a fairly routine slips catch for Virat Kohli became so much more.
Though fielding is an integral part of cricket, the diving and acrobatics weren’t so prominent until the 1980s. But that doesn’t mean the game of willow and red cherry didn’t see some excellent fielders before.
Video clips of India’s trip to Australia in 1977-78 show protruding-bellied Indian cricketers huffing and puffing after the ball, fighting a losing battle as it slowly runs into the fence.
The only player conspicuously seen diving was wicketkeeper Syed Kirmani.
Yet, none of this was much noticed, as batting and bowling took precedence over the fielding department.
That doesn’t mean cricket lacked its share of wonderful fielders in the 1970s. Eknath Solkar used to effortlessly pluck balls standing on forward short-leg, taking catches like low-hanging fruit.
BBC commentators often praised Derek Randal of England for his athletic fielding and throwing in the outfields. Lesser known was Yajuvendra Singh from India, who equalled a world record by taking five catches in an innings and seven in a match on his debut Test match against England, in 1977. Yajuvendra only ended up playing four Test matches.
A nondescript player from Mumbai (then Bombay), Ghulam Parker impressed as a brilliant fielder, stonewalling the covers during India’s tour to England in the summer of 1982.
Another fielder of 1980s who impressed in the covers was West Indian Gus Logie.
The 1983 World Cup marked the arrival of Zimbabwe. The rookie team from southern Africa started with a win over the fancied Australian side and almost defeated India, the eventual winners of the tournament. But they carved a niche with their impressive fielding, BBC commentators describing their as the “gymnasts of the World Cup”.
The Zimbabwe team, not yet a Test-playing nation, again impressed at the 1987 Cup, taking brilliant catches, stopping boundaries on dry, brown outfields in India, and earning the accolade of the best fielding side of the tournament.
South Africa participated in their first World Cup in 1992, which also marked the arrival of Jonty Rhodes, who saved tons of runs and caused multiple run outs – the picture of his classic airborn running out of Inzamam Ul Haq is still etched in the memories of many.
Since then, the quality of fielding has come along in leaps and bound, as improved conditions and the increasing popularity of limited overs cricket saw a worldwide rise in quality.
Much like the concept of total fooball, espoused by the legendary Johan Cruyff, which ensured the sweeping role of every player in every position, in cricket every fielder is expected to be able and alert, chasing the ball in pairs or more, swapping positions as and when required.
Considered as vital as batting and bowling, fielding now is an art, getting more creative and innovative as the game evolves.