Did you see Superman on Sunday? No, not Clark Kent, Nicholas Pooran!
The cartoon/movie character sprang to mind as I watched replays of Pooran’s breathtaking piece of fielding for King’s XI Punjab in their Indian Premier League match against Rajasthan Royals. For those of you who didn’t see it, Pooran dived upwards and back, a foot or two over the boundary rope to first catch, then throw the ball back into play for a teammate to pick up. He turned five into about one.
In his famous Tanti Merle At De Oval piece describing a Shell Shield match between Trinidad and Tobago and the Combined Islands, storyteller Paul Keens Douglas has a line that goes:”The way Gomes jump and catch that ball, he must be eat mountain chicken from Dominica.” I’m sure Pooran did not eat any frog before Sunday’s match, but the elevation he got was as though with the help of a special power.
Immediately the commentators began to vomit out the superlatives to describe what they had just seen. Exaggeration in the commentary box is pretty standard these days. But even so, Pooran’s effort was something else. It was arguably his biggest contribution so far for King’s in what had been up to then an underwhelming start to the IPL for him. It didn’t help either that despite his heroics in the outfield, King’s XI still lost the high-scoring match.
Take nothing away from Pooran, though. And immediately upon seeing the save, I began thinking about other great pieces of fielding and great catches I had seen. To help jog the memory, I did a quick YouTube search, and not surprisingly, there were dozens of dazzlers to view, some quite similar to the Pooran effort, especially a stop by Sri Lanka’s Shaminda Eranga in a Test match against Pakistan.
What was also not surprising was that the vast majority of the highlights featured plays from the 21st century. The modern-day athlete is a different physical specimen to his predecessors. Seemingly more flexible thanks to more scientific training methods, the average cricketer today is more capable today of contorting his frame in different directions in a split second than was the case in say, the 1970s and 80s. The pace of T20 cricket with its big hits to the outfield has also demanded more spectacular out-cricket that has spilled over into the other formats.
So in my YouTube search, in addition to Eranga’s effort, there was also another Pooran-type dive and toss back by Mitchell Santner —not in a Caribbean Premier League game for the Barbados Tridents—but in a Test match for New Zealand against Sri Lanka.
Great stops are one thing, but fielding that produces a wicket is even more special. South Africa’s Jonty Rhodes, one of the game’s all-time greats in the outfield, produced one of those moments in a one-dayer against Pakistan. He ran out Mushtaq Ahmed with a direct throw. But he did so, not only by hitting one stump from a side-on position but by sprinting towards the crease and then diving full length and executing an underarm throw. Speed of thought and athleticism produced that highlight moment. But it took the power and accuracy of Chris Cairns to get rid of Brian Lara during the 2003 World Cup match between New Zealand and West Indies.
Lara, just at the crease, was looking for a third run to deep midwicket, Cairns and Lou Vincent chased down the ball, Vincent scooped it back to Cairns who then stunned Lara with his direct hit to the non-striker’s end.
West Indians, though, have often been on the right end of brilliant fielding displays; just think about the work in any number of games of Andre Russell, Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo.
But I can’t mention great West Indian fielding and fielders and not refer to the work of the teams of the 70s and 80s. So often when those sides led by Clive Lloyd are mentioned, the talk is all about the irresistible fast bowling quartets and dazzling batsmen. What is sometimes overlooked is the role the outricket played in the success of those Windies outfits. In truth, the likes of Lloyd, Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge and Richie Richardson were just as outstanding in the slips and elsewhere as they were with a bat in their hands.
Fielding was definitely a big reason why West Indies won cricket’s first World Cup back in 1975. In the first of two battles with eventual finalists Australia, Greenidge ran out the dangerous-looking Doug Walters with a dash across midwicket, a pick-up with his left hand and a throw with his right.
In the final though, Richards took over. The “Master Blaster” did not get many runs, but his work on either side of the pitch matched Clive Lloyd’s century.
From midwicket, the young Richards first smacked the stumps at the striker’s end to get rid of Alan Turner. Then, turning and throwing almost in one motion from backward point he hit the bullseye again to remove Greg Chappell, also running to the danger end. And for his hat-trick, he beat Ian Chappell from mid-on. The three key Aussie batsmen were gone, all through Richards’ right hand.
They say catches win matches? Well so do bullet throws. What a spectacle they are. What a sight for the eyes. Yes, when the fielding hits the heights, cricket is the beautiful game.