England v India, 3rd Investec Test, Ageas Bowl, 1st day July 27, 2014

India's slipshod slips

Ravindra Jadeja's drop of Alastair Cook was indicative of the challenge India face in establishing a reliable cordon

India's slip fielding standards have dropped alarmingly since the exits of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman © Getty Images

It is early in the morning, the pitch is fresh, the ball is seaming around a little, Alastair Cook is uncertain, he pushes at a wide delivery from debutant Pankaj Singh, and the edge is taken. Yet another failure for Cook, yet another early entry for No. 3 Gary Ballance, yet another early breakthrough for India.

Hold on, though. The ball has gone knee high, to Ravindra Jadeja's left at third slip, and has spilled out of his hands. Cook, who was only 15, goes on to score 95, India take only two wickets in the day, and you are left to wonder how the day would have panned out had India taken that catch.

This is not the first time a catch has been dropped in the slips, nor is this the first time the reprieved batsman has made a team pay, but India have now dropped eight in the slip in their last seven matches. And that's only off the fast bowlers. Spinners have suffered too. Losing four big batsmen around two years ago, almost all in one go, was a big challenge for India. This new breed of batsmen has been impressive with the bat, but that slip cordon still looks bare.

It has been 19 Tests since Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman retired. India have tried five different first slips over that period, which means the cordon has been rejigged at least five times in 19 Tests. Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, R Ashwin, M Vijay and now Shikhar Dhawan have spent time at first slip. That they are being changed so often is clear indication there is something wrong.

It will obviously take some time for those who are not natural slip catchers to get used to fielding there, but there haven't been clear signs of improvement. There have been some really good catches taken: Ashwin almost turned 90 degrees to adjust to a late swerving catch at the Wanderers, Dhawan dived to his right to send back James Anderson in Nottingham, but there have been some glaring errors.

Kohli failed to stay down for long enough when at leg slip to spin at Trent Bridge. When MS Dhoni chose to not go for one between him and first slip at Lord's, Dhawan made no effort either. It was the keeper's catch all right, but good slip fielders are always diving behind the keeper on these occasions to be there, just in case. Pujara once stood there with shin pads on, and couldn't get to a low offering from Cook in Kolkata. Cook then scored 190. Jadeja, who got up too early today, will be thankful he got Cook out for half that score.

There is no fixed right way to go about slip catching, it is mostly about what you are comfortable with, but there are wrong ways. One of the wrong ways is to have legs too far apart in your stance. Mark Taylor says shoulders' width is ideal with the knees pointing in, almost like a skier. Jadeja's stance is at least twice as wide, which makes moving difficult. Another wrong way is to get your hands too far between your legs because than they can get stuck in your knees when you are going for a catch to your side. Jadeja does that. And, obviously, the India slip fielders are getting up too early.

India's slip cordon are mostly excellent athletes and thus very good outfielders. Slip catching, though, is completely different, and much more crucial. You want your bowler to feel confident when running in that all he has to do is just produce the edge. Right now the India quicks can't be confident of that.

The challenge for Trevor Penney, the fielding coach, is huge. The Dhoni-Dhawan no-go is a clear sign of a raw cordon, which is still feeling its way in. They practise really hard during training sessions and take a lot of catches almost every day. They take some sensational catches too. However, it is different when someone is throwing full tosses at Duncan Fletcher from 10 yards and he is opening the face towards the fielders.

We don't know whether India have locked in on a combination now or if there will be a change soon. We don't know if India think they are headed the right way. We don't know if the fielding coach is happy with the cordon's technique and their positioning vis-à-vis each other or if he is struggling to get it right. India don't like to, or are not allowed to, discuss these things. Bullishly Joe Dawes, the bowling coach, said he is happy with the progress, and that Taylor and Mark Waugh used to drop catches occasionally.

What India wouldn't give for a couple of slips men who are half as good as Taylor and Waugh, even at their current age.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Rahul on July 28, 2014, 8:48 GMT

    The present state of slip fielders: 1. Vijay: ideal for this position because he is very good with hand to eye coordination (opener) and loads of patience. 2. Dhawan: good coordination, bad patience - put him in the front of the wicket. 3. Pujara: good around the bat, same combo as Vijay. So good slip fielder. 4. Kohli: he should be good but his drop percentage is very high. Keep him in the outfield. 5. Rahane: decent slip fielder but he is better suited at stopping runs and effecting run-outs. 6. Ashwin: as a former opener, he has what it takes to be a slip fielder. Plus he is atrocious in the field so he needs to be trained to be a slip fielder. 7. Rohit Sharma: needs to be trained too. Seen him take some superb catches in the IPL in the slips.

    So: Pujara and Vijay are definites. Rohit Sharma and Ashwin should be trained. Rahane in the start of the day.

  • Dummy4 on July 28, 2014, 8:47 GMT

    @Sir_Ivor on (July 28, 2014, 4:48 GMT):

    Your observation & suggestions are right on the dot. I fully endorse the view that we should persist with just three of the current cricketers for slip fielding. And sooner than later they will catch up with world standars.In addition to Vijay & Rohit, I would add Ashwin too. Standby will be Rahane, who reads the ball better than many.

  • Vidyashankar on July 28, 2014, 8:02 GMT

    Typical unimaginative captaincy from Dhoni. It started with team selection. Ashwin should have picked to share the workload when your regular workhorse Ishant Sharma is unavailable. Also we have seen so many times in the past when nothing is happening for bowlers he just lets drifts the game on its own term. No visible communication to the bowlers on what lines to bowl to Cook when he is under pressure. We need an aggressive captain to win overseas and Dhoni is not one.

  • Balaji on July 28, 2014, 7:51 GMT

    US_India Solkar was exceptional at forward short leg. In the early 70's he played a huge part in the success of the spin quartet.As for slips it requires a different kind of preparation compared to the outfield, which is why the Indian slip catching is suffering. We need to identify at least 3 slip fielders and allow them to grow on the job. There is no other way.

  • Dummy4 on July 28, 2014, 7:37 GMT

    There could be a problem with the language. Many of our new gen cricketers, seem to think, that slip fielding means the ball is supposed to slip out of their hands. :-) With that understanding they are doing a "good" job !

  • Dummy4 on July 28, 2014, 6:06 GMT

    It's funny how the game changes. These people were blaming Rahul Dravid for dropping few tough chances !!! They never appreciated the ones who made it look too easy. This is time to repent.

  • Dummy4 on July 28, 2014, 5:47 GMT

    catches win matches. match situation wud have been different had jadeja taken that catch. anyways india still can bowl this eng team out for a low score. as we know this team is very fragile. we just need to stick to the basics. we r still in the game. all the best TEAM INDIA!!!

  • Subramani on July 28, 2014, 4:48 GMT

    Fielding in close in positions calls for early timing eyesight and anticipation. I have always seen that batsmen who are easy in their batting style are usually good in the slips and elsewhere. So a brilliant fielder everywhere on the outfield may not be too good in the slips. batsmen like Mark Waugh, VVS Laxman,Rahul Dravid were legendary in that position because their hand eye co-ordination and anticipation was akin to the way they used to bat.They could get behind and under the ball a fractional second earlier than others.I am not surprised that Rahane,Jadeja Kohli have not been good at slips. Ideally they should have Vijay and Rohit from the present team to stand in the slips. With some fine tuning they could be very good.The other thing I have seen is that the slips are standing a bit too deeper or away from the bat.The ball often falls short of where they stand for that reason.It is not as if they are standing to Holding and Roberts.Dhoni needs to place them as per the bounce.

  • Dummy4 on July 28, 2014, 3:53 GMT

    Cricket fan 111 and US_ Indian are right.... Those who are good athelets should be in out-field bcz they can run dive and stop the runs and aim at the stumps for run-out.. But slip fielding requries precise movement and reflexes. Ashwin is good at it. But not Jadeja. Catches win matches especially in Tests... On these type of wickets at Ages bowl, you ll have to grab the chances that come otherwise you ll b on the backfoot.

    If you let that down, it in turn could make a huge difference. Cook went onto score 80 runs after he was put down. Had Jadeja taken that catch, it would have changed the complexion of the match.. and four wickets would have gone for England.

    So as of now it looks England could well go on to score 450. But whats crucial for India is the top order.. How well they handle Anderson and Broad on a pitch that is expected to become quicker. Vijay, Pujara, Rahane will be cruical to India's batting in 1st innings..These 3 need to score atleast 70 runs for India to be alive.

  • Steven on July 28, 2014, 2:47 GMT

    Yea India got selection wrong again pankaj shouldn't be there Aaron and pandey would be in for ishant and shami and ashwin to join jadeja as spinners rahane to replace dhawan as opener to fit them in they need five main bowlers on this dead pitch so you can rotate them and not over bowl them so they only have themselves to blame if they blow this series from here and I would put the blame on the selectors for not getting the mix right cos they have the upper atm and they haven't got the team right yet if they get that right then England could be in trouble

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