The positions of short leg and silly point are believed to be Test rookies' spots. Many debutants are handed the job as a sort of initiation and rightly so, because the experienced, top brass do not like to get their hands dirty or get hit with hard sweeps for that matter.
It is therefore surprising that some players, even after being elevated as captain, take up the close-in fielding spot. And as many analysts argue that short leg and silly point positions have fast become more of a specialist’s spot than a newbie’s, it has only gained its significance since the introduction of the decision review system.
So, while captains today prefer to take up the promotion into the slip cordon and leave the close-in spots for ‘specialists’, here are five skippers who regularly fielded at silly point or short leg during their tenure.
#1 Alastair Cook
The former England captain has had a love-hate relationship with close-in fielding positions. He is tall and has quick reflexes and thus is the ideal candidate for the short-leg and silly point positions but at the same time, it makes him a target for stray shots too. Cook became England’s Test captain in 2012 and while he did transfer his short leg duties to Ian Bell at the time, he didn’t mind fielding in that position later on as his stint as captain evolved.
In the 2016 series against Sri Lanka, Cook, while fielding at the silly point position, was hit just below the knee by Rangana Herath and forced to bat outside the top-three for the first time in 10 years. That, however, hasn’t deterred him from taking up the spot time and again thereafter.
#2 Ricky Ponting
Of all the positions he fielded at, short-leg belonged to Ponting and Ponting alone. He was freakishly good while fielding at short-leg and while many would debate that there is always some element of fluke at such positions, Ponting’s success rate while fielding close-in to the batsmen was ridiculous.
That was one of the many reasons that he continued at that position even after taking over as captain. Ponting’s bravado at such positions was legendary and often left the opposition cursing their luck.
Take, for example, that one particular catch off the bowling of Katich at short-leg during Zimbabwe’s tour of Australia in 2003 which he describes in his book, At Close of Play, as ‘a crazy moment’. As Tatenda Tiabu smashed a half-tracker off Katich, the ball first hit Ponting on the arm then the chest as he held onto a screamer. Call it luck if you want but fielding at close-in positions is all about being brave enough to get hit and still hold onto those half-chances and Ponting was a pro at that.
#3 Sir Garfield Sobers
Sir Garfield Sobers was a complete player. Considered the greatest all-rounder of all time, his sharp, precise and eagle like reflexes at close-in positions made him a menacing fielder. His acrobatics in and around the bat, especially to Lance Gibbs’ off breaks was a treat for the fans. Before the Pontings and Jayawardenes of the day, it was Sobers who could sense the movement of the batsmen and hold on to catches many would not even term as half-chances.
Succeeding the immensely successful Worrell, Sobers was appointed captain in 1965. It was at this time that the West Indian team started to build on a legacy that would be remembered for a lifetime. In his career spanning two decades, Sobers had a wonderful record of 121 catches, many of which were caught at silly point and short leg.
It is, therefore, no surprise that Sobers, being a complete player, was the best paid professional in the 1960s, earning 5000 pounds a season in England.
#4 Graeme Smith
The greatest Test captain to ever lead South Africa and arguably the greatest Test captain ever, Graeme Smith was incredibly respected in the dressing room. One of the reasons for his successful 109-Test stint as a captain was his ability to rally the troops on the field even when the team were down in the dumps, even if it meant standing in the firing line at close-in positions of short leg and silly point.
Gary Kirsten, who played under Smith and then became a coach for South Africa, aptly summed up his contribution to South African cricket, “You look at his record in the fourth innings and his ability to make important contributions on the field. That gave the team a lot of confidence. It gives your team a lot of comfort to know that the captain is walking the talk."
#5 Mahela Jayawardene
A turning pitch is a silly point fielder’s worst nightmare. Not only does he have to be on his toes all the time to take half-chances but also needs to anticipate how the next turning delivery by the bowler would be handled by the batsman.
Make that bowler Muttiah Muralitharan and you have a recipe for disaster. To that extent, former Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene’s contribution in the field, especially while standing close-in to Muralitharan is incredibly underappreciated.
"The No. 1 thing when you're fielding there is not being afraid to get hit," Jayawardene once said talking about the close-in positions. “The guy who's not afraid of getting hit - the first thing will be that his weight and everything will be going forward, because a lot of the catches will come down at you. The guy who's a bit worried, the first reaction is always going to be to fall back or turn around. Then that limits you," Mahela elaborated.
While Jayawardene’s exploits in the slip cordon are remembered till today, his willingness to stand in close to the batsmen even after taking over as captain (in the absence of specialists) reiterates that he was a captain who led by example.