Dropping catches is a growing concern with tougher tests looming
Standing too close in the slip cordon is causing confusion and should be eradicated by the coaches
England did an excellent job of dragging this game back after tea. But I am still worried about the two slip catches that went down earlier in the day.
In tougher bowling conditions – like in India or Australia – those errors could cost the match. No teams take every chance, but the standard should be set at around 80 per cent. That is what Bobby Simpson told me when I began my Test career in 1964, and he was the best slipper I ever saw.
In my very first Test innings, I had 48 when I nicked one. It flew behind the left ankle of Ian Redpath at second slip, where Simpson dived full length to grab it. The Cricketer magazine put a spectacular photo of the catch on its front cover and I got pretty sick of being asked to sign it.
When Simpson caught me out in my next two innings, I congratulated him and he just said: “You keep nicking them Geoffrey, and I’ll keep catching them.”
Simpson was ruthless, and that is what England need to be, especially with a view to tougher challenges ahead. But the fielding has been an issue all summer.
Even though Joe Root and Ben Stokes are excellent slip fielders, I am convinced that they are standing too closely bunched in the cordon and getting in each other’s way.
If our slip fielders spread their arms out, they will be able to touch fingers, or even overlap. It seems strange that in this era of backroom staff and video analysis, the England team should be making such a fundamental error.
Having said that, it is not the first time we have had this conversation. Traditionally, English slip fielders have tended to stay closer to each other than Australians, who give themselves more room. Certainly, Simpson would always be shoving second slip further away. It gave him more opportunity to take magazine-cover blinders!
The conditions probably play a part, as slip fielding is easier in Australia. The light is that much sharper and the ball carries more reliably. In England, a high proportion of catches are taken low down, putting you in the mindset of crowding closer to the batsman.
When England are playing West Indies or Pakistan in home conditions, they can afford the odd blooper in the field. Armed with a Dukes ball, England’s bowlers are so good in these conditions that they will keep finding the edge.
Once you go overseas, though, wickets are much harder to come by. It puts me in mind of Lord Hawke, the great man of Yorkshire cricket from the turn of the 20th century, who said: “It’s easier to win when you only have to take 10 wickets in an innings.”
Hawke also said, when he first came into the Yorkshire side, it consisted of “10 drunks and a parson”. The fielding was dreadful and he set about improving it until they caught everything and started winning County Championships.
When the fielding is top class, the bowlers feel more energised, because they are confident that if they find the edge, the ball will be snaffled. But the opposite is equally true. It is deflating to be worrying that if a chance comes, you do not trust your team-mates to take it.
Against Pakistan batsmen on a classic English pitch, it does not matter too much, because they are not comfortable against the swinging and seaming ball.
But if you drop David Warner or Steve Smith in the first Test at Brisbane, it could cost you 150 runs.
This summer feels like a gentle warm-up for the tougher tests ahead. England need to sort out these misfiring parts of their game while the stakes are still relatively low.