Mumbai: Cricketers can take help from a fielding coach with a strong baseball background like Mike Young to improve their performance on the field especially throwing skills, former South Africa player Jonty Rhodes on Thursday said. (Agencies)
The 42-year-old, who is the fielding coach of IPL franchise outfit Mumbai Indians, also rued that the art of throwing the ball was not taught to him as a youngster, adding it was one area where baseball can definitely help cricket.
"I think the key with (taking the help of) baseball is throwing. I think that's one area we (cricketers) don't work on. I have tried really hard to change that. I have spoken a lot with Mike Young when I was the fielding coach of South Africa and he was coaching Australia," Rhodes said.
The Chicago-born Young went to Australia in the early 1980s to continue his career as a baseball coach and also led the nation's squad to a 5th-place finish, it's best-ever then - in the Seoul Olympic Games - before Cricket Australia engaged him as a fielding coach for its squad in 2000.
"The impact baseball can have and (the advantage) in having a guy like Mike Young (with you), is that you can improve your throwing. I think baseball can make a huge contribution to the way cricket players throw," said Rhodes.
"That's the best way to save 3s to 2 or 2s to 1. If someone has got a strong throw, players (rival batsmen) don't take them on (while running between the wickets).
"That's (throwing) one area I never got coached. No technique is taught to kids (in cricket) about throwing ...if you can catch the ball and throw it's good enough.
"And I have done a lot of work in India with Mumbai Indians and also have my own coaching academy, but the biggest downfall is the throw," said the South African, who used to mesmerise spectators with his acrobatic catching, diving stops and fleet-footedness at backward point.
Rhodes, who took a quintet of amazing catches in an ODI against the West Indies at the Cricket Club of India here during the Hero Cup Tournament in November 1993 to earn the man of the match award, said fielding has changed dramatically from his days as a player.
"The key (change) for me is that the specialist fielder used to be the guy fielding at backward point, covers or in the slips in a Test, but now a specialist fielder is the one who fields on the boundary, saving the fours and sixes and making sure the twos are translated down just to a single.
"The specialist fielder (of a team) is no longer at backward point or in the covers. You can't have just two or three specialists. You got to have everybody contributing. Because the guys are playing some amazing shots and the ball goes to every part of the field," said Rhodes, who played 52 Tests for the Proteas from 1992 to 2000.
Rhodes felt the South African team has been blessed with several good fielders. He mentioned AB de Villiers, JP duminy and Robin Peterson as men of outstanding talent in the fielding department.
"In South Africa, it's obviously a guy like AB de Villers. In 50 overs and 20 overs he's got the wicketkeeping gloves on. It's sad for me (when he keeps wickets) as I always like to watch him in the field. JP Duminy is another great fielder.
"We have been fortunate there is not just one or two players who stand out (in fielding). Generally the South Africans set up a great team effort (on the field)," he said.
"Dale Steyn ...he's a fast bowler. In 50-over cricket and 20-over cricket he puts in a great effort (as a fielder). To start with, there was Allan Donald. He was a very athletic fast bowler," he said in support of his observation.
Rhodes, who played 245 ODIs and retired after the 2003 World Cup held in his home country, also mentioned Mumbai Indians' new entrant Robin Petersen as an outstanding fielder with ambidextrous abilities which is very rare.
"Robin Petersen is a good fielder. We are fortunate he has come to join us (MI). Petersen is one of the few players in cricket who can throw with right and left hand. He's a pretty useful guy to have in the covers. He hasn't got a weak arm, he can run too," he remarked.
He did not think developing ambidextrous abilities like Petersen was the way forward in cricket.
"No, I don't think so. It's too big an ask. I don't think it's a skill you need to work on. For me, in fielding the important part is your feet. If you have fast feet you naturally get around to the ball quicker whether you are right handed or left handed. It (ambidextrousness) is an advantage if you can do it at speed."
Asked what precautions needed to be taken to prevent injuries while fielding, Rhodes replied "I think the one precaution you need to take is not to take precaution.
"Guys who are hesitant (to dive) and hit the ground softly do more damage (to themselves) if they land on their knees or on their shoulders. If a player is running at speed and he's diving at full speed...the momentum will take him through most of the injuries."
Rhodes said his role model as a fielder was one-time senior teammate Peter Kirsten who used to field where he later specialised in and became a legend, gully and backward point.
"My role model was Peter Kirsten. In South Africa because of the sporting isolation and also because of lack of television coverage I never got to see (another SA fielding legend) Colin Bland play.
"Peter Kirsten was a player who I played against when I started my first class career. He was my fielding hero. He was more a gully-backward point fielder and also a very short and low to the ground (in height) but just moved very very well."
Rhodes said playing football, idolising Brazilian legend and three-time World Cup winner Pele, and hockey as a youngster helped him in cricket, especially in fielding.
"My hero as a boy was Pele. I was a soccer player. He, for me, was the best soccer player. To me, he was the most outstanding sportsman I had ever seen.
"I think the other sports have certainly helped my fielding. Playing football and hockey gives a good peripheral vision, teaches you to run low to the ground. You got to move with speed, put the ball under control.
"All those skills certainly went a long way in helping me in my cricket, especially my fielding."
He recalled how slippery his hands were with sweat while taking the five outstanding catches at the Hero Cup game against the West Indies as it was a very hot and humid day dehydrating two players - his teammate Darryl Cullinan and Windies opener Desmond Haynes.
"I remember it was a very hot day. It was a rain-shortened match and so it was particularly humid. Two of the guys retired. Darryl Cullinan was batting with me - I got a 40 and we put on nearly an 80-run partnership - and I was so exhausted when I left the field.
"Cullinan, at (score of) 70 just walked off, he was so exhausted and dehydrated. The captain (Kepler Wessels) was trying to keep him on and on and he refused and said he can't. They packed his body in ice as he was going into convulsions.
"Desmond Haynes (retired) when he was batting. He opened the batting and came back later, and he was also dehydrated. I couldn't believe I had taken one catch let alone five because my hands were so sweaty, it was such a humid day. Two of the catches were one handed diving catches and when your hands are that wet you don't expect the ball to stick.
"That's the thing, if you put yourself into position and if you are prepared to dive for the catch you never know what might happen!" the South African said.
Mumbai: Cricketers can take help from a fielding coach with a strong baseball background like Mike Young to improve their performance on the field especially throwing skills, former South Africa player Jonty Rhodes on Thursday said.