CHENNAI: At 87 per cent, India’s catch conversion rate during the Test series in England has been their second best in the last five years. Though the team lost 1-4, catching, especially in the slip cordon, was one of the areas they were superior than hosts. This conversion percentage is significantly higher than the 70 recorded in the three Tests against South Africa earlier this year. The reason? A new set fielding drills, some tinkering in body positioning and balance and a fielding machine.
The last mentioned is used to improve reflexes. Developed in Hyderabad by Leverage Science and Technologies Limited, introducing this to the Indian team was fielding coach R Sridhar’s idea. Over the course of five Tests, Indian fielders caught 49 of the 57 catches that came their way, which is second only behind the tally of 41 out of 44 during the three-Test series against Sri Lanka in 2015. Though India’s ground fielding was alright, slip catching was an area of concern, given the fact that the personnel changed in almost every Test.
In England, India mostly stuck to KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan with Ajinkya Rahane at gully. Rahul was the pick of the lot, catching 14 of the 15 he could have. Rahane and Pujara dropped two each. The other four were listed in the half-chances category. Reflexes were good, given that at times they spotted the ball late in gloomy conditions against a dark background. This is where the new fielding machine came into play.
Developed by Partha Pemmaraju of Leverage Group, it ejects balls at a higher speed than can be attained manually. The speed, angle and trajectory can be altered. It can also be used for throwdowns, for which teams hire people these days. Impressed by the innovation, England’s assistant coach Paul Farbrace has approached Partha to develop a similar machine for the team. “Before leaving for England, Sridhar wanted a machine that would improve the reflexes of the slip cordon. Done manually, it kind of becomes easy for the fielders to guess, especially when you know what the routine is. Even if things are mixed up, accuracy becomes an issue.
With this machine, things are not predictable. You need to be on your toes. Because the trajectory can be altered, it keeps the fielders guessing,” Partha told Express. Apart from using this machine, Sridhar has also worked on the positioning of the slip fielders and their technique, especially in the crouching stance. Rahul, for instance, was much more agile and balanced following certain small changes. The slip fielders were also made to practise with tennis balls hit by racquets, a method to get them used to movement in the air. In South Africa it was visible that Indian slip fielders were not crouching as much as the South Africans and often going with hard hands. But in England, they appeared to be allowing the ball to come to them instead.
Though this machine has been of immense help, Partha has been asked to develop a new one, since the current one is somewhat heavy at 18 kgs. “We had come up with one seven years back, but that wasn’t portable. But because Sridhar insisted, we made this machine,” said Partha. “Even this one is too heavy to carry on long tours. We are developing a new one which will weigh around 12kg and be portable. With the present one, somebody still has to use the catching bat manually, but in the version being developed, that won’t be needed. It should be reaching the team in about a fortnight.”