Cricket's No. 1? Not Just Yet

Nikhil PuriContributor IMarch 12, 2009

I always believed fielding would be the criteria to determine the No. 1 side in the world in the 50 over format of the game. This thought has never come to fruition as much as in the ongoing India vs. New Zealand series.

India has performed outstandingly in the batting department. All the batsmen have clicked at some point during the series. Sachin has showed us that he still has it in him, and reminded us with his 163* that he is the greatest one-day batsman of all time.

Sehwag is the most destructive batsman in world cricket today, and he too brutally destroyed New Zealand's attack to all corners of the park in his century in the fourth ODI, racing to the fastest century by an Indian in One Day Cricket.

Dhoni has been Mr. consistent as usual in this series, and with Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina proving that they can clear the ropes with ease, and Gambhir gaining his feet in NZ after having a fine season in India, we have the best batting order in world cricket today.

Not to mention the Pathan brothers who are the lower-order, all-round options for India. Harbhajan has been solid and Zaheer, Ishant and Praveen Kumar form good pace bowling options in the 50 over format for the game.

All in all, it seems very rosy, and India couldn't ever feel more certain that their time has come for 2011, at home in front of their die hard one billion fans, in quest of glory to repeat the heroics of 1983.

But never before have I felt that India needs to improve its fielding so much than now. Now is the time when our stars need to become athletes, not just cricketers. Now is the time when an added focus needs to be on the fielding.

Having learned my cricket in New Zealand, one thing is for certain, there are no excuses to be made for poor fielding there. New Zealand has the lushest grass and the best weather (cool weather is ideally suited for fielding) to field in.

The Indians have dropped catches left, right and center, and captain Dhoni, acknowledged at the press conference after the third one-dayer that the team, including him, were guilty of dropping too many straight forward chances.

Suresh Raina seems to be the only awe-inspiring fielder around, who is solid in the field, takes his catches and has a powerful arm. Yuvraj Singh and Rohit Sharma are solid too, and rarely give much away.

But a lot is left to be desired for the rest. Sehwag's poor effort to take McCullum's catch in the fourth one-dayer showed us that being the best striker in world cricket doesn't come with an automatic dose of athleticism.

Yusuf Pathan also showed us glimpses of why coming through the Indian Ranji system almost guarantees an alienation to athleticism on the field.

The captain Dhoni himself seems to be reluctant to dive whenever the ball goes down the leg side, and spilled an easy chance to get Jesse Ryder who was en route to 101.

The fast bowlers are also quite reluctant to dive and make an extra effort on the field, save Ishant Sharma, who quite ironically had to suffer due to an athletic effort by sitting out three matches.

So what needs to be done? Gary Kirsten, being a South African, will have instilled in them the importance of out-cricket. The running between the wickets has improved, with Dhoni, Raina and the younger members of the team scampering through the wickets.

However, the fielding still leaves a lot to be desired. Is it arrogance? Is it inability? Is it revolt?

It's probably laziness. For all the striking ability and talent of this young one-day team, I fear that other teams will catch up in ability in the run up to the next world cup and India might face the same fate, where they aren't able to keep up with other teams due to their fielding and out-cricket being poor.

Remember, subcontinental pitches are high-scoring, but the grounds are bigger, the ball doesn't come onto the bat as it has done in this series in New Zealand, and quality spinners can slow things down considerably in the middle overs.

Sehwag and co. might not be able to dictate terms quite as much in India, especially if the likes of South Africa, a resurgent Australia, and even New Zealand get up to speed in the hitting department by 2011.

What will be the difference then? The fielding.