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April 13, 2012

Test cricket

The beauty of a catch at slip

Samir Chopra
Gautam Gambhir is caught in the slip cordon, Australia v India, 1st Test, Melbourne, 4th day, December 29, 2011
Ricky Ponting catches Gautam Gambhir at slip off Peter Siddle  © Getty Images
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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

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Posted by ck marais on (August 21, 2012, 14:11 GMT)

Kallis again better than anyone else what a LEGEND

Posted by harold franklyn on (July 4, 2012, 18:45 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.

Posted by Lindsay on (April 18, 2012, 0:04 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.

Posted by John on (April 17, 2012, 10:33 GMT)

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

Posted by Theena on (April 17, 2012, 7:28 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.

Posted by Tarun on (April 17, 2012, 6:11 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.

Posted by Dr. Visho Sharma on (April 16, 2012, 18:36 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.

Posted by zulfiqar ali on (April 16, 2012, 13:49 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

Posted by Blessing on (April 16, 2012, 10:59 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!!!

Posted by Peter on (April 16, 2012, 10:43 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!!!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He runs the blogs at samirchopra.com and Eye on Cricket. His book on the changing face of modern cricket, Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket has been published by HarperCollins. Before The Cordon, he blogged on The Pitch and Different Strokes on ESPNcricinfo. @EyeonthePitch

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