How you shouldn’t let it slip!

Slip catching has been a loose end in the ongoing Test series between India and England. Chris Taylor, who worked with the English side earlier, stresses on the importance of the cordon.

Dawid Malan drops Virat Kohli off Ben Stokes in the first Test at Edgbaston.   -  Getty Images

 

Slip catching has been a sore point for both India and England in the ongoing five-Test series. While Dawid Malan dropped three of the six that came his way at second slip at Edgbaston, Alastair Cook, Ajinkya Rahane and Shikhar Dhawan grassed one each.

At Lord's, it was Jos Buttler who endured a bizarre day, missing two catches in the space of three overs. The two sides will hope to address the loose end going into the third Test at Nottingham.

Former England fielding coach, Chris Taylor, feels, “there is no such thing as an easy slip catch.”

“Slip fielding is extremely important, especially in Test cricket. Taking 20 wickets to win a Test match is hard enough, if catches are going down, a bowling unit will need to create 25 to 30 chances, very difficult when facing international batsmen,” Taylor tells Sportstar.

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“I believe everyone involved in international cricket understands the importance of slip catching, my question would be to what degree it’s worked on and how much attention to detail goes in. I would suggest this varies between sides?”

Traditional wisdom suggests facing the new ball is one of the most difficult propositions in England. The swing, the bounce or lack thereof coupled with the oft-cold conditions can also make life difficult for the fielders. “Taking slip catches in English conditions are no easier or harder than any other venues in the World,” Taylor believes.

“If I was planning ahead of an English series, I would concentrate on catches waist and below and look to maximise the ‘game-changing’ chances that happen below knee height,” he explains.

English wickets tend to be on the slower side when compared to Australia or South Africa; using the Dukes ball, bowlers inevitably look to pitch the ball up to maximise conducive conditions. “The combination of the two aspects [pace and length] produces edges from defensive shots and drives, more often than not between waist and knee height and at varying paces,” he says.

Taylor, a former Gloucestershire player, is currently working as fielding consultant for Surrey.

While it may be impossible to perfectly recreate the slip catch on the training field, as fielding coach of England, Taylor's job comprised, “building confidence in the cordon through hard work and attention to detail.”

Set up and Drills

What are the qualities that come naturally to good slippers? Set up [or the posture] is the first thing — “Slip catches are sharp chances, reaction times are minimal. Players need to find the right balance between being relaxed and comfortable but also have their bodies engaged to react quickly. A poor set up is slow and therefore reduces the likelihood of taking tough chances,” he explains.

Drills are next. “As a fielding coach, I need to be creative in how I drill the slip cordon. I work on the principle that if you’ve practised and been challenged on every possible chance you’re likely to receive, then you are more likely to take that chance when it comes to you in the game."

Taylor advises players to, “find the right balance between building confidence and accepting challenges in the cordon.

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Catching everything in practice may seem to be a perfect build up for a Test match but it may also be an indicator that the practice is too easy for the players and is without challenges.

Slip catches are dropped in the games because they are difficult!”

Indecision, according to Taylor, is the worst trait a player can have and is contagious. The best slip catchers, he says, want the catch to come to them and are decisive when there's an edge. “I always encourage players to go for everything and take the positive option. Drops are inevitable, great players and teams deal with it and move on quickly,” he points out.

Right man at the right place

Apart from the basics, the secret to succeeding in the slips, Taylor reckons, is to have the right player at the right position. “Even within the cordon, each position requires different skill sets. First slip sits in the pocket between the wicketkeeper and the second slip and needs to cover both players on either side and deal with distraction in front of him,” he says before adding, “I want my best catcher at second (slip) due to the variety and frequency of chances. Third and fourth slip chances generally come from attacking shots; I like dynamic fielders who can dive well to cover these spots.”

Keaton Jennings holds on to catch Ajinkya Rahane at Lord's.   -  AFP

 

Taylor finds skipper Joe Root to be an ideal fit at second slip for England and would also like to see Virat Kohli at second for India. "Kohli has the perfect mindset and ability for a slip fielder," he says.

Role of a wicketkeeper

The wicketkeeper plays a vital role in the slip cordon, according to Taylor.

“He sets the depth of the cordon, the slips take their position from his starting spot. A good wicketkeeper will ensure both the spacing and depth is correct to ensure chances carry. As a coach, I would rather see a ball dropped than not carry to the slips.”

Joe Root of England hits past India wicketkeeper Dinesh Karthik and slip fielder Ajinkya Rahane.   -  GETTY IMAGES

 

England is playing two specialist keepers in the XI — Buttler and Jonny Bairstow. Does a regular keeper become a liability at other positions? Or are wicketkeepers, by virtue of their sheer agility, most likely to excel anywhere on the field?

“England are very fortunate in the fact that both Buttler and Bairstow are fantastic athletes and more than capable in the field,” he says.

“As wicketkeepers, they obviously possess great hands and catching ability, however, every fielding position requires certain skill sets and although Buttler and Bairstow are great athletes, they would still need to work hard on their fielding.”