Common sense about power sharing

by Eusi Kwayana
Stabroek News
April 1, 2001

There is an old cricket tale several years old of past West Indian batsmen ignoring basic fielding practices for well played shots, allowing easy runs in the process whilst promising to amend when their turn came to bat.

"Don't worry we can afford to let that one pass, because it will be made up with runs when I bat," is how the story goes.

If that was the attitude those years within Test teams, current practices would exemplify the transformation the sport has undergone from those relaxed days to the present.

Batting and bowling seemingly were the only two skills which mattered most, at the expense of excellence in fielding and physical fitness, so vital in the modern professional game.

The best examples of fielding competence these days are best portrayed by the two most accomplished teams in the world today.

In addition to being strong in batting and bowling, Australia's and South Africa's fielding (catching and ground) excellence is one major factor which allows them to stand on top of the world in Test and limited overs competition.

West Indies who happen to be the opponents of those countries in recent competition is finding out why fielding is important for success.

One of the oldest cliches in cricket states that "Catches win Matches and anyone following the said two series would understand why it should be one of the most accurate in cricket's history.

From a West Indian perspective it was alarming to observe the Australians snaring almost impossible catches to cause collapses and break partnerships whenever West Indies batted.

Blinders by Damien Martyn, Mark Waugh, Shane Warne and Matthew Hayden, especially in the Perth and Melbourne Tests gave credence to the cliche and reinforced the importance the Australians placed in fielding competence.

Now again in the Caribbean, the South Africans are giving West Indies another lesson of similar nature.

For most of the second Test in Trinidad and Tobago the match was evenly poised until the final day when West Indies faltered in their second innings chase of a 232-run target.

Significantly it was two instances of fielding brilliance which made the difference between losing and winning for West Indies eventually.

Nicky Boje's excellent tumbling catch off Ramnaresh Sarwan's miscued hook broke a partnership with Carl Hooper which seemed good enough to carry West Indies to victory.

Shortly afterwards Herschelle Gibbes got into the act with a brilliant pick-up and accurate direct hit throw which accounted for Ridley Jacobs, the man who batted South Africa out of contention in the first innings with his unbeaten 93. Had Gibbes not fielded and thrown well, Hooper could well have found the ideal partner to take West Indies to an unlikely triumph.

West Indies on the contrary grassed crucial catches when South Africa batted which could have influenced the results the other way around.

One remembers Ramnaresh Sarwan putting down Daryll Cullinan before he had scored half of his match winning second innings century and others going abegging through Marlon Samuels and Brian Lara.

Difficult catches they were, but similar to those the South Africans have been making and the Australians before them.

It has been one source of aggravation for captain Hooper who has already more than once in this series had to bemoan the team's faulty catching.

In these days of constant high level competition, other aspects of the game like fielding and captaincy can be the difference between winning and losing.

In the last few months there have been justifiable cases to have young players in the West Indies side, yet most are thrust into top flight competition, quite raw, outside of their specialty, in vital areas like fielding.

The ease with which players earn Test caps in the West Indies team these days, is bringing more than players with limited pride into the arenas.

Less rounded players with little grounding at the highest level, forced into Test teams, is not helping the regional team's cause.

Contrary to elsewhere, the South Africans, Australians and even the Englishmen normally have 40 to 60 first class games under their belts before winning Test places.

Without having an immediate solution to the problem, more than just meagre attention must be paid by our coaches to have the youngsters endure greater hours of fielding drills in the Test and A teams,

lest we are forced to make "Catches win matches", the new theme for West Indies squads.