While Jonty Rhodes was here on a short stint at the invitation of the Sri Lanka Cricket Interim Committee to have a look at the fielding skills of our top rung players, he told them: “I can teach you how to catch and throw back, but I cannot teach you how to get to the [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

It is how you get to the ball


While Jonty Rhodes was here on a short stint at the invitation of the Sri Lanka Cricket Interim Committee to have a look at the fielding skills of our top rung players, he told them: “I can teach you how to catch and throw back, but I cannot teach you how to get to the ball.” A statement that contained a lot of meaning if one could decipher it in the cricketing parlance. By saying “How to get to the ball” what Jonty would have meant is “Hey, you guys better be at the top of your fitness regime, then your agility runs up to the peak. Then you can pounce on the ball like a panther”.

Sometimes the captain’s expressions tell more than one story. (Pic Amila Gamage)

It was just the other day that we witnessed a scene with our mouth agape. The TV screen showed the Lankan coach Marvan Atapattu have a word with the Lankan ace of pace, Lasith Malinga, who was listening to him and reciprocating only in the form of a nod and then retreating to his cricket coffin and sitting on it in deep thought with a blackened face. Soon the camera focus changed to commentators Dean Jones and Rameez Raja on the pros and cons of dropping an icon in the calibre of Malinga in that manner – on the morning of an ODI – at the match venue, just before the start of the game.

What happened that day was the inevitable. How one chooses to bell the cat is not our concern. Still, how big your name is and if you’re the biggest name in fast bowling at the IPL is also not the concern of the Lankan selectors. If the Lankan pace icon is going for ‘tons’ of runs and placing the Lankan skipper (whoever it is) at a point of no return and that too because the cricketer in question has on purpose neglected the fitness aspect of the sport, then it is time to crack the whip. Generally it is human nature that when a big bird is sent to the slammer, other parakeets begin to take things seriously.

Just prior to that incident an influential insider confided: “This guy is taking things for granted. He thinks he could instil fear in the opposition with his reputation. But, just see some unknown young Pakistani middle order batsmen are taking him to the cleaners and if he is going to leak runs in this manner he is heading for trouble. You just cannot play international cricket on your reputation”.

Yet, is this malady confined to Lasith Malinga alone? At this end we say a big no. Just go back to the words of Rhodes — “How to get to the ball”. Now can we trek back a few moons? During the past two years Lankan fielding has been slipping and at the same time the Lankan management has lost the services of vital cogs in the calibre of Ruwan Kalpage and Mario Villavarayan who were being sidelined by the Lankan cricket hierarchy. Is this pathetic situation a direct result of those moves?

However, one may agree that since the New Zealand tour of 2015, followed by the ICC Cricket World Cup in that country and Australia, the Lankan fielding has been below par. It has just cascaded to its lowest ebb during the current Pakistan tour where the Lankan fielders just could not latch on to catches – some which they themselves would have held on without any effort while they were playing for their respective schools?

The views of some senior coaches are disturbing. They claim that the fielding gets the least of attention in our top rung cricketers’ menu. Sometimes the biggest flouters are the seniors or the guys who have carved a niche for themselves in the selectors’ list.
One senior insider said: “We have provided them with all necessary tools to detect their fat levels. There are training regimes that are on par with the current international requirements. Yet, the irony is that they do not pay much attention to training and fielding aspects of the game.

“The senior squad is under the supervision of National Coach Marvan Atapattu. The ‘A’ squad is under the supervision of Romesh Kaluwitharana. They have been provided with their own coaching staff and they have their own training regimes. So, mostly the onus is on the respective units and it is up to them to get their acts on par with the international requirement.”

The SLC senior added: “Just see the Pakistani team, and how they have improved in their fielding in the recent past. As you know, perennially, the Pakistani team was not hailed as a good fielding side while the Lankan side had a reputation of being the panthers of South Asia. I think now the respective roles have changed and the Lankans are lagging behind. It is time that we began to pay proper attention to that aspect of the schedule”

The insider said that even though Chaminda Vaas was a fast bowler, he hardly or never missed an International engagement during his entire playing career. “Vaas did not go only by the training sessions done as a group. He was one of those players who had his own training schedule and he stuck to it very piously. That is why even playing in local conditions and local wickets he ended up with 355 Test and 400 ODI wickets. Sanath Jayasuriya was another who stuck to training disciplines and just see when he was a selector he was bowling at the nets like a current player — may be better than some of them,” the insider said.

Talent – this is an ingredient that Sri Lanka has in abundance in sports. We can take the two main sports which are popular in the country – cricket and rugby. Both sports have a history of more than one hundred years and in some schools (Sri Lanka’s sporting cradle) cricket is taken religiously and in some rugby is treated the same and in some both sports are taken very seriously. Likewise at school level both sports are second to none, where skill is concerned. Then in the upper echelons rugby goes back simply because Lankans are smaller in size. Yet, it is not so with cricket. In cricket it is mostly skills and how one applies them to his advantage. Yet, if they pay no heed to the physical aspect of it where training takes pride of place, they will not be able sustain. That is the current scenario.

Remember it is not only Malinga that broke the golden rule, but, he was the one who was exposed with a downward trend in his performance. There are others who are being watched. So, better get on to your running shoes and get to the ball.

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