England work towards another field day
For more than an hour this morning, Peter Moores and his coaching staff organised drills to sharpen England's fielding skills. Contests were set up between the infielders and outfielders, with Moores himself keeping score after every catch, direct hit or sliding stop.
Andy Flower, England's assistant coach, provided crisp, flat-batted catches at chest height (strangely, for a left-hand batsman, he used a right-handed technique), Allan Donald, the bowling coach, trained them in high catches using a tennis racquet and ball and Moores monitored the direct hits. Owais Shah nailed the stumps almost every time, Andrew Flintoff wasn't too far behind and Monty Panesar, probably the only one not at par with the others, provided a comical sight while running for the catches but managed to complete them without any trouble.
England, it seems, have realised India's weakest link and are trying to raise their own fielding to a level where they can gain decisive advantage. At the Rose Bowl on Tuesday there was a huge gap between the fielding of the two sides: England were precise with their catching and Panesar's run-out of Sourav Ganguly was more than a farcical moment, it shifted the balance of the match. Alastair Cook, at a wide third slip, pulled off a sharp catch to dismiss Yuvraj Singh and the fielders provided enough urgency to spread panic among the Indians. It must help that their captain, Paul Collingwood, is one of the world's best infielders.
India paled in comparison. Their problem often relates to the positioning of their fielders but, as Rahul Dravid admitted, it was difficult to change the field around when the left-right combination of Ian Bell and Cook had such a big partnership. "Ideally you want the right fielder in the right places," he said. "But if you have a left-hander and a right-hander, and someone's standing for the sweep, he's got to come to point after that. I can't move a player from boundary to boundary after every ball."
On big grounds they tend to get exposed more. Twos and threes are readily available and the fielders tire much faster. Australia's fielding coach Mike Young doesn't like the sight of players diving around - "The fact that you're diving means you're not fast enough to reach the ball in the first place" - but India's problem is more basic. Not only do players struggle to reach the ball, they don't possess the technique to dive around. It's a double blow that's tough to mask.
"We need to be a good overall fielding side," Dravid said. "It's pretty evident we struggle on big grounds, we don't have the arms but we need to do better here." The smallness of the County Ground at Bristol will help - no gaping spaces in the field and shorter distances to throw from the outfield. "We're always going to have strengths and weakness but we've just got to make the guys believe we've to improve in small percentages. Irrespective of the weaknesses we need to play to potential and I still think we have the team to win the series."
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo