Former South African cricketer Jonty Rhodes said that Twenty20 cricket and the power plays in fifty-over cricket have brought about major changes to fielding techniques.
“The major fielding technique that has changed is defending the boundary line,” said Rhodes who was in Sri Lanka on a ten-day coaching assignment. “In fifty-over cricket during the 90’s and early 2000 before T20, the boundary wasn’t really important, but when the power plays came in suddenly and the bats also changed they are hitting more sixes even with the man back.
“Defending the boundary is an area that has come into play. That’s an area of the game that has changed, with the players it is, if you can’t take the catch save the six or four runs. I tell the guys save me one run because most games, T20 or fifty overs, often comes down to the last over,” he said.
“With power play overs it’s very difficult for bowlers to defend the short boundaries and big gaps. Throwing is one area that has changed with more focus on saving the boundary or defending the boundary which was never in the game before T20.
“I never fielded in the boundary, all the action was at backward point or in the covers or midwicket for an off-spinner.
“In the World Cup game the South African team scored 150 of their runs in the last 10 overs. Even though I was supporting South Africa from my view it was a bit embarrassing. I just thought this is not cricket.”
“We always talk about catching and ground fielding but throwing is also an important part of the game especially with the injury prevention. A lot of the fielding I do is for injury prevention, a technique which uses the entire body not just the arm. Speed to the ball is important but strong in the throw.
“Being physically fit is imperative to being a good fielder. It’s all about minimizing the mistakes and doing the simple things well. That’s my motto.”
Rhodes admitted that he disagreed with batting power plays towards the end of an innings because it made the game too much one-sided.
“The bowlers and fielders have no chance. Sometimes they are fetching the ball from the boundary. You want a contest between bat and ball,” said Rhodes.
“At the start with two new balls there is no reverse swing at the end so it is very difficult for the bowlers to have any impact. I saw that in the World Cup game where the South Africa team scored 150 of their runs in the last 10 overs,” Rhodes recalled. “Even though I was supporting South Africa from my view it was a bit embarrassing. I just thought this is not cricket. AB de Villiers showed what a special player he is but it was too one-sided. The rule needs to be changed.”
Rhodes’ definition of what makes a good fielder is “someone who expects the ball to come to him every ball.”
“You have to enjoy being in the field, not someone waiting for 50 overs to go and bat or his time between the overs to go and bowl again. Someone who wants the ball to come to him is very different to someone who wants to be there.”
Rhodes said that during his time there weren’t many fielders throwing themselves around because it wasn’t expected. But now everybody expects a fielder to throw himself at the ball.
From a coach’s point Rhodes said what he was interested in was the body technique of a cricketer.
“Too often the taller guys especially the fast bowlers when they bowled an over their mind is somewhere else. I am looking for body technique. For me it’s not about good hands or soft hands, I see their feet,” said Rhodes. “If they are not in the right position they will never get to the ball no matter how good their hands are or their hand-eye coordination. If they are not moving their feet it means they are not ready for the ball to come. That’s what I am checking. I like to see body positioning; the feet movement will get you to a good position to catch or to throw the ball.”
Rhodes said there was very little a coach can do once the players step over the line.
“However much of talk you do and the effort you put in as coaching staff it’s not going to make a difference on the field unless the player wants to do it.”
He said consistency in fielding has to come from the players. “Man management is the key but once they step over the boundary rope it’s up to them to deliver, as a coach your work is done. Once a game starts there is not a lot of advice or changes you can make as a coach.
“I make sure that every time I go for practice I make it look like a match situation because if the players practice like the match intensity then I can hopefully provide some consistent performance. It’s the same there out on the field.”
Rhodes pointed out that the biggest problem in the subcontinent was that it was spin-oriented and thus presented different challenges to throwing.
“Apart from a couple of fast bowlers everyone bowls spin and from a throwing point of view it’s the worst thing you can be to throwing the ball because your body weight is turning and you’re pivoting. If your follow through is like a fast bowler your body weight is to the target.”
Rhodes retired from international cricket at the age of 33 having represented South Africa in 52 Tests and 245 ODIs. Sri Lanka holds a special memory for him because it was at Moratuwa in 1993 that he scored his maiden Test century – a match saving knock of 101 not out and, seven years later at the SSC he played his last Test match scoring 21 and 54.