Test cricket April 13, 2012

The beauty of a catch at slip

Most Dramatic Dismissal: a sharp catch taken at slip in the opening overs of an innings, when the bowling captain has set an aggressive field
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Many cricket fans are fond of saying that the most dramatic cricket dismissal is one involving a cartwheeling stump, sent flying by a fast bowler. The pristine perfection of the carefully arranged stumps and bails, suddenly, violently disrupted by the irresistible force of the pace man, the stump sent flying dramatically - and now in the modern era, thanks to stump microphones, accompanied by the actual sound of the famous 'death-rattle' - is dramatic indeed.

I would like, however, to submit another candidate for Most Dramatic Dismissal: a sharp catch taken at slip in the opening overs of an innings, when the bowling captain has set an aggressive field for the new ball. Here again, there is a disruption of symmetry: the bowler runs in, the batsman edges, and the ball flies off, only to have its precise geometrical trajectory interrupted by the swooping slip fieldsman. The batsman's head snaps back, as he turns to look at his downfall even as the carefully arranged arc of the slips is radically set in disarray.

And this disturbance is precisely what is most pleasing about this sight: the sharp, dramatic change from the staged display, almost portrait-like, of the fast bowler running in, the slips, sometimes staggered, sometimes not, forming a cordon, the wicketkeeper crouching, the batsman at guard, and then in the space of a second, the ball flies sharply to the slips. There is a rapid transition from equilibrium to disruption. (The celebrations that follow have their particular choreographed beauty at times; sometimes the slip fielder goes down in a heap as the rest of his teammates run to the bowler; sometimes the catcher exultantly throws the ball high.)

With the new ball, too, there is the element of the foretold disaster; this is the kind of dismissal that is supposed to happen; the ball is hard and new and moving; the batsman is still finding his feet, and perhaps prone to the poke. So the slip dismissal with the new ball appears almost as a pleasing vindication of some unwritten law of cricket. This is how it was meant to be; we stand as witnesses to the working out of a cricketing preordainment.

Of course, part of the pleasure of watching a good slip catch is that the knowledgeable fan, indeed anyone that has ever played cricket, and spent some time in the slips, knows that slip catches are not easy; the ball travels at a fair rate of knots; it moves and spins; palms can be bruised, fingers and nails broken. So to watch a master at work in this domain is a true cricketing pleasure. The modern greats - like Mark Waugh, Stephen Fleming, Rahul Dravid, or Ricky Ponting - amazed us with their sure hands, their anticipation, their almost insouciant displays of leather pouching. The great cricket teams have always had great slip catchers; the two go together.

Perhaps one of my biggest grouses against the limited-overs versions of the game is their disposal of the aggressive slip cordon; it takes away the chance to witness this acute display of cricketing skill, this visually spectacular reminder of the beauties of cricket, lurking away, till suddenly summoned up by the combination of bowler and fielder. When we think about all that might be lost if we lose Test cricket let us not forget moments like these.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • ck marais on August 21, 2012, 13:11 GMT

    Kallis again better than anyone else what a LEGEND

  • harold franklyn on July 4, 2012, 17:45 GMT

    No mention has been made of THE GREAT BOBBY SIMPSON or PHIL SHARPE,the greatest I've ever seen in the slip-cordon.It is true today's pacemen are faster,but reflexes carried the day.

  • Lindsay on April 17, 2012, 23:04 GMT

    Very well written indeed. I would be inclined to agree, not jst for the reasons you state, but because of what happens when a slip catch is dropped. The atmosphere just drops, there is a sigh of relief from the batsmen, and a corresponding feeling of despair from the fielding team, paticularly from the culprit who knows they should have taken it. It is a dismissal that is incredibly climactic if taken, but can be equally anticlimactic if dropped, which is part of the beauty and emotion of sport.

  • John on April 17, 2012, 9:33 GMT

    I agree with Rizwan, Mark Taylor was the best of the lot

  • Theena on April 17, 2012, 6:28 GMT

    Absolutely. Let's not forget Brian McMillan. Those giant hands could envelope a ball pretty quickly. But the greatest pleasure for me is watching Mark Waugh and Mark Taylor at the slips. The former, in particular, is the most natural catcher of the cricket ball I have ever seen.

    Just take a look at this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vIC8tMGQTaU

    Ridiculous how easy he makes it look.

  • Tarun on April 17, 2012, 5:11 GMT

    Cannot agree with you more Samir.

    Whether the names of the Greats of Jayawardane, Mark Taylor/Waugh are included in the all time greats or not, they surely have contributed and have made their countries proud and we all know it all. Apart from the Slip catches I cannot disregard the close in fielders who made their presence count by affecting run outs and the likes of Jonty Rhodes have made fielding look so easy. There are players now a days who irrespective of their batting/bowling forms are being included in the teams just for their fielding skills. They contributing not by hitting runs or taking wickets but by saving runs in numbers.

  • Dr. Visho Sharma on April 16, 2012, 17:36 GMT

    Beautifully written. The art (no science!) of slip fielding first came to prominence under Walter Hammond. I turned out to be the antithesis: no mean cricketer in youth, even post-youth, I stood in the slips only twice. Broad-shouldered, tall, endowed with reasonably massive hands, I tore the webbing that separates the index finger from the middle finger once, at second slip; the other time I tore their reciprocals standing as leg-slip. There is something to the gift of eye-muscle coordination which I evidently lacked. Went back to my preordained position - silly mid-on; no more injuries.

  • zulfiqar ali on April 16, 2012, 12:49 GMT

    throughout our cricketing career at club level and street of karachi both with the hard and tape ball or even tannis ball we admired nothing but a good slip catch and compete with each other for this.Even though we did not have the quality and skill of test players in terms of outswing bowling or speed still we had learned how to induced an edge.Nothing is more thrilling than this

  • Blessing on April 16, 2012, 9:59 GMT

    many of the top batsman are very good slip fielders. Ponting, Jayawardene, Kallis, Dravid,etc. Sharp reactions coming about because of good Hand-eye coordination. But nothing beats the ‘death-rattle’, to watch a paceman running in, batsman swings and misses, stumps and bails fly all over the place, priceless!!!

  • Peter on April 16, 2012, 9:43 GMT

    Great piece- one of the great joys of this great game -taking a sharp catch at slip- it's really difficult but the greats make it look simple. Only gripe- no Jacque Kallis in the moderns!!!

  • ck marais on August 21, 2012, 13:11 GMT

    Kallis again better than anyone else what a LEGEND

  • harold franklyn on July 4, 2012, 17:45 GMT

    No mention has been made of THE GREAT BOBBY SIMPSON or PHIL SHARPE,the greatest I've ever seen in the slip-cordon.It is true today's pacemen are faster,but reflexes carried the day.

  • Lindsay on April 17, 2012, 23:04 GMT

    Very well written indeed. I would be inclined to agree, not jst for the reasons you state, but because of what happens when a slip catch is dropped. The atmosphere just drops, there is a sigh of relief from the batsmen, and a corresponding feeling of despair from the fielding team, paticularly from the culprit who knows they should have taken it. It is a dismissal that is incredibly climactic if taken, but can be equally anticlimactic if dropped, which is part of the beauty and emotion of sport.

  • John on April 17, 2012, 9:33 GMT

    I agree with Rizwan, Mark Taylor was the best of the lot

  • Theena on April 17, 2012, 6:28 GMT

    Absolutely. Let's not forget Brian McMillan. Those giant hands could envelope a ball pretty quickly. But the greatest pleasure for me is watching Mark Waugh and Mark Taylor at the slips. The former, in particular, is the most natural catcher of the cricket ball I have ever seen.

    Just take a look at this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vIC8tMGQTaU

    Ridiculous how easy he makes it look.

  • Tarun on April 17, 2012, 5:11 GMT

    Cannot agree with you more Samir.

    Whether the names of the Greats of Jayawardane, Mark Taylor/Waugh are included in the all time greats or not, they surely have contributed and have made their countries proud and we all know it all. Apart from the Slip catches I cannot disregard the close in fielders who made their presence count by affecting run outs and the likes of Jonty Rhodes have made fielding look so easy. There are players now a days who irrespective of their batting/bowling forms are being included in the teams just for their fielding skills. They contributing not by hitting runs or taking wickets but by saving runs in numbers.

  • Dr. Visho Sharma on April 16, 2012, 17:36 GMT

    Beautifully written. The art (no science!) of slip fielding first came to prominence under Walter Hammond. I turned out to be the antithesis: no mean cricketer in youth, even post-youth, I stood in the slips only twice. Broad-shouldered, tall, endowed with reasonably massive hands, I tore the webbing that separates the index finger from the middle finger once, at second slip; the other time I tore their reciprocals standing as leg-slip. There is something to the gift of eye-muscle coordination which I evidently lacked. Went back to my preordained position - silly mid-on; no more injuries.

  • zulfiqar ali on April 16, 2012, 12:49 GMT

    throughout our cricketing career at club level and street of karachi both with the hard and tape ball or even tannis ball we admired nothing but a good slip catch and compete with each other for this.Even though we did not have the quality and skill of test players in terms of outswing bowling or speed still we had learned how to induced an edge.Nothing is more thrilling than this

  • Blessing on April 16, 2012, 9:59 GMT

    many of the top batsman are very good slip fielders. Ponting, Jayawardene, Kallis, Dravid,etc. Sharp reactions coming about because of good Hand-eye coordination. But nothing beats the ‘death-rattle’, to watch a paceman running in, batsman swings and misses, stumps and bails fly all over the place, priceless!!!

  • Peter on April 16, 2012, 9:43 GMT

    Great piece- one of the great joys of this great game -taking a sharp catch at slip- it's really difficult but the greats make it look simple. Only gripe- no Jacque Kallis in the moderns!!!

  • Syed Ammar Saeed on April 16, 2012, 4:54 GMT

    Its DRAMATIC to use the word "DRAMATIC" so often...by the author..in the opening few lines..

  • ahmed on April 15, 2012, 7:39 GMT

    the greats like waugh, fleming,tendulkar and ponting. WHERE ON EARTH IS YOUNIS KHAN??!

  • ananda deshapriya on April 15, 2012, 7:28 GMT

    It is a shame that Jayawardane is not included in modern greats, mind you he is the one with highest number of test catches and most of those he caught in the slips. In our books he is the all time greatest when it comes to slip catches.

  • rizwan on April 15, 2012, 0:49 GMT

    I agree with Vimukthi Pieris , my countryman Mahela Jayawaredena is up there with the best . I also think Mark Taylor was the best of them all and Mark Waugh was the most elegant.

  • prakash on April 15, 2012, 0:35 GMT

    Hi Samir, I also love catches taken off spinners close to the bat either in slips or short leg. Who can ever forget Solkar snatching balls that had no business being in his hands? As an off-spinner, it was a pleasure to watch those catches being taken at close quarters.

    Cheers,

    Prakash

  • Harsha on April 14, 2012, 18:52 GMT

    Stumps cartwheeling is for me, reminiscent of a brute force attack on the enemy citadel, while a slip catch is pure poetry in Motion, a well planned, well executed strategy which unfurls like in time lapse photography, keeping the viewers spellbound. The greatest students of the game and the best teams always were good at this. Strong hands, stout hearts, watchful eyes. And when the batsman walks, he knows ,that it was a good death.

  • Clive on April 14, 2012, 17:35 GMT

    Slip fielding is an art which not many have mastered. This is one of the most elegant areas of cricket. Close to the wicket fielding, and especially catching, is for the most agile and sharpest fielder. Those who have been in the slips will tell you that it is just a blur and then reflex takes over. That is why practice is so important for a slip cordon, not only the individual, but the group. Everyone in that cordon thinks that the ball is coming to him/her. It is practice which helps the one to whom the ball is going to pounce and the others to stand down, so to speak. My opinion is that the gully fielder has the most difficult job in determining where the ball is headed. Cricket is an amazing game indeed, where points can be silly, backward and even forward; fielders can be in a gully (on a level area) or in the man's back-pocket, somewhere square, long, wide and also short. I love it!!

  • Pramod on April 14, 2012, 15:36 GMT

    Nicely written Samir.. thanx.. I guess we also need to Add names like Warne and Kallis to the list of great slip cathers.. However Mark Wagh according to me tops the list. He made slip catching look so easy..

  • Riddhi on April 13, 2012, 15:54 GMT

    Hi Samir, I couldn't agree with you more. When the new ball is moving, I am always at the edge of my seat, agog with anticipation (or perspiring profusely with tension - depending on whether I am supporting the team batting or bowling) for the ball that might provoke an edge and fly to the slip cordon. As you mentioned, some of the greats (who unfortunately we'll not be watching for much longer - some are already gone) were sure pouchers of the ball and it was sheer joy watching them field.

    I shudder to think what we'll lose as cricket fans if test cricket is throttled into extinction. Funnily enough, there are a few articles today on Cricinfo on cricket snobbery and T20 vs. test cricket, but I sincerely hope that in this tug of war between TV rights and what many claim (including cricketers) is "true cricket", test cricket does not get downgraded any more than it already has.

  • Hamza A. Khan on April 13, 2012, 12:23 GMT

    Dravid, Fleming, Waugh were sure catchers at Slip. But Ricky is an artist. The best close in fielder I have ever seen by a distance. Even at this age he can often be seen fielding at point, silly mid off. And of course an ever present at second slip, which is a lot more difficult than first slip.

  • Sriram on April 13, 2012, 12:14 GMT

    The last line reads like the 'Begining of the End - An Obituary to Test Cricket'..seriously these are moments to savour for i see only Eng and Aus playing Tests in 10 years from now.

  • Vimukthi Pieris on April 13, 2012, 11:47 GMT

    To add on something.. Mahela Jawaradana shud be included in the modern greats List...he is one of the best slip fielders in modern cricket......yahh its dramatic..to give a catch on to the slip board and to watch till the fieldsman drops it..but in seconds you are gone..thats really dramatic

  • Salim Jessani on April 13, 2012, 9:25 GMT

    Very well written Samir. I can relate to this, as I field in the slips (albeit at club level). But there are fewer joys greater in the field than taking a sharp slip catch. The grin is wide enough on my face and lasts the rest of the day for my wife to now be able to say "You've taken a good catch at slip today, haven't you?"

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  • Salim Jessani on April 13, 2012, 9:25 GMT

    Very well written Samir. I can relate to this, as I field in the slips (albeit at club level). But there are fewer joys greater in the field than taking a sharp slip catch. The grin is wide enough on my face and lasts the rest of the day for my wife to now be able to say "You've taken a good catch at slip today, haven't you?"

  • Vimukthi Pieris on April 13, 2012, 11:47 GMT

    To add on something.. Mahela Jawaradana shud be included in the modern greats List...he is one of the best slip fielders in modern cricket......yahh its dramatic..to give a catch on to the slip board and to watch till the fieldsman drops it..but in seconds you are gone..thats really dramatic

  • Sriram on April 13, 2012, 12:14 GMT

    The last line reads like the 'Begining of the End - An Obituary to Test Cricket'..seriously these are moments to savour for i see only Eng and Aus playing Tests in 10 years from now.

  • Hamza A. Khan on April 13, 2012, 12:23 GMT

    Dravid, Fleming, Waugh were sure catchers at Slip. But Ricky is an artist. The best close in fielder I have ever seen by a distance. Even at this age he can often be seen fielding at point, silly mid off. And of course an ever present at second slip, which is a lot more difficult than first slip.

  • Riddhi on April 13, 2012, 15:54 GMT

    Hi Samir, I couldn't agree with you more. When the new ball is moving, I am always at the edge of my seat, agog with anticipation (or perspiring profusely with tension - depending on whether I am supporting the team batting or bowling) for the ball that might provoke an edge and fly to the slip cordon. As you mentioned, some of the greats (who unfortunately we'll not be watching for much longer - some are already gone) were sure pouchers of the ball and it was sheer joy watching them field.

    I shudder to think what we'll lose as cricket fans if test cricket is throttled into extinction. Funnily enough, there are a few articles today on Cricinfo on cricket snobbery and T20 vs. test cricket, but I sincerely hope that in this tug of war between TV rights and what many claim (including cricketers) is "true cricket", test cricket does not get downgraded any more than it already has.

  • Pramod on April 14, 2012, 15:36 GMT

    Nicely written Samir.. thanx.. I guess we also need to Add names like Warne and Kallis to the list of great slip cathers.. However Mark Wagh according to me tops the list. He made slip catching look so easy..

  • Clive on April 14, 2012, 17:35 GMT

    Slip fielding is an art which not many have mastered. This is one of the most elegant areas of cricket. Close to the wicket fielding, and especially catching, is for the most agile and sharpest fielder. Those who have been in the slips will tell you that it is just a blur and then reflex takes over. That is why practice is so important for a slip cordon, not only the individual, but the group. Everyone in that cordon thinks that the ball is coming to him/her. It is practice which helps the one to whom the ball is going to pounce and the others to stand down, so to speak. My opinion is that the gully fielder has the most difficult job in determining where the ball is headed. Cricket is an amazing game indeed, where points can be silly, backward and even forward; fielders can be in a gully (on a level area) or in the man's back-pocket, somewhere square, long, wide and also short. I love it!!

  • Harsha on April 14, 2012, 18:52 GMT

    Stumps cartwheeling is for me, reminiscent of a brute force attack on the enemy citadel, while a slip catch is pure poetry in Motion, a well planned, well executed strategy which unfurls like in time lapse photography, keeping the viewers spellbound. The greatest students of the game and the best teams always were good at this. Strong hands, stout hearts, watchful eyes. And when the batsman walks, he knows ,that it was a good death.

  • prakash on April 15, 2012, 0:35 GMT

    Hi Samir, I also love catches taken off spinners close to the bat either in slips or short leg. Who can ever forget Solkar snatching balls that had no business being in his hands? As an off-spinner, it was a pleasure to watch those catches being taken at close quarters.

    Cheers,

    Prakash

  • rizwan on April 15, 2012, 0:49 GMT

    I agree with Vimukthi Pieris , my countryman Mahela Jayawaredena is up there with the best . I also think Mark Taylor was the best of them all and Mark Waugh was the most elegant.