India faced a number of challenging situations in the fourth One-Day International against South Africa in Johannesburg due to the stoppages in play. When they were batting, play was halted with the score 200 for 2 in the 35th over. An almost hour-long stoppage affected the batting rhythm of the men in the middle, and India’s middle-order couldn’t kick on. When South Africa batted, Aiden Markram fell in the eighth over, when play was stopped again. This time, the extended break meant not only reduced overs but also a wet outfield, a rejig in bowling plans, and a wet ball that could not be gripped properly by the wrist-spinners.

While India ended up losing the match, they welcomed the opportunity to test themselves in adverse conditions as part of the build-up towards the 2019 World Cup. R Sridhar, the fielding coach, said that the team embraced such situations as learning experiences that would be valuable later on.

“When the games get reduced, the overs get reduced, then definitely the skill levels between two teams also gets reduced,” held Sridhar on Monday (February 12), the eve of the fifth ODI in Port Elizabeth. “When there is nothing to lose from a batting side’s point of view, in terms of the situation we had in the last game after the delays… that is something which is good that is happening to us in our build up to the World Cup. Games where you get delayed when you are on a roll, especially when you are batting… you saw we were 200 for 2 in the 34th over and there was a big delay which broke the momentum. These are things we want should happen more in terms of our preparation. We love to embrace such situations so that even if we make a mistake now, we know how to respond to that same situation the next time around. So these things are good for us. Bowling with a wet ball, a wet outfield, in a reduced game – it’s fantastic it happened because we’ll learn from every game.”

Sridhar ranked India one of the best ODI fielding units in the world, though he agreed that the performance in Johannesburg had been a bit below-par. However, he held that what made India good was that they didn’t have too much variance between their good days and bad, while emphasising the vision of Ravi Shastri, the coach, and Virat Kohli, the captain, in wanting ‘the eleven best fielders’ on the park.

Sridhar on what makes MS Dhoni’s ‘keeping special
I think we can do a research into his style of wicketkeeping, and I’d like to call it ‘The Mahi Way’. There’s so many things to learn from that, and so many things that other young ‘keepers may not even be able to contemplate. He’s got great hands. He’s definitely the best glovesman as far as ‘keeping for spinners goes. His hands work at the speed of lightning, for stumpings we all know that. That is something which is very innate to him, great to watch. At the same time, for somebody who doesn’t have that skill, it’s a big challenge to get there. He’s very unique. He’s unbelievable.

“If I’m talking about the one-day side, definitely there is more athleticism to be seen on the ground. It’s on view. If you see even the last three-four series, right from the Champions Trophy, in West Indies, against Australia and Sri Lanka… the athleticism on the ground has been good. We have been saving more runs than we have been giving away. We have been saving a lot more runs than the opposition. It was there for everybody to see.

“The other important positive in this team is, more often than not, the difference between the good days and bad days is very less. We’re not flash one day and really bad on another day, like some of the other teams. We try and reduce the gap between our good days and bad days. There is a level at which we can be and we try to maintain that, be consistent on that. Yes we work on the technical aspect of fielding as much as we can. But like Ravi and Virat want, we want the eleven best fielders to take the park everytime we get out there. That is the endeavour going into the next 15 months (till the World Cup). But definitely we are one of the better one-day fielding teams in the world, I can vouch for that.”

In the Johannesburg ODI, Shreyas Iyer dropped David Miller when the batsman was on six, and later on, Kuldeep Yadav let a four slip through when Heinrich Klaasen hit a shot towards point. Sridhar, however, defended his charges.

“Yes we were a little below par on the field in the last game,” he said. “One catch went down, Shreyas Iyer being the brilliant fielder that he is, he made a great attempt. It was not a Grade 1 catch, but it’s easy to be harsh on ourselves sometimes, easy to be harsh on our players. It’s the easiest thing to do. But if you see, that was a difficult catch.

“And in the ground in Johannesburg, the ball snakes a lot and that’s what happened to Kuldeep. He was trying to attack and save two, but the ball just snaked away more than he expected. These things happen but we are practicing for them. We’ve got our players to pay attention to the detail of every minute aspect of every skill, not just fielding. We try and do that every game, and in this game we’ll take into account the wind factor, the size of the ground and make sure we are aware of that when we enter the field.”