Dubai: The quality of fielding in the 13th edition of the Indian Premier League has been brilliant. But two performances that stand out are efforts at the boundary from Kings XI Punjab's Nicholas Pooran and Mayank Agarwal. And the man behind KXIP's impressive show is none other than fielding coach Jonty Rhodes.
Speaking to ANI, Rhodes spoke about working hard on fielding drills in training, skipper KL Rahul's influence on the KXIP unit, and most importantly how fielders need to adapt when playing in a semi-closed stadium like the Dubai International Cricket Stadium.
KXIP's fielding has been top-class, to say the least. But Rhodes says it is all the hard work of the boys during training that reflects on the field of play. The pride though is evident in the tone.
"As a fielding coach there is great pride when you see the players performing on the field because all you are asking them is to give their 100 per cent and go for every opportunity. I am not worried about the end result. With Pooran and Mayank's efforts, we work with players in pairs saving the ball and returning it to the infield, and completing catches which is a big ask sometimes.
"For Pooran, to complete the catch and release it, he was mid-air and parallel to the ground when he took it and then to time the release. Even Glenn Maxwell was there in the frame. He just wasn't sure which side Pooran would release it.
"Similarly, when Mayank saved that six from Kieron Pollard in the Super Over. It is a massive result off the last ball. If that ball had gone for six, momentum would have been with Mumbai Indians. The fact that he pulled that back in and almost got it to Arshdeep was incredible. Save a four off the last ball was huge. Completing that under pressure is good. We work on specifics with the infield fielders as well as those on the boundary," he smiled.
While there have been some brilliant efforts, there have also been some sitters dropped. But Rhodes says it isn't easy fielding in a ground like the one in Dubai.
"Don't forget the stadium in Dubai is totally closed in. When there is a wind, it has been a little less for the last few days. But in the first month, there was a strong wind blowing in the evening. When the stadium is open like in Sharjah or Abu Dhabi it doesn't impact much because you know which way the ball will swing. But when the stadium is closed as in Dubai, the wind swirls and that makes it very difficult.
"Then, there is a rim of lights at the top of the stadium and that makes it difficult. The ball when it goes straight up, it is a lot easier when there is no wind. When the guys are fielding at the boundary, the ball sometimes goes through the line of the lights and it is quite difficult," he said.
Coming back to KXIP, the team started well, but had been failing to close games. Rhodes says the idea was to keep calm and not panic looking at the points table.
"The first half of the tournament we had discussed about disregarding the table position. When you play seven matches there is a long way to go. But after seven matches we sat down and while we were sitting at the bottom, considering the results and looking at the table, Mumbai and Delhi were at the top and RCB at the third position. We obviously had comfortably beaten RCB and a thriller against Delhi.
"We said there is no need to panic. We had patches of good cricket and we were generally winning 36 overs of the game and it was just the last couple of overs which we couldn't complete successfully. T20s are going to be about the last over or last ball. We have enough experience in our team to know that is how T20 cricket is played. It wasn't about panicking and looked to be consistent with the personnel. We were looking to introduce Chris Gayle earlier, but he was sick for a week. We knew all it required was finishing the batting and bowling. Needed just one game to turn it around," he pointed.
And Rhodes says the skipper played a huge role in ensuring that the boys felt comfortable despite the results not always going KXIP's way.
"KL played a massive role. It is easy for a captain, especially someone who is performing so well, to say c'mmon everyone pull your socks up. But he has a calm presence and is not a fiery temperament. Even when he is batting, he doesn't work up a sweat even though he is hitting the ball over covers for a six. He is a calm personality and it is very important as a captain that you give yourself the space to be yourself.
"Being calm doesn't mean you are not concerned or you taking things slowly. He is very hardworking and very competitive. But doesn't get upset or influenced by circumstances around him. For the first time Rahul got fired up was in the last game against Delhi Capitals after the first six overs when we didn't put up a good display and they were looking like scoring 180-190. He just said guys we need to pull up our socks. And the guys responded well to him because he has been calm and consistent through the wins and losses. Players feel he has got their back. His consistency through wins and losses allows him to ask for a bigger and better performance," the former South Africa player explained.
Rahul has been in brilliant form and has amassed 540 runs from the 10 games with a century and five fifties. Rhodes feels that it is amazing how the KXIP skipper seems suited for all formats of the game.
"It is incredible and is an indication of the strength of Indian cricket which is also detrimental also sometimes for some young cricketers. Think of Rohit Sharma, how long he took to break into the Indian team. Guys like Mayank have shown he is more than just a Test player. But KL has just been so consistent. He is multi-dimensional and that is important because as a cricketer you need to adapt to every scenario. The players who are able to adapt are the ones who are successful.
"Someone like KL, wherever he has batted he has scored runs -- top or at number four. And the reason he fields so well is because as a wicket-keeper you move your feet. People talk about great hands, soft hands. But I feel you can have the best hands but if you can't get to the ball, you are never going to catch it. So, I focus on athletic ability, mobility and quick feet and that is why KL is good behind the stumps and in the outfield. He moves to get into position very well.
"Some team have different players for Tests and then different for even 50-overs and T20s. A lot of the countries have very different Test teams as compared to their limited-overs teams and that is where KL has such a big advantage that he can adjust and has a sound technique. He plays spin and pace well and hits the really ball late and gives him an advantage in any of the formats and in any position," he said.
Asked if keeping wickets has helped Rahul further, Rhodes said: "It certainly gives you an understanding of how the ball is coming off the surface and is an advantage. But for the first month (temperature wise), if you saw MS Dhoni, I have never seen him look stressed at the crease as he is such a fit and strong player. KL had to give the gloves to Pooran for a few games as he was really having to battle. We weren't winning many tosses, so we were fielding first and to field for 20 overs in that heat, and to then go straight out to bat was becoming tough for KL.
"If you are batting at four or six or seven then it is a different picture. Being behind the stumps with the spin bowlers up close, it does give you an indication of how the ball is coming onto the bat. AB de Villiers bats two down or three down for RCB, so he has the time for a shower or sit and relax, but KL literally has 10 minutes to change, and then he is back on the field again. An advantage yes, but in the heat sometimes a disadvantage."