Greg Chappell is run-out for 15 after a direct hit from Viv Richards

Keeper Deryck Murray is surplus to requirements and Greg Chappell well short of his crease

© Getty Images
7

The Jury's Out

The most significant act of fielding

They have turned games and tournaments, and changed the sport - and fielding itself. Four writers on the moments that mattered most

Viv Richards runs out Greg Chappell (and Co)

West Indies v Australia
World Cup final, Lord's, 1975
By Gideon Haigh

To watch highlights now of the 1975 World Cup final is to open a kind of time capsule whose contents are recognisable but obviously of a cricket world now long bygone. Helmetless batsmen whirling slim blades. Wild and woolly pace bowling to far-flung fields. West Indian fans looking thrilled to be at Lord's - that alone seems like long, long ago. Even the fielding is a bit lacklustre, half a dozen catches going down, all of which would today probably be taken.

Yet there's one exception - so exceptional that it's like he's teleported in, Terminator-like, from the future. He's so extraordinary that the camera struggles to capture his handiwork.

Ian Chappell pushes to the off side. There is an audible confusion of calls. The camera swivels long enough to register two white blurs, one stooping over a ball, and… oh, there's Greg Chappell running towards the pavilion, stumps missing a bail in his wake. What on earth happened there? No replay; no recapitulation; it's just too damn quick. When the camera comes to rest again, it's on this lone figure sauntering coolly back to his position, rolling his sleeves back up like a gunslinger holstering a six-shooter, having shot a cigarette from between a rival's lips.

The hint of a roll in his shoulders gives the identity away - a youthful version of the unmistakable attitude of Viv Richards. He was then just 23. He'd made only 5 with the bat in an innings dominated by the West Indian captain Clive Lloyd. But at this point Richards had already run out Alan Turner, Australia's highest scorer in the tournament, and would go on to run out Ian Chappell, Australia's highest scorer in the match - interventions that did as much as Lloyd to win the game, and the inaugural title, for his team.

Run-outs were hard won in those pre-third umpire days, when catching a batsman short by less than a foot usually was not quite good enough. Yet think on this. A fascinating Patrick Eagar photograph exists of Richards' last intercession, taken from on high, so that almost three quarters of the field is visible. Striker Ian Chappell is halfway down the pitch, non-striker Doug Walters is barely a quarter advanced. Sagacious Rohan Kanhai has summed the situation up at cover and is pointing to the striker's stumps. Richards is about to ignore his wise counsel, go his own way, back his own ability, and be right, on the first of numberless occasions, by firing to Lloyd at the bowler's end.

Richards' interventions did as much as Lloyd to win the game, and the inaugural World Cup title, for his team

To ponder these run-outs, then, is both to thrill in the moment and to luxuriate in the sure knowledge of what's to come - that within hours, Richards and West Indies will be the toast of cricket; that the following year, Richards will score more Test runs in 12 months than any batsman, a record unchallenged in 30 years; that 15 years after that, he will retire with a cricket reputation as hallowed as any.

It's to muse also on the captivating quality of that Australia v West Indies encounter to one distant observer in particular. The World Cup final was broadcast live in Australia on the ABC, only the second big international match to be so covered, and rated its socks off. The story goes that it was being shown the ratings figures by a minion that first excited Kerry Packer about the possibilities of bringing cricket to his Channel Nine network. Perhaps he even looked disapprovingly on that wonky camerawork too slow to do genius justice, and quietly promised himself to do better. In another respect, then, are we watching the new being conjured from the old.

Gideon Haigh is a cricket historian and writer

****

Kapil Dev catches Viv Richards

West Indies v India
World Cup final, Lord's, 1983
By Ayaz Memon

A few sleepless weeks after receiving the editor's brief to pick the "most significant act of fielding" I narrowed the choices down to two: Joe Solomon running out Ian Meckiff in the first tied Test in Brisbane in 1960 and Kapil Dev catching Vivian Richards in the 1983 World Cup final.

Solomon's feat raised the skills that make up a sporting contest, and the emotions it calls forth, to their acme. The drama and improbability of the result left everybody stunned and sapped of energy. It gave Test cricket a new flavour. Kapil Dev's catch didn't evoke as much breathless prose because it lacked the backdrop of a taut climax, but it was no less important: it not only turned the match but the cricket world on its head. Since I have only read about the tied Test but was eyewitness to the second, I settled on Kapil's catch as my final choice.

The suddenness of the event that balmy June day shook everybody at Lord's out of a reverie. India had been bowled out for a paltry 183. Though West Indies were off to a poor start, Richards was batting with imperious authority, and victory for his side looked imminent. He cracked seven fours in his 33 runs. His mandibles were beginning to chew gum with greater vigour, the characteristic swagger became even more intimidating. Then came the moment.

Thrill v buzzkill: the crowd react according to affiliation to Kapil's catch

Thrill v buzzkill: the crowd react according to affiliation to Kapil's catch © PA Photos

In hindsight, two aspects of the catch stand out. First is the technical certitude of Kapil's fielding. Starting from midwicket, he takes long, fluid strides for 15-20 metres, never taking his eyes off the ball. When it begins to drop, his hands shape into a cup, and as soon as it hits his palms the fingers close firmly to complete the catch. Great athleticism, great ball sense, great catch. It's sheer poetry in motion.

The other aspect is the mental preparedness. Richards looked in such devastating form that a fielder could have been forgiven for switching off. The chance came completely against the run of play. Perhaps Kapil had a premonition; he was alert to that miscued pull off Madan Lal, as though in anticipation. It was not the last wicket to fall, victory was still a while away, but this catch certainly had a decisive influence.

Kapil's catch not only turned the match but the cricket world on its head

Cricket was never the same again. Sunil Gavaskar's diabolically soporific 36 not out in 60 overs in the 1975 World Cup had marked India out as the dull dogs of one-day cricket. Becoming champions in 1983 not only erased this demeaning profile but sparked a fervour back home that made cricket preeminent - participation, conversation, entertainment - in national life. In terms of sheer passion and spectatorship, the epicentre of cricket moved from England to India, and in another decade the game's economy would begin to as well.

Acts of fielding, I have always believed, deserve more recognition than they get because every so often one can change the outcome of a match, sometimes a series: Kapil's catch changed a sport.

Ayaz Memon has written on cricket for over 20 years and covered six World Cups

****

Trent Boult catches Kieron Pollard

New Zealand v West Indies
second T20, Roseau, 2014
By Rob Steen

Opportunities squandered and appeals denied are as catalytic as chances grasped. Think Jack Ikin's discounted slip effort that kick-started Don Bradman's resurrection in Brisbane in 1946; think Chris Scott's fluff that allowed Brian Lara to add 483 at Edgbaston in 1994; think debutant Courtney Browne's nervy failure to pouch Steve Waugh at Sabina Park a year later. The most significant piece of fielding, therefore, is assuredly no contest.

Had that habitually dependable stumper Barry Jarman not spilled a straightforward edge off Basil D'Oliveira at The Oval in 1968, the game would have been deprived of its most famous 158 (sorry KP), the innings that ignited the sporting boycott that helped bring apartheid to its knees.

Still, how much more satisfying to toast the brilliant than the inadvertent, so let's reserve our lustiest cheers for New Zealand's Trent Boult. After all, as inspiring as the past decade's heavenly standards of beflannelled athleticism have been, to find a fast bowler subverting stereotypes afield may well be the least foreseeable development since India won the 1983 World Cup.

Look ma, one hand: Boult pulls another one out of his hat, in a Test against India

Look ma, one hand: Boult pulls another one out of his hat, in a Test against India © Getty Images

Not that this is a tale of the entirely unexpected. Before his pièce de resistance in Roseau, Boult had served thrilling notice of his cock-snookery, most vividly in December 2013 against West Indies in Wellington, taking wing at point to pluck Denesh Ramdin's vicious cut single-pawed from the toppermost branch as if powered by a transparent trampoline. That, though, was merely the tastiest of hors d'oeuvres.

Incontrovertible proof of an extraordinary athlete arrived seven months later, during the second T20 against the same opponents. How apt, indeed, that the victim should be Kieron Pollard, who had recently sent both bar and "likes" soaring with a stupendous if somewhat generously rewarded effort for Mumbai Indians. Well-sprung heels at long-on having been insufficient to undo Rajasthan Royals' Kevon Cooper, Pollard put in a neat flip-back and finished the job with a full-length swoop, but replays confirmed that the perimeter ad had been conveniently if gently shoved.

Boult's final act was dumbfoundingly secure and balletic. Even ABD must have drooled

The chief beneficiary of Boult's second contribution to the time capsule was again Corey Anderson, the same bowler so fortuitously credited with Ramdin's wicket. As Pollard's pull-drive zoomed towards the rope at straightish midwicket, Boult climbed an invisible ladder to intercept with his right hand (the batting if not the bowling one): a gobsmacker by any measure. Sensing the proximity of the boundary, he tossed the ball up, staggered backwards, then flung himself back into play, not just forward but to his left and fully outstretched. The final act, two-handed and dumbfoundingly secure, was more balletic still - and not a wisp of rope did he disturb. Even ABD must have drooled. What staggered most was the sense of complete control and utter nonchalance. As he skipped toward the backslaps, Boult looked embarrassed at the ease of it all.

Fast bowlers have been sullying their reputation as reluctant ball-stoppers ever since Dennis Waight first ordered Andy, Joel and Mikey to focus on sit-ups and laps, but seriously, who could have envisaged such a Boult from the blue? That hardy dressing-room snap of Brian Statham post-play, fag and pint poised, is finally, formally redundant. Subversiveness has seldom been more joyous.

Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton

****

Jonty Rhodes runs out Inzamam-ul-Haq

South Africa v Pakistan
World Cup group match, Brisbane, 1992
By Rahul Bhattacharya

One afternoon 22 years ago a young South African with mushroom-cut golden hair gathered a ball on the sprint, kept on sprinting, launched himself into the air, glided across a significant portion of a cricket ground and ended his improbable flight by crashing into a set of stumps. Observers, not least the dismissed Inzamam-ul-Haq, were perplexed if not astonished. Is this what you could do nowadays? Yes, apparently.

Would it be outrageous to say that Jonty Rhodes inaugurated, or at least represented, what we think of as modern fielding? Fielders now don't take a few steps in with every delivery; they make sharp running bursts. They don't bend-and-turn, they slide-and-fire-back. Their acrobatics are no more a welcome aberration but a wonderful matter of routine. They are judged not just by runs stopped but runs prevented, not only by chances taken but chances created. In limited-overs cricket, ring fielders are wicket-takers as much as cordon catchers.

So swift, he broke out of the frame: Jonty torpedoes Inzamam's stumps

So swift, he broke out of the frame: Jonty torpedoes Inzamam's stumps © Getty Images

Of course, there were limits to the fielding revolution that I am arguing Jonty catalysed. Not until the big-hitting realities of T20 did boundary-line pyrotechnics (that Rob Steen writes of above) come in. It is possible that as funky fielding evolved, traditional fielding - slip- and bat-pad catching - regressed. Yet in my memory, by the mid-to-late '90s, the good fielding sides were fielding with a verve and commitment radically, unrecognisably different from those of the late '80s and early '90s.

Nobody did more for sexing up fielding than Jonty. When in his dotage a stiff-limbed Navjot Singh Sidhu began to throw himself about the field, chants of "Jonty, Jonty" went around Indian stadiums; he soon picked up the nickname Jonty Singh. Jonty was a mania. Commentators began to inflate a target by a notional 20 or 30 runs to account for Jonty and the new-agers who followed him. At the end of the 1996-97 tour of South Africa I recall the Indian manager, Sunil Dev, pleading to the universe at large: "Give us one Junty." Distance has not dimmed him or that dismissal. "Jonty's run out of Inzy was the highlight of 1992 WC: Sachin Tendulkar" went a headline in the Indian press last year.

Would it be outrageous to say that Jonty Rhodes inaugurated, or at least represented, what we think of as modern fielding?

At the time of the run-out Jonty was a new sensation. South Africa were playing only their eighth one-dayer, and Jonty his fifth. A team's spirit could be seen in its fielding and here was post-isolation South Africa's, with Jonty the mascot and the Inzamam run-out the lightning moment. In the top-angle television shots he did look like a streak of something magnificent and deadly.

I am swayed, no doubt, by my personal affection. Among my happiest days at a cricket ground was South Africa v West Indies at the Brabourne in the Hero Cup. I had a ticket in a small stand in the south-east of the ground, to the right of the clubhouse. Ordinarily a semi-square-on view is not especial - but it is pretty perfect for watching Jonty. He was all over that match. Sliding, screeching, sprinting, stopping; clapping, cheering, cajoling - and catching, catching, catching: a record five in all, three unforgettable. By now Jonty Rhodes, 18 months into his international career, was already an icon and an agent of change, and it all started with that unusual flight at the Gabba when the world perked up and took note.

Rahul Bhattacharya is the author of Pundits from Pakistan and The Sly Company of People Who Care

 

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LOGIN TO POST YOUR COMMENTS

  • POSTED BY Ashley Mendelowitz on | December 18, 2014, 7:05 GMT

    In terms of sheer impact in bringing about change in fielding it has to be Jonty

  • POSTED BY Tom on | December 10, 2014, 20:17 GMT

    Many more act of fielding can be included in the list but no one can forget the Jonty Rhode's stuff. I don't think we will ever witness a player included in the playing eleven of South Africa just because his fielding capabilities. He was way above than any one before and after his era. There are so many great fielders and great fielding examples but no one can come close to this brilliant player. I hated the moment when he ran out Inzimam but admirred him since than. Personally I never care of watching other country sides but If someone like jonty fielding I never wanted to miss a cricketing moment.

  • POSTED BY sports_freakz on | December 10, 2014, 16:16 GMT

    Also, completely forgot...Joe Solomon...the first tied test.

  • POSTED BY sports_freakz on | December 10, 2014, 16:15 GMT

    Not really a jaw-dropping act of fielding especially given some the catches he has taken in his career but given the situation I would nominate Mark Waugh's one handed pick and flick (on the go) to run out Allan Donald in the World Cup semifinal. Given Kluseners shots earlier in the over the temptation would be to play back but he resisted, to swoop in and pick it up one handed. He then had the presence of mind to flick it accurately to Fleming instead of rushing an errant throw.

    He then took a blinder in the finals for the first wicket to get the rout started.

  • POSTED BY Cricinfouser on | December 5, 2014, 15:00 GMT

    No Colin Bland? 1965 run out of Ken Barrington to turn the series?

  • POSTED BY Jacob Astill on | December 5, 2014, 3:18 GMT

    Great idea for an article, as fielding rarely gets the recognition it deserves. Though I'm dumbfounded that Joe Solomon's run out didn't make this list. The pivotal act in the pivotal Test in one of the most pivotal Test series of all time, when two captains took it upon themselves to bring the crowds back to cricket. I'm actually a bit disappointed.

  • POSTED BY Saurav Kumar on | December 4, 2014, 1:38 GMT

    yes, of course fielding standards have risen in almost all international teams. But inner ring fielding fielding has not reached anywhere near jonty's set standard. Hats off to jonty.