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

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Second Test - Sir Ge­of­frey Boy­cott

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.

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