A Question of Specialists
The flamboyant Yuvraj or the stodgy Chopra? Who
will open the batting when Australia tour India in
October? This is a million-dollar question. This
controversy that has been generated through casual
interviews with Sourav Ganguly, Sehwag and
Tendulkar, speaks volumes about the confidence and
forthrightness of the present Indian cricketers.
They are not afraid to express their views, which
makes one realize and recognize the progress Indian
cricket has made in the last few years.
Yuvraj Singh raises his bat
after completing his maiden
Test hundred at Lahore,
However, in this debate on the opening slot, hardly
anyone has taken into account the 'fielding'
perspective. Yuvraj is certainly one of the best
fielders in the world, but is he as good a close-in
fielder as Chopra? His performance as a close-in
fielder in the Rawalpindi Test, for which he
replaced Chopra in the eleven, was not very
convincing, whereas Chopra has done a good job and
held some spectacular catches close to the wicket.
Our next series is against the mighty Australians,
and with Kumble and Harbhajan Singh set to operate
in tandem, the difference between winning and
losing could be the half-chances that need to be
snapped up by the close fielders, especially the
man standing (and bending) at forward short-leg.
As of now, Chopra definitely holds the edge when it
comes to fielding in that position, but if the
captain wants Yuvraj in the eleven for his artistic
batting, then the only way forward is to develop
him into a good short-leg fielder. A week in the
company of Eknath Solkar, the greatest of them all,
would not be a bad beginning.
The Yuvraj-Chopra episode has in a way, again
underlined the fact that despite the importance
given to fielding in the modern era, it is still a
neglected aspect in comparison to batting and
We find it very easy to discuss the best bowling
combination or the most effective batting order,
but the importance of having specific fielding
positions is forgotten and the old thumb rule of
the most inexperienced teammate being placed at
forward short-leg and the fast bowler at long-leg
still prevails. We are in the era of
specialization, and it is vital that a specialist
fielder is valued as much as a specialist batsman
Aakash Chopra takes a brilliant catch to dismiss
Pakistani skipper Inzamam-ul-haq at Multan, April
One man who believed that fielding was a
specialized skill was the astute Sunil Gavaskar.
The series was India vs the West Indies in 1978-79,
the venue was Madras, where we played the fourth
Test. Sunil realized the importance of a specialist
close-in catcher to win a Test match. The previous
three matches had been drawn and several
half-chances close to the wicket had been missed.
I was strategically brought in as a 12th man, first
into the side and then onto the field. I can still
recollect the dismissal of Kallicharran, the West
Indian skipper, who through his brilliant batting,
was being a thorn to our side. The plan was to
tempt him to play his favourite cut shot and have
him caught at short-gully off Venkataraghavan.
Everything went according to plan and I managed to
grasp the catch. In the next over, I caught Parry
at backward short-leg and these two dismissals led
to our dismissing the West Indians for a paltry
151. We went on to win the match and series, thus
proving that in Indian conditions, it was essential
to have specialist close-in fielders to win
matches. If one goes through past performances,
victorious series in India have always been marked
by outstanding fielding, particularly in the
close-in catching positions.
One of the greatest exhibitions of the importance
of fielding was shown by the South African side of
1952-53, when they held the unconquered Australian
post-war side to a drawn series in Australia The
South Africans practised fielding with a fanatical
zeal and backed it up with superb physical fitness.
Although they were nowhere near to the Aussies in
terms of batting or bowling strengths, they emerged
unscathed. This led to other sides emulating them.
Every position on the field has a different style &
approach. It's not necessary for a close catcher to
be a superb outfielder or vice-versa. I can still
recollect the Nawab of Pataudi Jr, one of India's
best-ever captains, walking up to me, a junior and
asking me as to where I would prefer to field. I
said "Anywhere sir", eager to impress the stalwart.
"You must be a bloody good fielder then,", he
replied. His next sentence was even worse, "Go and
field at forward short-leg!" There I was, crouching
and cursing myself for getting into such a mess.
Well as things turned out, I took three catches,
two of them off dives, and from then on, forward
short-leg became part and parcel of my cricketing
A similar incident occurred during a domestic game
in Australia involving the champion side New South
Wales. A youngster came to field as a substitute
and asked his NSW captain Keith Miller where he
would like him to field. Miller, as nonchalant as
ever, pointed towards first-slip. Within half an
hour, the youngster took two wonderful catches and
spent the rest of his career fielding there. He was
none other than Bob Simpson, one of the greatest
first slip fielders of all time.
Fielding, along with physical fitness and mental
toughness, is an aspect that can give a team a
distinct advantage over its opponent in the modern
age. Will the Indian selectors and team management
give the side an advantage by picking Chopra, who
will be a real asset at forward short-leg, or will
they gamble on Yuvraj's awesome talent enabling him
to learn the tricks of close-in fielding by the
time the Aussies arrive? Let's wait and watch.