Indian cricketers are not giving as much importance to fielding and catching during practice as they are giving to batting and bowling and that is hurting them on the field in Australia, says former India player Mohammed Kaif, one of the best fielders India have produced.
India have dropped close to 20 catches in Australia across seven games in the three formats apart from other misfielding that have allowed runs to be leaked.
More importantly, many of the dropped catches have cost them matches. India failed to judge a catch of Steve Smith in the first ODI, when he was on 38, and he went on to score a 66-ball 105 and took them to a record total. In the first Test, too, they dropped Marnus Labuschagne multiple times before dropping Tim Paine with Australia seven down for 111 and still 133 runs behind India. The Australia skipper took them to within 53 runs of India's total of 244 from where they could fight back and win.
"We see brilliant catches, but overall if someone says Indian fielding is improving I will avoid commenting because what I've seen over the past five-six months, Indians have fielded very poorly, they have to improve a lot," said Kaif, on the eve of the second Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
"It is all a result of less training. Strictly speaking, a player should be selected in the XI only if he reaches a standard of fielding. A lot of catches are being dropped. Even Virat Kohli is dropping catches.
Everyone is dropping, it is happening since IPL. Players had come straight from lock-down to IPL -- there was rustiness I can understand since fielding is directly connected to fitness. Players were there for four months at home, it is not easy. But after three-four months, even in Australia it is happening. That is an issue to be worried about," added Kaif.
The former India player, who represented India in 125 One-day Internationals and 13 Test matches and was known for his exceptional fielding at cover, said that only hard work on the field would yield results.
"If you work hard on the field, the body gets into rhythm on its own and the eye is automatically set on the ball. Generally, what I have observed is that players spend the least time on fielding. They spend a lot of time on batting and bowling and in the gym, but not on the ground, where actual fielding takes place. Slip fielding, square-leg fielding, catching at cover -- every different angle brings a different challenge. Every area brings a new challenge. I feel players are practicing fielding less," added Kaif.
He also said that to become a world-class fielder one needs to have a proper plan like batting and bowling in the nets.
"In batting and bowling you follow a plan -- like you will bowl yorker for a period or play lofted shots for a session. But in fielding I have seen people say, okay let us do it for 15-20 minutes. It is done. We talk about fitness, there is a difference in gym and ground training," he added.
"As a coach, I tell kids that if they have to learn fielding they will have to work on it for an hour, hour-and-a-half, even two-and-a-half hours. Until you get tired, exhausted or your hands become sore after taking catches. Then only you can become a better fielder," said Kaif.
He also disagreed with KL Rahul who had said, during the post-match conference after the second ODI, that playing in front of crowds suddenly after playing in front of empty stadiums during IPL may have caused fielding lapses.
"Sun, moon, cloudy weather, rains, fog -- those who go on to become good fielders, they all go above that. Fielding is an investment. You will benefit only if you work extra on the ground like you do in batting or bowling," pointed out Kaif.