Australia have a field day, South Africa not so much

By way of spectacular standalone fielding moments, there have been a few in the ODI World Cup. Top of the mind would be Jonty Rhodes flying towards the stumps ball in right hand and getting there before Inzamam-ul Haq could scramble back.

“I dived to get Inzamam out because I knew there was only a 30% chance of throwing the stumps,” Rhodes had told HT in 2013 when he was fielding coach at Mumbai Indians. It got voted as the greatest moment of the 50-over World Cup days before this edition began.

Not far below would be Vivian Richards’ run-outs in the 1975 final, aesthetics and athletic ability fusing into three moments of brilliance that took out Alan Turner and the Chappell brothers. As would Kapil Dev running back to dismiss Richards in the 1983 final. Or Rhodes’ effort to get Robert Croft, stopping the ball with his left, turning and then completing the catch at the Oval in 1999.

Nothing that Australia did at Eden Gardens on a cloudy afternoon with some November rain was as brilliant though the catch from Pat Cummins to dismiss Quinton de Kock or the one from Glenn Maxwell to end South Africa’s innings would merit paragraphs in Australia’s rich World Cup history.

With Marnus Labuschagne in his peripheral vision, Cummins had to run back from mid-on, over the patch that has advertisements painted which meant going over a patch different from the rest of the billiard-top table outfield, complete the catch with both hands over his right shoulder and hold on even as he lost his balance. Maxwell’s effort ended South Africa’s innings two balls before their quota when he dived in front to pouch Kagiso Rabada’s loft.

But it was what happened in between South Africa’s second and last wickets that determined why they ended on 212, a score they would want to forget for what happened in 1999. Australia had unfinished business against South Africa and it wasn’t just about being ignominious in defeat. It was also for making amends for sloppy work in the field where they had dropped five catches. On Thursday, they dropped none, Travis Head’s effort to end David Miller’s act of defiance, grabbing, lobbing because his feet his touched the boundary cushion and completing the catch, encapsulated a performance worthy of a semi-final.

One where the ground fielding was excellent. Leading the effort was David Warner. Rassie van der Dussen square-drove and despite having shifted to his right, Warner dived to his left to stop the shot. Next ball, another powerful drive and again it couldn’t beat Warner. When it comes to fielding, traditional statistics are of minimal use, the number cruncher Andy Zaltzman wrote in The Cricket Monthly in 2017. So, you can never be sure how many runs Warner saved but what you could be sure about was that it took 52 balls for South Africa to get to their first boundary.

By then, Temba Bavuma and De Kock had gone. Aiden Markram would go soon, caught by Warner at backward point. Bavuma’s lean run continued but de Kock and Markram fell because South Africa were 8/1 after five forcing De Kock to try and loft Josh Hazelwood and 10/2 after eight which may have forced a slash from Markram. To complement excellent bowling, you need to be tight in the ring in the first powerplay. Australia were air tight. With Warner and Labuschagne being the first among equals. Two balls before Markram went, Labuschagne at cover had stopped what looked a certain boundary.

Fielding comes down to attitude, Warner has said earlier in the tournament. And it should never be about half-committing, he has said. “I would rather commit and (have) it go for four when I am trying to take a catch or save a boundary. For me, it is non-negotiable.” Hazelwood did that and conceded a four to Miller before the rain came. When they returned, Miller cover-drove Adam Zampa and got a single because Pat Cummins had possibly stopped three.

South Africa fielded solidly and Van der Dussen may have taken the catch of the match to get Mitchell Marsh. But substitute Reeza Hendricks spilled a stiff chance off Travis Head before Bavuma and De Kock couldn’t hold difficult catches off Steve Smith. And Marco Jansen dived running from third but failed to stop a Mitchell Starc four. Saying that made the difference between coming so close to a first final and another semi-final defeat would be reductive but it did play a part.

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