The development of one day cricket has brought fielding to the fore and to a level of perfection far beyond what was seen when Peter West and Brian Johnston sat in the commentators' eerie. Cricketers seem hugely more athletic now than in the days of black and white. Or is it the development of biological washing powder which makes players less anxious about getting their whites covered in grass stains? Chases to the boundary seemed gentlemanly in those flickering days and FB doubts if Johnners ever saw a sliding stop - this technique seemed suddenly to appear fully formed and now everyone does it, particularly Carlton's juniors.
While it is interesting to speculate, it is impossible to know how the greats of the past would match up to the demands of the present. So who have been the greatest outfielders? When FB was growing up there was only one contender - Colin Bland. So fantastic was he in the covers that South Africa had to be banned from international cricket so that batsmen could sleep easy at night and the quick single could remain part of the game.
Then a line of greats followed one after the other: there was Clive Lloyd, a man whose arms seemed preternaturally long as he menacingly stalked the covers. He was able to get to any ball in just one stride, pick up and throw all at the same time. Lethal. Then Rags, aka Derek Randall, a jack in box, never still and always a threat - FB suspects it may be Rags who invented the slide since he threw himself around. Then Jonty Rhodes - perhaps the first player to be picked first and foremost as a fielder - his batting was a little below the class of the others (35.66 compared to Bland's 49.08). Others came near - David Gower was as sharp a cover as any before his shoulder fell apart, Neil Fairbrother might not have been as great a bat but he was special in the field. FB also recalls Paul Sheahan as a superb extra cover in the late 1960s.
Nowadays, there are just too many to choose from. Dilshan, Youvrav, de Villiers, Gibbs, Ponting - the list is long adn getting longer. Ponting makes a claim for being the most versatile since he can excel in just about any position.