India v England, 3rd Test, Mumbai, 4th day March 21, 2006

Epidemic of dropped catches

Yuvraj Singh's failure to hold James Anderson at short leg right at the end of England's second innings took the missed chance count for this Test to 15 - and we've still 90 overs to play.



Mahendra Singh Dhoni's horrible missed stumping of Andrew Flintoff - fatal error? © Getty Images

The Ashes was such a frenetic series in which no one involved had time to stop and think that the rash of dropped catches (42 in all) seemed a strangely appropriate theme.

But a change down the gears in this series (the Nagpur madness aside) has not done anything for the fielders' handling skills.

Yuvraj Singh's failure to hold James Anderson at short leg right at the end of England's second innings took the missed chance count for this Test to 15 - and we've still 90 overs to play.

India have spilled ten of those catches, including a missed stumping by Mahendra Singh Dhoni, and their total spillages for the series is approaching 20.

Assessing the damage is easily done on a bald statistical basis: India's drops cost them about 21 runs a time, England's just under 14. But in real terms, only hindsight and the final result can pass proper judgement on these aberrations.

If England win, then Dhoni's horrible missed stumping of Andrew Flintoff today - when the England captain had given Harbhajan Singh the charge - will be viewed as a seminal moment. Flintoff, who was also dropped by Yuvraj before he had scored, was on 14 at the time and finished on 50.

It could not be said that Flintoff took the game away from India as England supporters kept hoping he would. His dash at Harbhajan was the only rush of blood in a 146-ball half-century that was an exercise in self-restraint. Such abstinence would have been inconceivable two years ago but we've come to expect it from the new mature Fred, Captain Sensible and father of two.

Was he too sensible? Almost certainly but you can be sure that if Flintoff is becalmed then runs cannot be easy to come by for anyone. Paul Collingwood matched Flintoff's scoring rate while he was in which again shows that the tortoise beats the hare in these conditions.

If India draw or win, then it will be Dhoni's own reprieve by Monty Panesar that history may regard as the turning point. Dhoni had 23 at the time and hit Anderson to Panesar's left at mid-off. He certainly picked the right fielder. Panesar never looked like taking it. It wasn't a sitter but you would expect it to be taken at this level.

When Rahul Dravid was dropped by Matt Prior three balls later you sensed a momentum shift which didn't materialise. Dravid did not add to his score but Dhoni scored a further 41 and was also dropped again on 40 by Shaun Udal off his own bowling. The time-versus-runs equation is so delicate in a match like this and Dhoni was in for a further 30 overs.

Why so many drops? The Wankhede Stadium is considered by many to be a bad ground for seeing the ball, possibly because it is a relatively steep arena, the crowd is close to the field and there are no gaps between the stands.

The heat is severe too and maybe lapses in concentration might be a factor though whether that explains India missing ten chances on home soil is a moot point.

Geraint Jones, a culprit in the Ashes, has been flawless here. Yuvraj, by contrast, has put down four, three at bat-pad and one at third slip. He'll probably hit the winning runs, just to make up for them.

John Stern is editor of The Wisden Cricketer