The Indian women’s team, in recent times, have been on a roll consistently performing at the big stage in the last 4-5 years, which includes a final appearance in the 2017 World Cup and the T20 World Cup in Australia in 2020, where the side lost to hosts in the summit clash. Not to forget their semi-final show in the 2018 edition of the T20 World Cup as well.
These performances are a testament to the fact that Team India is one of the best in the world — alongside Australia, New Zealand, and England, the other powerhouses in women’s cricket. Mostly, credit is given to the team’s batting led by Mithali Raj, Smiriti Mandhana and Harmanpreet Kaur, or the bowlers like Jhulan Goswami, Punam Yadav and Rajeshwari Gayakwad.
But what role does fielding play in a team’s success, or does it even have a role to play? More often than not, the women’s team is criticized for its blunt efforts in the field. When compared with other teams, no one really gives a chance to the Indian fielders to stop crucial runs, make diving efforts in the field or take mind-boggling catches. But is it even possible to be on top, with a poor fielding unit?
For Biju George, the fielding coach of the women’s team from July 2017 to November 2019, the answer is a clear no. He reveals that the Indian team is perhaps the best in the business. “The 2017 ODI World Cup, we were the best fielding unit. We took the maximum number of catches, the maximum stops, and the maximum number of wicket-keeper dismissals. I can safely say the Indian team is one of the best fielding sides in the world," George told Cricketnext, who is currently working as a coach with Sports Authority of India and LNCPE, coaching at the SAI Coaching Centre at Medical College Grounds.
The former fielding coach also makes it clear that though one of best in the world, there is an aspect that goes against the Indian women. “I think you need to factor in the built of the players as well. Having bigger hands or arms does help and some of our girls are not that well built. For example, a medium-built Aussie will clearly have added advantage over medium-built Indian girl. Also the distance they may cover to field or catch the ball will be different. There is no question about the technique here."
During his stint as the fielding coach, George identified suitable positions for different players, which can be still seen. “I think when I joined, the focus was on positional fielding, and identifying players best suited for different positions. Like for Mithali it was mid-wicket or mid-on where she could communicate with the bowlers, Harman at covers or mid-wicket. Smriti and Deepti on the boundary because they are very quick and agile. So we used to do specialized drills with them, for their respective positions."
The 55-year-old made it clear that there is always scope of improvement and identified those areas. In fact he also spoke about the recent South Africa series where the fielding looked rather rusty. “I’d say that still work is needed in speed and strength of the players.
“The lockdown affected fielding the most. Staying in your houses, the maximum view you can have in 20 yards. So suddenly stepping on the field and tracking the ball becomes difficult. That can be the only reason for India show against South Africa."
Asked about the safest catchers in the team, he responded quickly, “you hardly see Mithali, Harmanpreet or Jhulan drop any catches. Overall, the best fielders in the team would be Smriti, Jemimah, Deepti and Veda. Taniya is one of the best keepers in the world, and Deepti has one of the strongest arms in the world."
“Deepti is much feared in cricketing circles, and nobody chances her throw. It’s just that her videos on the web are not available easily, for the world to see."
In the end, he raised hopes and asked to watch out for massive improvements in various departments too. “The BCCI keeps holding various camps for players to keep raising their game. In a couple of years we should be able to surpass the levels set by countries like Australia and England," George concluded.