Want to create all-round fielders: Penney
Mumbai, Nov 24: On a day that was devoid of much drama for most parts, there were two similar incidents that grabbed everyone’s attention. They were Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane being dealt blows on their bodies by Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen respectively, while fielding at short-leg. While at the end of day, both, Pujara and his substitute fielder, Rahane had recovered, those incidents reminded of the hazards of standing near the bat when spinners are unearthing the demons from the track.
Since the day batsmen started wearing helmets against the fast bowlers, fielding at short-leg and silly-point is arguably the most physically threatening thing one can do on a cricket field. On a day that saw two of his men go down doing it, India’s fielding coach, Trevor Penney spoke to bcci.tv about his methods of preparing players to face the fire and choosing the right men for close-in fielding spots.
Penney, who has been with Team India for over a year now, also spoke about selecting India’s new slip cordon after the retirement of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. He shared how he trains his men to field in different conditions and tries to make them “all-round fielders”.
How have you enjoyed the job of fielding coach?
I love improving fielders because it was the forgotten art of cricket. It was always batting and bowling but in recent years fielding has come to the forefront when it comes to coaching. Especially the young guys are really enthusiastic about fielding. They know if a player bowls or bats as well as them but doesn’t field, they have the upper-hand to make it to the side.
What has been the biggest challenge of your job with Team India?
The challenges were similar to those you face with every sports team. You’ve got to gain the guys’ confidence and get to know them. Only then you can go on to enforce your beliefs upon them and try to make them better.
Who’s the best Indian fielder you’ve worked with?
There are a number of them. There’s Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli, Ravindra Jadeja, Rohit Sharma and Manoj Tiwary. Ajinkya Rahane has really improved. We have some five-six really good fielders in the fray and it won’t be fair to pick one.
Along with finding Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman’s replacements in the batting order, the team also had to find people to man the slip cordon in their absence. How did you choose them?
In practice you see who has good hands and who’s pretty relaxed while catching the tough ones. Duncan [Fletcher], MS [Dhoni] and I always talked about who we could think of getting there. Once we decided, we practised with them a lot. Fielding in the slips is a lot different.
Virat stands there now and we also saw Raina in the slips during the last series. Wasn’t there a dilemma of losing out on your best fielders on or outside the circle by putting them in the slips?
I know, that’s always been a big trick if you put your best fielders in the slips. We’re working on getting the balance right. I think it’s been pretty good so far.
We saw Pujara and Rahane get hit at short-leg today. Gautam Gambhir too is a regular there. How do you train players for this particular role?
It’s a completely different type of practice. You have to try and simulate exactly what they get out there and you need to do lots and lots of it. They need strong squats and strong legs to stand low for 300 balls a day. Plus you’re always are under the threat of being hit all the time. It’s a very difficult position to field at. Two of our players were hit really badly today. But you can’t replicate that because if you keep hitting them with the ball, you’ll kill them.
Along with the technical aspect of close-in fielding, do you also have to train them mentally to be mentally fearless while being in the line of fire?
The guys who field there have a different mindset from the others. Some guys won’t go there and will always say, ‘I’ll go to fine-leg”. Those who have the right mindset to stand in those positions are the ones you work on. That means that as a coach you don’t have to work too much on the mental aspect with them. When you get hit, you’ve got to get back straight on the hook and be prepared to take another blow. That’s the tough part of fielding there.
Why do great batsmen generally make the best of close-in fielders?
They’re lazy; they just want to bat and then go stand in the slip (Laughs). No, I’m just joking. Actually, great batsmen have got good hands and good eyes and as top batsmen they are good at picking the ball. As batsmen they face the fast bowlers and they have to react quickly to it, which means they have good reflexes. All these attributes help them standing in the slip cordon.
How differently do you prepare the players to field when the fast bowlers are operating to when the spinners are in action?
In India on the types of wickets we play, there’s a completely different type of fielding you see. If you’re in England or Australia on the greener or bouncier wickets there will be a lot of slip and backward point practice, especially for the Test matches. You also look for more run-outs. Here it’s more close-in fielding. The men inside the ring, at short-leg, silly-point or leg-gully have to practice much more here.
Do you set goals as a fielding mentor?
My goal is to make people field everywhere. For instance, Zaheer Khan can do a lot of slip-fielding practice because it helps him in general. Since catching in slips is one of the hardest things to do, if he does that well, catching at mid-off will seem easier. I know it’s impossible to make everybody a Jonty Rhodes but I try and create all-round fielders.
At times, the fielders have to take a call on whether to come a little forward or go a couple of steps back. Can that be taught?
That’s just a lot of experience, really. Some of it also comes from us off the field, if we picture something. England missed a few here while fielding because they were a bit too close and the ball flew through. Then they went back and it dropped short. So, it’s a catch-22 situation as there are never any exact signs. On the Ahmedabad track, you had to stand really close because there was not much bounce. Here you have to stand back a bit as the wicket has a lot more bounce. Despite that, a couple of them dropped short. Sometimes the batsman plays it with a soft hand and it falls short even on a bouncy track. At times, the ball swings hard and goes through you. So, you’ve got to keep analysing and keep teaching the guys how to analyse it themselves.
What according to you is the most difficult aspect of fielding in cricket?
You’ve got to get guys diving forward. That’s the hardest thing in cricket. When you’re fielding close-in and get the ball bouncing in front of you, you have to put in a dive forward and do it with perfect timing.
Name one attribute that is a must-have in order to be a great fielder.
I would say the anticipation. A good fielder is aware of his positioning and is good at anticipating the shot. He reads the batsman a lot quicker than an average one does. He’s almost made two yards before the shot is played. That’s the trick. If you can do that, you’re half way there and then you’re more relaxed when the ball comes to you.