The Eden Park in Auckland has made it a habit of producing thrilling games. It turns games that look dead and buried into nail-biters and there’s just something special about the venue. There were comebacks from both teams in the second ODI between India and New Zealand, and the hosts clinched a tight win and sealed the series as well.
There were multiple good performances in this game. But there’s one that might go unnoticed and that’s the Indian fielding. After a string of poor ones on the field, the Indians finally responded well on the field.
For a major part of the last decade, irrespective of how India batted or bowled, they were always good in the field. That’s one thing MS Dhoni strove for as captain. He wanted India to be the best fielding side.
However, there’s been a significant dip in the recent past. India were good in the field until the World Cup as well but there’s something that’s gone wrong since then. The tour to the Caribbean and the first couple of series at home (against South Africa and Bangladesh) didn’t have too many hiccups. But since the series at home against West Indies, India have been way too sloppy in the field.
There have been dropped catches left, right and centre. Misfields have been a regular norm while they’ve missed the stumps more often than not. The same was the case for a large part of the T20I series against New Zealand as well. In fact, nothing changed in the first ODI in Hamilton either.
Virat Kohli constantly kept pointing out the fielding woes and after a couple of losses, he even mentioned that the team doesn’t deserve to win if they field like that. The intensity on the field was in question.
Ahead of the second ODI in Auckland, the fielding coach R Sridhar also admitted that the fielding hasn’t been up to the mark. “The West Indies series at home (December 2019) was somewhere we really dropped. We were average, to say the least. From then on, we are trying to get better,” Sridhar had said.
That ‘getting better’ did not come until the second ODI but when it did, the Indian team did echo their fielding coach’s words. “There are a lot of things we need to address. We will actually have dialogues with the player and see what is more important for a player and then go about it in that way,” Sridhar had added ahead of the second game. And the Indian players tried to address the wrongs. They may not have had a perfect game but it was a good comeback after all the poor ones in the last few games.
This second game in Auckland started with shades of the previous games. Yuzvendra Chahal dropped a regulation return catch, there were a couple of misfields and they seemed to be going down the same path.
But after the first drinks break, the intensity was up. It was the first breakthrough that led India to tighten the screws, not only with the ball but also in the field. They got a lot sharper and it was Kohli who led the charge once again. He didn’t take a catch or affect a runout but just his commitment and brilliance on the field lifted the side.
The Indian skipper Kohli was always threatening to jump in and save the extra run. He had the support of Ravindra Jadeja who arguably has the best arm in the world. He shot a direct hit from point to send back James Neesham. The bowlers who have been guilty of being sloppy in the last few games backed it up in the field as well. Navdeep Saini took a couple of catches at mid-on and long-on respectively. Shardul Thakur affected a runout as he moved swiftly and fired in a good throw from short third-man to dismiss Martin Guptill.
Hence, it was a big improvement from the last few games. “In a T20 game, each fielder has to be his own captain. He need not wait for the captain to move him or the bowler to move him in a certain direction or to a certain position. We try and tell them to think ahead of the game; you as a fielder captain yourself, see which way the breeze is, which way the batsman’s tendencies to hit are, what’s the bowler’s plan and position (yourself) accordingly.” This was how Sridhar further explained on how the team management explained to the players. It is exactly how the players reacted. They were a lot more proactive than the previous games.
India adapted well to the oddly shaped Eden Park. New Zealand isn’t the easiest places to field and they’ve found that out first hand but they did show a decent improvement in this second ODI, with Kohli leading the way. It turned out to be one of the positives of this game.