the recent World Twenty20, he struggled to take his catches. That's because he was out of form with the bat and hence low on confidence."
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