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Biju George Interview: 'Impact players should be backed more in Indian setup'

Last updated on 22 Feb 2024 | 06:27 AM
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Biju George Interview: 'Impact players should be backed more in Indian setup'

In an exclusive with, Biju George spoke about how fielding has transformed women’s cricket, areas that still need improvement, and the health of women’s cricket in India

‘Catches win you matches’. 

It isn’t just an old adage but a constant face of reality in the sport. Over the last few months, fielding has come under the severe scanner for the Indian women’s team, with the head coach Amol Muzumdar too specifying fielding as an area of improvement. 

“We dropped about six catches. We are still a work in progress. If we get some time post this series, we will spend some time on fielding and fitness,” Muzumdar said after the conclusion of the ODI series against Australia. 

It has been a theme of the home season for the national team, who have faltered time and again under the slightest of pressures. One man who knows all about India’s progress in the fielding department is Biju George, who has been integral to India’s much-improved fielding in the past few years. 

In fact, he was a big contributing factor behind India being one of the best fielding units at the 2017 Women’s ODI World Cup, where they narrowly lost in the final against England.

George put his nearly decade-long coaching experience into the Indian women’s team, turning them from mere spectators to more than able fielders. 

While not associated with the national team anymore, the 58-year-old has been working closely as a fielding coach for the Delhi Capitals’ setup in the Women’s Premier League (WPL). Not only has he been reunited with his favourite cricketer, Jemimah Rodrigues, but he also had the opportunity to work alongside the legendary Meg Lanning. 

Here is the complete interview with George, who speaks about the transformation of fielding, the current state of fielding, and the future of the national team: 

So, let’s start off with the burning question: where should the Indian team improve in the fielding department? 

Biju George: If you look at the current Indian team, they have to be very specific in assigning someone to specific areas. If I’m setting a field for Meg Lanning, I must know the high-traffic areas and my best fielders should be there. 

You have to train people for their specific positions. Indian cricket is lucky; we have Jemimah (Rodrigues) and Shreyanka (Patil), who are electric on the field. Pooja Vastrakar is good, and Smriti is good in the outfield. We have a decent fielding side. 

Every day, the bar is set higher and higher, you can’t take rest. If you are X now, you should be X+1 tomorrow, and so forth. That’s what we have to work on and achieve towards it. 

Could you just talk about your journey with the women’s team back in 2017 when you became their fielding coach? Also, what were some of the issues you faced in your initial days? 

BG: I started working with the Indian women's team in 2017. That was the World Cup year, that fascinating journey which caught the attention of the Indian public. Unlucky to not win the cup. Before that, I was working with KKR. From KKR, I went to work with the Indian women’s team. In 2015 or 2016, there was a U-19 Indian camp in Guntur; I knew Smriti Mandhana there. 

When I started working with them, the main issue for me was to tone down. I still remember Smriti coming up and telling me, ‘Look at my hand, it is swollen from front and back’, the challenge was there to get them to slide and field. 

But if you look at the World Cup, we were the best fielding team. We had the maximum number of run-outs, direct hits, keeper dismissals, and everything. We were on top of the leaderboard. 

I was very lucky with the Indian team, where even the legends like Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami wanted to come and learn something new. I still treasure a few videos of me telling Mithali that diving and rolling won’t hurt her knee. Or getting Jhulan, Smriti or Jemi to dive. Change them for a better team, not just batting, bowling or fielding. 

Amongst the current crop of cricketers, barring Jemimah, who would you call a great all-round fielder? 

BG: Shreyanka, she is a good fielder. See, as a fielder, the main thing is visualisation. You want the ball to come to you. You always imagine your best possible response to that scenario. Jemimah and Shreyanka are always ready and in good positions, that’s what separates them from the others. All-round fielding, anticipation, the way they react to the bowl, everything. 

What were some drills you had during your stint at the national team?

BG: For every fielding coach, there is something called ‘round the clock’. We tried to change it and bring in a bit of chaos; there is no order in which you will be getting the ball. Everyone had to be on their toes, that was good. 

Also, your coaching style revolves around backing players, could you talk about that?

BG: Give the players three or four matches. There are two types of players: impact players and steady players. Impact players should be given the liberty to attack and fail, for a Shafali Verma, for us in WPL, she might come good in three matches out of ten. But in those three matches, she will win you the game. Back her 150%, that’s it. 

You have been lucky to be part of both the WPL and the IPL. Could you compare the two leagues for us?

BG: The art of cricket is the same, be it men’s IPL or WPL. The quality of cricket that women put out was very good. One thing that I didn’t like was the short boundaries. I have seen people hit 60-70m easily, so we can’t have a small boundary. 

I wish this WPL had bigger boundaries. It will be good enough, anyway, we are using a lighter ball, play your genuine cricket, it is attractive enough.

Also, you have had the opportunity to train someone like Meg Lanning, what makes her special?

BG: Okay, let me narrate a story for you, on the day of the match, I’m a fanatic about my fitness, so I’m always at the gym. She (Meg Lanning) will be there if I go to the gym at 2 o'clock, working out before the game.

She’s so humble and down to earth. Her dedication is amazing, and she’s a total legend. But if there’s one weakness about her, it is COFFEE. 

So, realistically speaking, what’s the gap that exists between Indian women’s cricket and other countries? Are we too far behind?

BG: We are not far behind. If you look at it physiologically, the other countries (Australia, England, South Africa, New Zealand) are much more fitter. They play all kinds of sports and are athletic. We have to increase our fitness levels and become more athletic. 

That is reflected in the fielding efforts. In terms of talent, we are up there with the other teams. We have to know our strengths and back them. We have to be aware of our weaknesses and eradicate them. 

Let’s talk about Jemimah; you have worked a lot with her, what differentiates her from the others?

BG: She’s (Jemimah) talented, she’s very focused and determined. She is very dedicated, and the best of it, she is transparently honest. She doesn’t try to hide her problems. She comes and asks for a solution. 

A lot of times. I still remember when she was rising through the ranks when we were having selection matches in Alur, she wasn’t scoring runs. She tries to bounce ideas off you and solves all those issues. She will be the best if she keeps doing what she is doing right now. The way her game is evolving, she has become naturally more aggressive. 

If you look at her strike-rate, it is constantly improving; she knows her scoring areas, and the dot-ball percentage has come down. I always tell her, Jemi (Jemimah), by the time you retire, we want your name on a stand at the Wankhede. 

Finally, what do you think are the changes that we need to make to improve fielding at the grassroots in women’s cricket?

BG: At the grassroots level, basic techniques should be taught. One thing that I have seen is people playing with hard balls. At the higher level, you end up playing with Kookaburra, which is softer. So, your technique is completely different, and you are unsure. 

The quality of balls, the quality of grounds. There shouldn’t be grounds where players are scared to dive, fearing injuries. Those diving techniques should be taught at the U-12, U-14 level, and they can be the best.

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