Understanding about fielding as a cricketer

Whoever believes that cricket boils down to a simple contest between batsman and bowler has not completely grasped the game’s deeper subtleties. True, it is generally possible to attribute praise to a batsman for an exquisite cover drive, while blaming the bowler in some measure, perhaps for landing the ball on too full a length. Conversely, the bowler may be feted for following three away swingers with the classic “nip backer” to trap his adversary plumb lbw, but should the batsman have been wiser to the possibility?

More often than not, the bowler is going to need help in securing a dismissal. Every fielder knows that there might be an opportunity, however fleeting, to show the flash of brilliance that can change the course of a match. A catch perhaps – routine or brilliant – or less likely, a run out. In the latter case, the batsman will probably return to the pavilion knowing that his dismissal had nothing to do· with the quality of the bowling.

Take the first-ever World Cup final in 1975. One-day cricket was still in its international infancy, and Vivian Richards was not yet that well known outside his native Antigua. Yet it was his brilliance in the field which tripped up Australia -not once, but three times -as they were making a fair fist of a challenging run chase. The victims, Alan Turner and the Chappell brothers, were Australia’s one, three and four and all going well when they perished.

Fractional hesitation by the batsmen contributed to the first, while the second and third followed slight misfields, or was Richards craftily misleading them? The middle one, which accounted for Greg Chappell, came from a direct hit with one stump to aim at. Although Australia battled to the bitter end, it was always going to be hard to recover from such setbacks. West Indies ultimately won an excellent match by 17 runs.

Like the legendary Jack Hobbs of England, who ran out no less than 15 batsmen on the 1911-12 tour of Australia, Richards became a star attraction primarily as one of the greatest batsmen to have played the game, but there are others whose predatory prowess in the field was a significant ticket-seller. Two men from southern Africa, Colin Bland and Jonty Rhodes, fit into this category, as does England’s Derek Randall.

Bland used to practice his fielding by throwing at a stump in a hockey net, and occasionally demonstrated his skills before play. The “Golden Eagle” may best be remembered for his performance at the Lord’s Test in 1965. Having already run out Jim Parks, Bland intervened still more decisively when Ken Barrington, on 91, played wide of midon and called for what appeared to be a safe single. Bland swooped to his left from mid-wicket and hit the stumps side-on to run Barrington out. It was arguably the turning point in the entire series, which South Africa won 1-0.

No one who watched Nottinghamshire or England in the 1970s and 80s will forget one of the most animated fielders in the game’s history. Known as “Arkle” he appeared to cover the ground of a steeplechaser several times over. He talked to himself incessantly, a trait as disconcerting for the batsmen as it was infuriating for bowlers when he was at the crease. The joy of Derek Randall, to an England supporter at least, stemmed not only from the exuberance with which he played, but also the singular effect that his presence could have on the course of a match.

Two run-outs stand out, first that of the Australian opener Rick McCosker in the Headingley Test of 1977, when he backed up too far, allowing Randall to strike like lightning on the stumps from extra cover. The match was won, along with the Ashes. Two years later in the World Cup final at Lord’s, the great Barbadian Gordon Greenidge fell victim to a similar swoop from midwicket after calling for a sharp single. Sadly, for Randall and for England, it was the West Indies who held the trophy aloft at the end of the day. The era dominated by Randall was not without other fielding stars. For the West Indies both Greenidge and, slightly earlier, Clive Lloyd (dubbed the “Big Cat” for his tigerish brilliance) were both fielders who commanded cautious respect. For Australia, Ross Edwards and Paul Sheahan excelled, as did David Gower for England. Most recently, with the proliferation of one-day internationals placing ever-increasing physical demands on the players, the name of Jonty Rhodes has been to the fore.

Rhodes burst on the scene with a runout of Randall-like quality in the 1992 World Cup to send back another great bats man in every respect, Pakistan’s Inzamam-ul-Haq. It was the first of many spectacular efforts, born out of a rigorous work ethic outside matches as well as in them. When the ball was played to Rhodes, batsmen would think twice before taking a single that would be second nature to virtually any other fielder. Thus he was worth 20-odd runs an innings before he even picked a bat up, and he too excelled in that department of the game.

Rhodes quit first-class cricket at the end of the 2003 season after providing worthy entertainment in a one-off year with Gloucestershire. Fittingly, he completed a run-out in the C&G Final at Lord’s to set his team on the path to victory. Shortly after his retirement was announced, he spoke of why fielding was so special to him. “It just stems from the fact that I love being out there,” he said. “I’m not an entertainer, I’m not looking to try to impress the people, but I really am having fun. If you’re not enjoying it, it can become a bit tedious. But I’ve loved every minute of it.”

So did the spectators. So they always have, and always will, when they witness artistry that adds a wonderfully unpredictable subtlety to the great game of cricket.