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Fielding key in World Cup

Tony Cozier

Fielding key in World Cup

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SO much has changed in Cricket’s World Cup that its initial tournaments now seem like museum pieces.
 The red ball has turned to white, the white outfits have been transformed into national colours (even down to the pads), open outfields are now limited by prescribed restrictions and matches go into the night.
More alterations have been brought in, even in the four years since the ninth edition in the Caribbean. Umpires’ decisions can now be challenged by the use of television technology, the ball is changed after 34 of the 50 overs and a batting power-play over five overs has been added.
For all such innovations, one element remains constant. Even in the early stages in the tournament, teams, specifically realistic championship contenders England, India and Pakistan, have come, yet again, to appreciate the importance of fielding.
No one can expect to lift the Cup by missing chances and giving away runs on docile pitches and fast outfields that favour high-scoring.
India came under fire from their always ultra-critical media after conceding 283 for nine to Bangladesh and 338 to England. The pressure on the major host won’t stop until they perk up.
After their opening match against Bangladesh, Sumit Mukherjee noted in The Times of India that India’s “aging warriors struggled to keep pace” as the youthful Bangladesh batsmen stole singles and turned singles into twos.
“India’s performance in fielding, catching, throwing and scoring direct hits has left much to be desired,” Sanjeev Karan Samyal wrote in the Hindustan Times.
Captain M.S. Dhoni’s frank admission after their tie with England in Bangalore on Sunday was that “fielding is not one of our strengths”.
 “If we had fielded slightly better, we would have won by at least one run,” he said.
There are likely to be many such close finishes on the way to the final in Mumbai on April 2.
Batsmen reprieved by careless catching and runs pinched from fumbles in the field can be the difference between a win and a loss – or a tie.
England had similar woes in their humiliating defeat by Ireland on Wednesday, also in Bangalore.
Among other things, captain Andrew Strauss was left to bemoan his team’s four dropped catches and blemishes on the ground that allowed Kevin O’Brien to fashion the World Cup’s fastest hundred and Alex Cusack and John Morrison to give him crucial support on their way to their terrific triumph.
 Shahid Afridi is another captain concerned about his team’s work in the field.
 He ordered extra practice after Pakistan’s similarly slipshod out cricket in spite of beating Sri Lanka in a key match in Colombo.
 It was not a consideration in the West Indies’ first two matches but, especially now that his knee injury has eliminated Dwayne Bravo, they lack the speed, sure-handedness, agility and strong throwing arms of the Australians and South Africans – and their predecessors when they ruled the cricket world.
 It is an aspect of their game that needs attention at all levels.
 When the West Indies beat Australia in the unforgettable inaugural final at Lord’s in 1975, captain Clive Lloyd’s 105 off 82 balls made him Man Of The Match but he, rival captain Ian Chappell and West Indies manager Clyde Walcott all credited fielding as the main difference between the teams.
 “Their fielding was tremendous and (Viv) Richards was like a panther,” Chappell said. “Their throwing was right on the spot.”
 He was speaking from personal disappointment as one of the youthful Richards’ three vital run outs.
Then at the start of his great career, he finished off opener Allan Turner with a direct hit and Ian and brother Greg with swooping pick-ups and pin-point returns from the deep.
 How ever much the game has evolved, one of its oldest adages is still as applicable as it ever was.
Fielding does win matches just as surely as bad fielding loses them.
The captain who lifts the Cup this time is likely to be the one who, like those in 1975, can say that fielding made the difference.