The inglorious predicament of a fine leg fielder

The fine leg position in cricket
The fine leg position in cricket
Modified 15 Jun 2020

Try being a bowler for once: a fast bowler. A tall, strapping, express bowler, his electric body attuned to the humdrum of steaming in, juddering his legs, hitting the deck hard on a good length, thumping the batsman dead with a stereotyped, robotic action. You'll automatically find yourself fielding at fine leg.

Then, before the pall has risen over your previous over and your reflexes can take over, a batsman has top-edged a pull shot to fine leg. The ball rockets in the air, and all eyes empty on you - the fine leg fielder.

You feel the pangs. The crowd in the second tier tiptoes to see you at the boundary. The bowler squeals 'catch. The batsman turns on a knee, crossing over and cursing his luck. The entire fielding team is transfixed: in hope, desperation, and mild fright of the only worse thing than death – a fine leg fielder dropping a catch.

Even if you aren't seeing any of it at fine leg, you're feeling it. And without you imagining it, your mind is staging a conversation.

'Think about the crowd – the bowler – the captain – your mum – your world. Think about how rattled they will be when you drop this', whispers the pessimistic-you.

'I won't, I'm catching this as easy as grabbing a burger. Why don't you just get lost and mind your own, snarls optimistic-you. 'You will – we will. You'll drop this just like that cap you just left behind you. This is our ticket to eternal glory. I can bewitch your mind . . .'

And before you know it, you've dropped the catch at fine leg.

You remind yourself of that burger you could still catch. You go through the drills. The bowler clasps his hands in agony without offering even a resigned glance, your teammates dig their heads into their hands, the captain throws his arms around in exasperation, and you become the victim of everybody's silent treatment over the next hour and a half.

Every boundary scored feels like a thorn in your gut. Handshakes feel like electric grinders. Your insides squirm hard and when the captain pats you on your back, you think you should duck.

All eyes seem to be prying you, even when they aren't. You wonder if they really do care or you're imagining nonsense. You consider if you're a chronic case of OCD or narcissistic personality disorder. And then it strikes you that tomorrow you're going to be front-page news, and you debate whether that makes you important or unimportant.

Then you sink deeper into the hole. You think of how you wasted your teenage years chasing girls when you should've been honing your skills, how you shut out your mum when she wanted you to take up a desk job, how you belong more in the London Underground shouting 'mind the doors', rather than a cricket field.

You make futile attempts at convincing yourself of your untapped genius, about how you're a great bowler who gets played out every time as batsmen get out to lesser bowlers, but your mind doesn't listen. Through the infinite retrenchments from fine leg to short-fine to deep-fine, you stay the ultimate example of social distancing, lost in the labyrinth of your own thoughts.

The predicament of a fine leg fielder in cricket:

The Great Khali of cricket, typically fielding at fine leg. Notice the excess of Khali-ism that would put even the real Khali to shame
The Great Khali of cricket, typically fielding at fine leg. Notice the excess of Khali-ism that would put even the real Khali to shame

Welcome to fine leg, cricket's most philosophical position. This is where great men and women have squandered their lives, pondering over the paunchy plight of being a fast bowler.

A strong arm, a near-accurate throw and The Great Khali's immovable weight that keeps you from plodding without shaking your glutes are the prerequisites for fielding at fine leg. This experience could make you the world's greatest reverie, or its worst depression patient.

Hours after your banishment, the only productive thing you've done is squiring the ball to deep square leg. The batsman's body is blinding your view of the ball, and the bowler doesn't even seem to care to bowl short. You feel like you're there only for the sake of it. You feel like your active reflex ability, extremely usable at forward short leg, is being put to waste by fielding at wretched fine leg.

Just think about it. How poles apart are the lives of a short leg fielder and a fine leg fielder. One of them sounds like Angelina Jolie and the other like Bahadur Dangi. But how ironic is the gulf between the thrills of fielding at either of them? How massive is it?

At forward short leg, you're in the thick of things; at fine-leg you're far from the madding crowd. One is cricket's most beloved, its most agile, its youngest legs; the other your trench for hiding injury and speedlessness.

One, the arena where you get inside the batsman's ears, his head, sledging his entire ancestry; the other where you get sledged by a raucous crowd of a hundred and still manage to breathe just fine.

One, the glowing metaphor of getting into a stranger's head, of intrusion, trespassing, self-absorbedness and narcissism; the other, of getting into your own head, of thought, introspection, observation, contemplation, of visiting your repressed feelings and asking you to find yourself.

You can choose to be one of them, or neither. But considering the glorious ugliness that our world finds itself in, right now, here's some perspective:

Perhaps, we should all be fine leg fielders. We should all be reveries, prepared to take hits and stay afloat, to drown in our stereotypes and prejudices, and ask ourselves honestly if we're taking a long, hard look in the mirror.

Perhaps we should all bide our time, staying inside our rooms, like a prisoner in detention, asking ourselves the roots of our individual perversions, rather than posing it out in front of the world with inconsequential jet black squares.

Perhaps we should all visit the 'fine leg' in our own heads, and ask ourselves to grow out of our own biases that we've normalised for centuries and continue to extenuate.

Maybe, just maybe, that might be the difference between the next 'kalu' and the end of that culture. Maybe that would be the difference between South Asia's beloved brand of hidden racism, affectionately called colourism, and its more charming death.

Cricket teaches us so many life lessons that we often forget to recall a few. Here is one of them, though: perhaps, we should all try and be fine leg fielders.

Published 15 Jun 2020
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