Australia v Pakistan, 3rd Test, Hobart, 1st day January 14, 2010

Pakistan drop bundle after Ponting chance

Pakistan have dropped 14 catches in this series. There are still a maximum of four days left and many batsmen to give lives to so the number could rise. In New Zealand before this affair they dropped, conservatively, 10 catches, in three matches which means that by the time this Test comes to an end, they will have missed on average four per match over the course of their Australasian adventure.

So far the 14 fluffed chances in Australia have cost them over 550 runs; what cost there has been in morale, mood and momentum nobody can put a number on. All catches are crucial but some more than others. Of all the batsmen in the world, the one not to drop when on 0, in uncertain form and at an advanced age, is Ricky Ponting. Pakistan were fully on top when Ponting pulled again, this time straight to Mohammad Aamer, only for him to drop one of the simplest offerings likely to come his way. It changed the day.

Intikhab Alam, Pakistan's coach, was left to repeat the excuse that Pakistan's camp has been using every day here. It is a grassroots problem and a serious one. "Yes that was a bad drop and things would have been different," Intikhab said. "It was an easy catch but again that was a very vital catch for us. Especially on a wicket like this we can't give chances.

"When we arrived here I said we had a problem. It's a grassroot problem back home, people don't take fielding seriously when they play for associations and departments and regions. This is where we have to work really hard. It is a serious problem, we practice every day, we practice all kinds of different drills but at the end of the day they have to do it themselves."

What can be, or is being, done about it is not clear. Specialist fielding coaches have been talked about and their usefulness with the Pakistan side could be argued either way. Jonty Rhodes couldn't do much in 2006, but he was only with them for two weeks. Mohtashim Rasheed has been with the side on and off over the last couple of years and when he has been around the catching hasn't been as poor as it has over these last few months.

The current coaching team is adamant that as much as can be done is being done. Clearly it is not enough, but they feel no need for a specialist fielding coach. "Myself, Waqar [Younis] and Aaqib [Javed], the three of us, work very hard and do different drills," Intikhab said. "A specialist fielder can come and coach and won't make much difference. At the end of the day these are the players and they have to have confidence in their ability. It is serious and we have to address it. It is a debatable point actually. I don't think he will come with new ideas. We have done everything and we do it every day. But it's up to the Board now if they want to have a specialist man for it."

Pakistan's other major obstacle on this tour has been their own lack of intent, which has been startling at times. It became apparent again here, immediately after lunch. Pakistan were fully on top then, the pace bowlers had a wicket each and Ponting was still struggling. Yet Mohammad Yousuf chose to open the afternoon session with Danish Kaneria, disregarding both Ponting and Michael Clarke's general command over spin. Aamer didn't bowl through the entire session, by which time captain and vice-captain were firmly entrenched.

No clarity emerged as to why they did it, only further evidence - and it isn't needed - that Pakistan still don't think they can take Australia. "I don't think it was a mistake to not bowl him [Aamer]," Intikhab said. "It was very important to keep every bowler fresh. After lunch Kaneria bowled downwind and the idea was to give him a few overs and see and seamers can bowl at the other end. But it didn't work out that way. We did talk about it, but we thought if we bowled two seamers again one will get tired and we will have a problem."

They have a problem now anyway with Australia dominant and looking good for a fourth successive whitewash against Pakistan. Intikhab is confident Pakistan can score runs on this track as well, but it matters little now. "If you analyse the first two Tests, we say senior players are not getting runs but actually it is the fielding," Intikhab said. "Even though we haven't got runs, if we had taken those catches still we had a very good chance of winning it."

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo