Author : Sougat Chakravartty
Cricket is not just about sending down a round object over a thick strip of 22 yards towards a figure wielding a block of wood, who dispatches it all over the park.
It is also about a less glamourous aspect called fielding – the art of chasing the ball and preventing the batting side from taking complete control of the game.
The kind of excitement that batting and bowling provide makes an average person, who is not familiar with the game, wonder whether that is what cricket is all about. Fielding, in comparison, is not as glittering as the other two departments.
But in times of great need, all it takes is one superb effort from a fielder to turn the tide of the match in his side’s favour. The moments of brilliance may be few and far in between, but when they do arrive, they dazzle you with the sheer artistry you would normally associate with wizards.
Australia has produced many fine exponents of this art, and even the world-beating West Indies had the likes of the Big Cat Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards in their ranks. England’s banner was held by Paul Collingwood for quite a long period of time, while South Africa seems to churn out one classy fielder after another.
Of late, teams from the subcontinent have also experienced a revival in what most considered to be their glaring weakness. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have benefited from the enthusiasm and quicksilver reflexes the younger lot have brought in.
Here is a look at some of the greatest fielders in ODI cricket:
Special Mention: Steve Smith (Australia) and Suresh Raina (India)
Sydney all-rounder Steve Smith is one spirited youngster who not only brings in fresh energy to the Australian side, but also agility and the litheness of a panther. Balance, anticipation and awareness are his key strengths, which make him a potent weapon on the ground. Blessed with the ability to score plenty of run outs from the in-field or executing powerful throws from the deep, Smith is certainly the kind of cricketer Australia have chosen to fill the void caused by the retirement of Ponting and Mike Hussey.
In Suresh Raina, India has unearthed a gem of a fieldsman. Be it fielding in the covers or lurking around in the in-field, the UP lad’s energetic, athletic presence on the ground seems to rub off on his teammates as well. Along with the aggressive Virat Kohli and the
committed Rohit Sharma, he provides a perfect foil to veteran Yuvraj Singh, and it is difficult for opposition batsmen to wrong-foot him most of the time.
5. AB de Villiers (South Africa)
The wicket-keeper batsman has always been an extremely fast mover, be it while running between the wickets, behind the stumps or in the outfield. Like most of his teammates, de Villiers has played rugby before, so his familiarity with movements on the ground has paid off handsomely.
The ODI skipper of the national side once ran out Simon Katich when he dived to stop the ball and fired in a direct hit lying on his stomach, facing away from the stumps. This has evoked further comparisons with the legendary Jonty Rhodes, although AB still has a long way to go.
His position as wicket-keeper has given him knowledge of every man’s place on the field, and that is one ability which has helped his side a lot even when de Villiers has not donned the big gloves. A livewire in every sense of the word, the Pretorian!
4. Yuvraj Singh (India)
For India to revive after the sordid saga of match-fixing and enter into the new millennium with a clean slate, the focus had to shift to youth.
One aspect youngsters bring is oodles of energy and the right attitude, and when it is channelled on the field, it galvanises the entire team.
Yuvraj Singh, along with Mohammad Kaif, led the Indian renaissance in an art that most people, including fans of the Men in Blue, would point out as one of their chief weaknesses.
Backed by new coach John Wright, whose emphasis on fielding was religiously followed by the squad, Yuvraj would provide the extra yard of athleticism the side lacked for decades. Primarily favouring point, near the square leg umpire, he has pulled off one-handed stunners, and somehow manages to contort his body like elastic when taking those low, dipping catches.
With a unique way of diving, cupping his hands with the fingers pointing downwards, the Punjab youngster, in tandem with the equally energetic Kaif, was at the forefront in making India a top-class fielding side. Although age, a growing waistline (which he has now trimmed) and a spate of injuries have seen his effectiveness diminish somewhat, he is still an exceptional fielder. With the arrival of Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj is now the experienced leader of the fielding side!
3. Herschelle Gibbs (South Africa)
Steve Waugh’s taunt may have haunted him for a long time, but there is no denying the fact that Herschelle Gibbs is one of the best fieldsmen around in ODI cricket. In fact, in his favourite position at backward point, he was often touted as the next Jonty Rhodes, who had made that particular outpost his own at the height of his prowess.
Gibbs doesn’t quite possess the fluid grace of his illustrious predecessor, but he is no slouch on the field. He takes catches with the perfect grip, though his habit of prematurely celebrating a catch has backfired at the most inopportune of times (the 1999 World Cup comes to mind).
Nevertheless, with the fire and attitude that the tonsured batsman brings to the fielding aspect of the game, he has cemented his place among the all-time greats of that art.
2. Ricky Ponting (Australia)
The former Australian skipper, in addition to being one of the greatest batsmen the world has seen in modern times, was phenomenal in the field. Usually occupying the toughest of positions in the park, he would bring in as much passion into this department as he did with batting.
In the late nineties, the Tasmanian vied for the title of world’s best with the livewire Jonty Rhodes of South Africa, as he made the point position his own, with a freakishly high accuracy in the in-field. He had an uncanny knack of breaking the stumps from a fair distance, before moving to the outfield and then to the slips while taking over the reins of the ODI side from Steve Waugh.
Not many batsmen in the world would have fancied taking on Punter when trying to steal those cheeky singles. He justly deserves to be among the top in this list!
1. Jonty Rhodes (South Africa)
You do not complete a list of top fielders without the master himself. Jonathan Neil Rhodes defined it in modern times, and refined it to such an art that many international sides began to consider it a vital necessity in their scheme of things.
He didn’t just move on the field; he glided all over it with the grace of a gymnast. There was a certain finesse in his approach to the most unglamorous aspect of the game, not in the least hampered by that terrible disease called epilepsy. Like the mamba, Jonty slithered around backward point, patrolling the area with a hawk’s eye.
His most famous fielding effort came in the 1992 World Cup game against Pakistan, when he briefly brought Superman alive while effecting the greatest run-out ever witnessed in ODI cricket.
Acrobatic, athletic, alert – all these terms do not adequately define the man who changed the landscape of the game with his electrifying efforts. He still holds the record for taking the most number of catches in a single match (other than a wicket-keeper).
Praising his superhuman abilities in the field, the late Hansie Cronje once mentioned that even if Rhodes doesn’t get the runs, he will get you three wickets in his own style. Indeed, with the man around, South Africa would save at least 15-20 extra runs, tightening the noose on the batting side.
Like the Avengers’ Hawk-eye, Jonty could fire in a direct hit with pinpoint accuracy, which made him more threatening than any other player on the field at the moment.
He may have hung up his boots over a decade ago, but the Maritzburg Mamba still remains the greatest fieldsman of all time in ODI cricket.