Good Fielding Isn’t That Important

Harsha Bhogle reviews the Bangladesh team, and like me, sees much to like. But he finds them — and the rest of South Asia — wanting in one respect:

Pakistan’s fielding too has been woeful and while India catch well at most times, their out-cricket still gives you the impression it is a generation behind time.

OK, fine. Reasonable point — players should focus on the simple things (catching dollies, running, stopping the ball by bending your knee, maybe even tag-team throws back to the wicketkeeper). But beyond that, I don’t think fielding is all that important. That’s right; I said it — catches don’t win matches.

Forgive the heresy, but say you had to pick 11 players. Six excellent batsmen (averages above 50!) and five excellent bowlers (five-wicket hauls abound!), but they’re all terrible fielders. Wouldn’t you still fancy their chances to win most matches?

I sound stupid, but I’m trying to make an important point: yes, we all want to see players catch the simple ones, and yes, direct hits usually make the difference. But resources are finite and players can’t do everything. So, after coaches focus on the simple stuff — the stuff Bhogle wants — they should step off. Not everyone needs to be a Jonty Rhodes, or even a Yuvraj Singh (and I’d rather have Yuvraj the Batter than Yuvraj the Fielder, especially if he’s going to hurt his knee every time he dives).

Because good fielding rarely wins matches. Unlike good bowling or batting, it’s purely reactive (catches need to be caught, yes, but they must first be offered; same with run-outs). That’s even more true in the world of Twenty20, when batsmen are now regularly hitting out instead of through, and behind (the wicketkeeper) instead of, um, in front. In high-scoring situations, you don’t want a good fielder; you want a hitter.

Conclusions: if you’re a coach, follow the law of diminishing marginal utility returns: the payback of teaching a fielder how to catch properly is immense (and relatively easy to do). But as training goes on, the payback begins to fall: diving in the covers properly isn’t easy, and the utility isn’t all that much (you saved 4 runs. Big deal).

Let me put like this: someone once argued that Dhoni had nowhere to hide Ganguly, Dravid, Laxman and Tendulkar (all old legs) on the field, but I never had a doubt: put ’em in front of the stumps, padded up, facing a bowler.

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6 thoughts on “Good Fielding Isn’t That Important

  1. Russ says:

    DB, you are right about diminishing returns, but what makes you think the diminishing returns on fielding are smaller than those of batting, particularly for players that have devoted themselves to batting since childhood (and not necessarily paid much heed to fielding)? 4 runs by themselves are not many, but if every player int he side does it once per innings, then that is a lot of runs!

    I’m not sure it is catching practice or batting practice that the modern player needs, particularly in slips. I worry about their concentration levels as a result of general fitness, as most dropped catches and poor shots seem to come about through lapses in concentration, not of technique. I think there is quite a strong correlation between good slips catchers and batsmen who can play long innings.

  2. Lou says:

    Pakistan are a direct inverse refutation of your article. For them, dropped catches lose matches.

  3. […] asked this before, and I’ll ask it again: just how important is it to have a good fielding side? Via The Corridor, Simon Briggs wrote in The Telegraph recently about how the fielding coaching […]

  4. awbraae says:

    Very late to be adding a comment to this piece, but I have to disagree. Fielding is important for psychological reasons rather than what happens on the score card. Batting is the experience of being alone, and surrounded by people who want you gone. It is much easier to be defiant if you know that 9 of the 11 people around you don’t have the skills to dislodge you. How threatening will a bowler be if the batsman knows he can milk singles and twos around the outfield?
    And lastly, saving those 4 runs in the covers could be a huge deal. If a batsman knows he has to take more risky options to score a boundary, or becomes frustrated, he becomes much more likely to do something stupid and gift his wicket to the bowler. The value of fielding isn’t on the scoreboard, it is in the mind.

  5. test says:

    I’m sure there’s baking soda in China. I’ve found it in Japan. I just did a quick google for baking soda in china’ and the first link is to a forum discussing on where to find it!

  6. I have been checking out some of your stories and i can claim pretty nice stuff. I will surely bookmark your website.

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