Rex Clementine, in the Sunday Island, 30 July 2017, where the title is “What Sri Lankans can learn from Abhinav Mukund”
Sri Lanka’s fielding has been something that has been discussed at length over the last 12 months or so. Fielding has cost the team heavily; for instance during the first ever Test defeat to Bangladesh at P. Sara Oval in March, during the virtual quarter-final clash against Pakistan in Champions Trophy in June and more recently against Zimbabwe in the bilateral ODI series. During that painful defeat to Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka dropped as many as nine catches in five games, three tough catches and six that should have been taken. Once easily the best fielding team in Asia, today Sri Lanka has become the worst. Something has gone wrong somewhere.
India posted 600 runs in their first innings in Galle to deny Sri Lanka any chance in the game. Their total could have been much insignificant had the chances been taken. Shikhar Dhawan was dropped by Asela Gunaratne at first slip when he was on 31. He went onto post a career best 190. Debutant Hardik Pandya was dropped on four by Dimuth Karunaratne and he went onto compile a maiden half-century. The two dropped catches cost Sri Lanka 205 runs.
A study has revealed that the whole of this year, Sri Lanka have dropped as many as 56 catches across all three formats of the game. With four months left for the completion of 2017, it remains to be seen whether Sri Lanka can complete the century mark.
The authorities have harped on saying how hard the team has been working on fielding, but sadly the results are not there to be seen. Dropped catches these days has become a feature of Sri Lankan cricket. Apart from common training, the players will do well for themselves and the team if they take the initiative to train on their own to raise fielding standards.
That’s why we believe that they have got a lot to learn from Abhinav Mukund. During the first Test in Galle, there were some brilliant individual performances – outstanding bowling by Nuwan Pradeep, exceptional shot making by Dhawan, proper Test match batting by Cheteshwar Pujara and of course fine close-in fielding by Mukund.
Fielding at silly point, Mukund ran out Upul Tharanga to end his promising innings on 64 and then took a fine one-handed diving catch at the same position to dismiss Niroshan Dickwella for eight to leave the Sri Lankan first innings in tatters. Since the days of David Boon, Mukund is the best close-in fielder we have seen.
His fielding was top class and so was his post-match media briefing. “I think the catch and the run-out did give me a lot of confidence. I have worked really hard in the off season. I wanted to improve on my close-in fielding. I have put in the hard yards,” Mukund told journalists.
“I was quite disappointed after the Pune Test because I dropped a sitter off Steven Smith. It is one of those catches that goes past you. I wanted to do well because I wanted to be a specialist somewhere. In the Indian team, it is very important that you be a specialist fielder somewhere. I have worked a lot with Ramakrishnan Sridhar (Fielding Coach). He has been a great asset for me. He has made it mandatory that we take a certain number of catches every day. Also the fitness aspect as well. It is important that you are fit to stand under the helmet for 70-80 overs. So a lot of credit to Shankar Basu (Trainer) as well.”
“I felt really bad after dropping Smith. Once you drop a catch, it is not like you can get back and do something. It wasn’t a difficult chance either. It was quite a sitter. Ninety-nine times out of 100 I would have caught it. It haunted me for a couple of times. Again I knew my opportunity would come where I could take something, I could prove that I was a good fielder at that position. Thankfully it came in the first innings against Sri Lanka. Hopefully two more, three more come in the second innings and I can prove myself better.”
Among those 56 catches dropped by Sri Lankans this year, Upul Tharanga has dropped a couple of costly ones. In the fifth ODI against South Africa, he put down Hashim Amla when he was on 38. Amla went onto make a match winning 156. Even more damaging was his drop of Shakib Al Hasan in that disastrous game against Bangladesh. Shakib was on 11 when Tharanga put him down at deep square leg. He went onto make a match winning 116 to give Bangladesh a historic first ever Test win over Sri Lanka.
True he has been in good nick with the bat, but Tharanga is the lousiest cricketer around and hardly learns from his past mistakes.
If you want to teach a young cricketer how to run between the wickets, you should get some videos of Sanath Jayasuriya and show. Then if you want to show someone how not to run between the wickets, you should show some videos of Upul Tharanga. In the last two Tests he has been run out twice.
Against Zimbabwe, he was out backing up too far while against India he failed to bring his bat down in time after an attempted drive was intercepted by the silly point fielder. The second instance you can probably excuse him saying he was unlucky although he escaped not once but twice minutes before his dismissal trying the same thing. His run out against Zimbabwe, however is unpardonable.
Staying on the right side of the wicket at the non-striker’s end, he was holding the bat in his right hand and when the ball was deflected onto the stumps by Donald Tiripando after a drive from Dinesh Chandimal, Tharanga was dismissed backing up too far. Him trying to get back to the crease by dragging his foot instead stretching the bat was comical to say the least.
And this is the man that some want as Sri Lanka’s captain. That’s like putting Ravi Karunanayake in charge of the country’s economy. A recipe for disaster!