Recently I was reading Jack Fingleton's Masters of Cricket. In a chapter devoted to Jack Hobbes, Fingleton has this to say about Hobbes' fielding and the importance of the Cover-Point fielder:
[Jack Hobbes was] perhaps the greatest cover-point ever—quick in anticipation, swift to the ball and unerring in his under-the-shoulder return—he had 15 run-outs on his second tour of Australia in 1912.Is this a lost art (or an obsolete strategy) today? I have never seen or heard of any cover-point (or for that matter, any other fielder) deliberately yielding singles to lull batsmen into a false sense of security. I am no expert on cricket, but if this practice were still prevalent in contemporary cricket, I am sure the expert commentators on TV and in the press would have mentioned it at least once. Or the player himself might have bragged about how he snared the batsman with his cleverness.
No cover-point can ever be considered great unless he has deft, twinkling footwork. As the ball speeds towards him, cover-point must be on the way in to meet it, for a split second thus gained could bring the run-out and, moreover, he should so position his movements into the ball that he is, immediately ready to receive the ball and throw it to the desired end with one action. A champion cover-point must possess an additional sense. He must sense what the batsmen are doing, for his own eyes never leave the ball. He must, too, be a 'fox' yielding a single here and there to snare the batsman into a feeling of safety and, when his chance comes, cover-point must be able to hit the stumps from side-on nine times out of ten. Jack Hobbs had the lot—all the tricks.
Is one-day cricket, where a single run (or a very narrow margin) is often the difference between the two teams, to blame? But then we would have seen this strategy employed in test cricket. It is however missing in test cricket too. Is it that today cricket is so competitive that the thought of deliberately yielding a single now and then to fool the batsman is simply never considered as a strategy by the players? But if the payoff is a wicket (and particularly the wicket of a frontline batsman) wouldn't a few runs be considered a reasonable trade-off in exchange for a wicket?
Wouldn't you sacrifice an insignificant pawn to gain a rook?
Maybe we don't play this kind of chess on the cricket field anymore. And methinks that cricket is a bit poorer for that.