Prior to his appointment as India’s fielding coach, the world knew Trevor Lionel Penney as the controversial substitute fielder whose presence on the field annoyed Ricky Ponting no end during that historic Ashes series in 2005. Eleven years earlier, Penney had added 314 runs for the third wicket with Brian Lara, who went on to slam 501*. Penney’s reputation as an all-round fielder, especially his catching in the outfield, is what landed him the India job. His proximity to Duncan Fletcher may have also helped his cause.
Some interesting drills were on view on Friday. He engaged the players in an absorbing training session replete with German drills, 7x70-metre relay runs. In short, it was sprinting at its very best. For once, you thought you were watching a rugby team train.
After giving the boys enough catching and ‘target’ practice, he formed two teams and then pairs among those. There were batons and it was red-hot running. A pair would dash off from the Pavilion End, about 70 metres to the JSCA President’s Enclosure. Their job was to leave the baton on the ground and retire. The waiting pair would then run back to this end. Never before has an Indian team looked so intense during, essentially, a running-fielding drill.
The players, especially Suresh Raina, employed the slide to good effect whenever there was a close finish. R Ashwin and Ishant Sharma resembled slow coaches in comparison.
Penney’s decision to employ this drill makes absolute sense for two reasons. Firstly, he knows India have issues when it comes to stamina, endurance and speed. Secondly, the new ODI rules permit you to keep only four fielders outside the 30-yard circle during the non-powerplay (35) overs. Which means the amount of running everyone has to do is almost double than before.
When a pacer bowls, he’d usually want a fielder each at the fine-leg and third-man boundaries. That leaves you with the option of just two fielders for the remainder — almost 75 per cent — of the outfield. When the spinners are on, you could employ your ‘fab four’ in the traditional run-scoring areas like deep point, deep mid-wicket, long-on and long-off. But what if the batsman were to chip the ball over the infield and charge down for a couple (or three in case of a bigger ground like the one in Ranchi)? Given that Penney’s drill was about pace than anything else, he was indirectly training his boys how to stop the batsmen from taking that extra run. Everything counts, doesn’t it?