An enduring image from the 1992 World Cup was the sight of Jonty Rhodes flying towards the stumps, body parallel to the ground, to run out Inzamam-ul-Haq.
Eight years after his retirement, Rhodes is still the gold standard for fielding. In that World Cup, Sachin Tendulkar became the first man to be given out by the third umpire. He was the first batsman to be run out in the current World Cup as well.
With better grounds, and baseball-inspired drills, fielding standards this decade are way ahead of what we saw in the previous era. More than batting or bowling, fielding is a skill set that’s difficult to quantify. Still, we take a stab at it with some data from Castrolcricket.com, the website run by the oil firm (data for this World Cup comes from the first six matches played till Wednesday). Fielders have certainly been kept busy chasing leather. Unsurprisingly, early indications are that it will be a batman’s World Cup.
An average 448.5 runs have been scored per match in the ongoing series so far, notwithstanding Kenya folding up for 69 vs New Zealand. This average score is the second highest in all World Cups, surpassed only by the 1987 World Cup. In that edition, the first in the subcontinent, 463 runs were scored per match.
Fielding dismissals—catches and run outs—account for some 56% of all wickets taken this World Cup. That’s far fewer than the 72% seen in the 1992 World Cup in Australia/New Zealand and 67% in the 2003 series in South Africa.
Of course, this statistic doesn’t take into account the nature of the pitches where these games per played. At the same time, bowlers might have become more effective, and new technology such as Hawkeye leads to more successful leg before wicket appeals. A more interesting statistic is that 11 catches were dropped.
That’s just less than a third of successful catches taken. Or to put it differently, fielders are dropping one in every five catches offered. Unfortunately, comparable data for the previous World Cups is not available. On the other hand, ground fielding seems to be better. The data show that nine runs have been lost through misfields, while 32 runs were saved. There were also 11 direct hits at the stumps. These numbers, however, do not do justice to the brilliant performance of some of the better fielding sides such as Kenya and Sri Lanka.
India’s fielding was abysmal for most of their opening match against Bangladesh. England’s fielding was even worse, reminiscent of the times of Dr W.G. Grace. Those were the times when fielding was not considered remotely important and men used to smoke pipes while fielding in the slips.