Regarded as one of the greatest fielders, Jonty Rhodes, believes that the Indian Premier League (IPL) brought about a sea change in cricket in terms of fielding.

In an interview with TOI, South Africa great Rhodes, the fielding coach of the Lucknow Super Giants, spoke on what makes a good fielder, the role of coaches and the future of one-day cricket.

Excerpts:

What are the main ingredients of a great fielder?

We know fielding is very important and it is a matter of discipline to learn good techniques. One of them is the ability to move laterally and sideways as cricket is a very straight line game. Whether you are batting or bowling, everybody is moving in a straight line. To be a good fielder, you need agility to change directions. Secondly, you need to have good anticipation which doesn’t mean faster reflexes. Good anticipation means you expect every bowl to come to you. This is not something you can coach. Another thing is that you not only have to watch the ball coming on to the bat but also the batter’s body language. To do good fielding, you have to enjoy it.

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Who, according to you, are the top three fielders in world cricket today?

Right now there is only one – Ravindra Jadeja.

There was a time when being a good fielder was a personal thing, but now it is a collective activity. Is limited-overs cricket the main reason behind it?

It is T20 cricket specifically, not just limited overs. Only when IPL began, people really started focusing on fielding. Not every team had fielding coaches. There was enough time in 50-over matches. You had 3-4 good fielders and 6-7 guys didn’t do great. But once IPL started, we saw growth in fielding. Since 2008, around 12-13 years have been amazing. Earlier, people spoke about fielding but there were only 3-4 good individuals. But now, as a team we have seen the growth of fielding go through the roof.

In today’s cricket, not only catches and run-outs are vital, but saving runs is also equally important. How difficult is it to become a quality fielder when one has to focus so much on batting and bowling skills?

It is not difficult to focus on fielding because it is a discipline. We have fielding coaches and their job is to make the work done. Just like batting and bowling, it is a part of daily practice. As a fielding coach, I am not requesting players, I am getting them into fielding rules. Fielding now is an important part of cricket.

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How do you see the Lucknow team performing this season, especially when there are games both at home and away. Travelling, playing matches at various centres and training can take a big toll. How can players remain fresh in such a hectic tournament?

It is difficult. Firstly, we are back with the IPL outside Maharashtra. We have to make Ekana Stadium our homeground and our fortress. When people come to Lucknow, they know they have tough games at hand not because of matches but due to travelling. Flying pan-India makes a long day, maybe 6-7 hours. So, we have to deal with mental fatigue during the IPL. So, as coaches, we discuss with the management, fitness trainers, physiotherapists and counsellors about how we can maximise time for rest for players. If we don’t get that right, we will have mentally fatigued players.

We have seen a vast difference in quality of fielding in domestic and international cricket. What should be done to narrow that gap?

I think more coaches are required. If I go to any academy and any state, I can motivate the players for 3-4 days in a camp. They will be excited and do the drills but in two weeks’ time, they will forget everything or not do things with the same intensity. Cricket is a game of habit and how you practice is important. People think practice makes perfect players but you need perfect practice for perfection. The key is to upskill coaches at domestic level and make sure more youngsters come through as they can easily get into the good habit of fielding at an early stage. We should focus on coaches. If I train players, the impact is on 10-12 players but if I can train 5-6 coaches, the impact will be on 100 players.

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Because of T20 cricket, 50-over matches sometimes become drab. What do you think will be the future of ODIs?

ODI is like three separate events within 50 overs – there are power plays, the middle and the death overs, where the batters try to make maximum runs and bowlers are under pressure. But look at England, they play the whole way through. They are not worried about the start, middle or the end, they just go hard. South Africa plays brave cricket, Australia does it slightly differently. So, 50-over cricket remains the same, what might change would be the attitude of the teams towards it and that would make it entertaining for the people.

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By editor

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