Over the years, India had been known as a global powerhouse in the field of cricket, particularly when it came to displaying skills with the willow. But if you turn back the clock, the sport was introduced with a common purpose of those taking part in it. The main motive was to strike the ball with the bat, as the bowler delivered the red leather with a pace of his own. The batsmen then had to scamper between the wickets for runs.
The rest of the 10 players apart from the batsmen were seemed to be given a formality of picking up the ball and throwing it back to the keeper or bowler, so play could resume. Fielding was one aspect of cricket which was considered as something which the players were forced to do because they had no option.
But cricket was quick to evolve, as grounds got better. Players from South Africa and Australia presented a newer dimension to the sport by instilling a thought process in people’s minds that a game of cricket could also be won through athleticism in the field which leads to a crucial catch or a run out which can turn out to be the pivotal point for a team register an iconic win.
India had seen glimpses of those moments of brilliance – one of them being the all important catch of ‘Sir’ Vivan Richards while running behind the fence, by India’s very own Kapil Dev in the finals of 1983 Prudential Cup (now known as the World Cup). While the ball was in the air for a brief 6 seconds or so, Kapil Dev knew he had to give it his all to grasp that ball, as anything otherwise could have hampered India’s aspirations of winning the first ever world title, as the subcontinent nation just posted a meagre total of 183 in the first innings.
That iconic picture of Kapil Dev lifting the prized trophy from the Lords Balcony became immortalized in the average Indian cricket fan’s mind, and that ‘catch’ to dismiss the dangerous Vivian Richards to this day is described as the turning point of that game.
The world cup triumph in England inspired many to take up the game. Mohammad Azharuddin – a skinny batsman from Hyderabad was the next man to make the rounds for his wristy shots with the willow, as well as his quick hand-eye reflexes which saw him pull off some blinders during his era. But the Indian cricket team usually had just that one player who seemed to have that spirit of diving around the lush green fields to prevent the extra run.
The major reason for fielding still not being at a top level for India was because fitness was a mantra that wasn’t being focused on at that moment of time. However, the change was slowly and steadily getting in there as Sourav Ganguly introduced the world to the dynamic duo of Mohammad Kaif and Yuvraj Singh, who stood tall at the covers and point region. Their lean body, quick speed, and one of kind agility in the field was a visual spectacle for the masses who watched cricket so dearly.
For the very first time, the Indian cricket team had a set of players who were ready to throw their bodies on the lines to add pressure on the batsmen. Kaif and Yuvraj had now become the benchmark of Indian fielding after their sheer consistency and camaraderie in the field.
Time went on, and Team India got the habit of winning games overseas, but the men in blue still had a long way to go to be considered as one of the finest fielding units to grace the cricket arena. In came MS Dhoni.
Now the thing with MS was that he heavily relied on being effective rather than following a certain proto call and that’s the reason why the wicket keeper batsman has been ever so successful in the sport.
When the man from the Jharkhand was handed over the reins of captaincy, many thought that it was the wrong call made by the board and the management, since MSD was never to be seen as an individual who vocally puts out things in perspective when tons of cameras are on you. But that’s what worked the most in his favour, as he had seen what the Indian team was in need of, in spite of making do with what he had in a terrific manner by winning the inaugural ICC World T20 Tournament in South Africa.
Dhoni’s next assignment was going to be a difficult one in the CB series in Australia. The captain had then shared a vision to the selectors present in their respective room of winning the world cup at home in 2011, and the only way that was possible was if the selectors gave equal importance to those who could add value to the field by restricting crucial runs. Players such as Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, and Ravindra Jadeja were now being promoted by MS.
He did know that these players had it in them to win matches with the bat, but their duties were to stop the ball from going that extra mile as well when on the field. A newer model was now being instilled by the Indian cricket team. Fielding was an aspect which now youngsters belonging from small colonies and localities looked forward to. The occasional full stretched dives after watching their heroes do the same on an international level; put the pressure on local grounds and academies to provide their students with lush green fields in order to exercise this particular skill with utmost precision.
This displayed a classic example of ‘you become what you see,’ and the young cricketer of India was now witnessing athletes lunging into the ball to prevent a boundary, while getting back up quick enough only to throw it back to the wickets at a quick pace with sheer accuracy.
Dhoni’s Indian team laid the foundation of a new India who were now as lethal in the field then they were with the bat in hand. Talking about the present day, Virat Kohli’s leadership brought in a new and an even productive trend of ‘keeping yourself in shape,’ if one ever fancies a chance of playing for the nation.
Kohli being one of the star batters of the 21st century through his unmatched consistency has empowered and influenced many such youngsters to adopt a similar lifestyle as him.
Those who watched Kohli from their television screens now wanted to become the complete package, be it through the bat, his beard, or his physique. All in all the change brought in by the King added more fuel to a positive fire of India being the nation of top notch fielders who know how to execute themselves on the field while being less prone to injury. More drills, advanced tests, with better facilities has only improved a player’s stamina, physicality, as well as durability.
The time is such that even if an outsider does come to pay a visit to India, and takes a look at a few local matches between a district, then he will clearly observe how the average Indian cricketer has changed his mindset towards being as impactful in the field as possible. The masses used to compare South Africa, New Zealand and Australia to the nations who had an abundance of fine fielders, but India has fought all the stereotypes and barriers to it being considered as a nation of batsmen, and have cemented a benchmark of athleticism and effectiveness in the field as well.