Sloppy catching lets Windies down...again
It is a recurring and irritating storyline, and one which the West Indies have done nothing to change. The opening day of the first Test was transformed from one of promise to one of disappointment, if not despair, by a flurry of missed catches after tea. There were six in all, none especially difficult, two downright dollies. They made the difference between an all-out England total of around 220 and their close of play 289.
The source of the problem, as it has been through the decade of decline, is the lack of attention paid to fielding and catching practice and the continuing absence of a specialised coach in that critical area.
To watch a West Indies fielding session, with its lack of intensity and its slackness, is to understand why their effort is so often undermined by yesterday's errors. Australia have had Mick Young, an American with a baseball background, as their fielding guru for years. South African have brought in the legendary Jonty Rhodes to sharpen up an already brilliant fielding outfit. Most other Test teams employ professionals in the post.
In contrast, the West Indies have spasmodically contracted the highly regarded Englishman Julien Fountain. They have no one here. Fountain was watching from the stands yesterday and it was not difficult to imagine his sentiments.
It is obvious that such a coach can only have an impact with the full backing of the captain and the head coach and the cooperation of the players. It also is an ethos that needs to be infused in regional teams from age-group level.
Yesterday's shambles once more had Fidel Edwards at the centre. As he does with increasingly regularity, the fiery fast bowler with the slingshot action bowled with pace, control, swing and spirit to rip out the heart of England's batting in one irresistible spell.
Sent in, they were coasting at 92 for 2 a quarter-hour after lunch when Edwards removed the left-handed Alastair Cook and the dangerous Kevin Pietersen with successive balls and Paul Collingwood a couple of overs later.
Cook chopped into his stumps off the inside edge, Pietersen and Collingwood were undone by perfect pitched, late outswingers. Ironically, in view of what was to follow late in the day, both fell to quality catches. Wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin's take at full stretch with the right glove to remove Pietersen was exceptional.
With Edwards rested, Jerome Taylor well below his best and, seemingly, below full fitness and Lionel Baker and Sulieman Benn still feeling their way at the highest level, a partnership of 74 developed on a flat pitch between Ravi Bopara and Matt Prior, both with hundreds in their preceding Tests in the series in Caribbean.
Recalled right after tea, Edwards immediately struck again, removing Prior and threatening a final demolition only for his fielders, true to form, to betray him as they have so often done. In the Kensington Oval Test in February, six missed catches were so costly they allowed England to amass over 600. Four were off him.
Here, the tally was three in the space of four overs. The most critical was Brendan Nash's midrift muddle at square leg when Bopara was on 76, a relief for a batsman on trial in the pivotal No.3 position. He proceeded to an unbeaten 118 at close.
It was Bopara's second let-off. He was on 40 when the umpire Steve Davis somehow ruled not out on a clear lbw dismissal for Benn. But West Indies could only blame themselves for the day's remaining mistakes. The left-handed Broad was put down by Benn at gully and captain Chris Gayle at first slip, both off Edwards. By now, the rash had reached pandemic proportions. Broad had a couple more let-offs before one catch finally stuck as he cut Benn to gully. There was also another for Bopara, right after he raised his hundred, Devon Smith at second slip denying the persevering Baker his first wicket.
Catches win matches is one of the oldest maxims in the game. The trouble is West Indies don't seem to appreciate it.
Tony Cozier has written about and commentated on cricket in the Caribbean for nearly 50 years