Team India’s former fielding coach R Sridhar reckons Mohammad Azharuddin would have been a brilliant fielder even in modern times, standing close-in or in the outfield. Sridhar played with Azharuddin for Hyderabad. The former Indian captain was regarded as the best all-round fielders in the Indian team during his playing days.
As fielding coach, Sridhar worked with Ravindra Jadeja, widely-renowned as the best fielder in the current Indian team by some distance. Asked to pick the better fielder amongst Jadeja and Azhar, the 51-year-old told PTI:
“It is difficult to judge across different eras and fielding judged by different standards. In the '80s when Ajju bhai (Azharuddin's nickname in Indian cricket) made his debut, there was no fitness culture in Indian cricket. It kicked in only in the late 90s and Ajju bhai was a stand-out because of his athleticism and because he had great hands, good throw. Probably the bench-mark was different.”
Sridhar further added about the two fielding icons of Indian cricket:
“Jadeja is someone who is pleasing to the eye even when he is chasing a ball to the boundary. He is cut above rest in world cricket. So was Azhar during his time. Azhar of 1985 to 1990 would have been a brilliant fielder even now, whether slips, close-in or being lightning in the outfield.”
Azhar remained agile and athletic even during the fag end of his international career, pulling off some brilliant catches and run-outs.
“When you are a certainty, it helps you become a better slip fielder” - R Sridhar
Slip fielding is a key aspect of cricket, particularly in the Test format. While India struggled briefly to find good slip catchers following the exits of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, under Sridhar, the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara and Rohit Sharma have developed into competent fielders.
Asked to share his views on slip fielding, Sridhar said:
“With practice, comes confidence and also knowledge of that position which brings in consistency. Obviously, being a certainty helps (smiles). When you are a certainty in the team, it helps you become a better slip fielder. That's why we had Pujara, then Virat, then Rohit, who is an outstanding slip fielder. The right person standing at the right place brings consistency. That's part of planning and preparation.”
Sridhar's memorable stint with the Indian team came to an end following the conclusion of the T20 World Cup 2021 in the UAE.