England v India, 3rd ODI, Edgbaston August 27, 2007

Can't catch, can't field

India's fielding fell to pieces at the Rose Bowl, splintered to bits at Bristol before grinding to powder here at Edgbaston
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It's just not an Indian thing to do smart catches. The simpler they come the more likely you are to see a fielder misjudge, overrun or miscalculate the skier © AFP

The series sponsors, Natwest, had set up a stall at the ground called Extreme Catching to get spectators to feel what it is like to field in international cricket. The game requires the participant to stand in a trampoline cage and face a small bowling machine to try and grab tennis balls fired in different directions. Hopefully someone in the Indian coaching staff has taken note, for they need to acquire the equipment if they wish to understand how to field at this level.

India's fielding fell to pieces at the Rose Bowl, splintered to bits at Bristol before grinding to powder here at Edgbaston. In comparison, England were a solid block of wall. If, according to Rahul Dravid, England are fielding "beautifully", India have rarely been sloppier.

The game turned England's way when Matt Prior pulled off a sharp catch to get rid of Sourav Ganguly and it effectively ended when Ian Bell ran out Yuvraj Singh. England were sharp, athletic and intense. India seem to treat the stumps like holy shrines, never to be touched, let alone hit.

To make matters worse, there are Indians who make straight catches look hard. The simpler they are, the more likely you are to see a fielder misjudge, overrun or miscalculate the catch. RP Singh made a mess of an Alastair Cook skier at fine leg, just as Ramesh Powar did at third man the other day. A team cannot expect to win consistently unless such catches are regularly converted.

As a fielding side, England have improved gradually and are now at a position where their captain feels they "stop 20-30 runs on the field". Kevin Pietersen prowls at mid-off, diving around and stopping singles; his Indian counterpart in that position is the magnificently unathletic Munaf Patel. Standing in the deep, Stuart Broad and Chris Tremlett land the ball in the keeper's gloves while Indian's out-fielders struggle to clear the inner circle.

And then there is Dinesh Karthik. Supposed to one of the better in-fielders, his performance so far has been high on theatrics and low on results. He gives the impression of being energetic, but his slides are mostly unnecessary. He makes spectacularly vain attempts to cut off what he can't, and makes a mess of simple saves.

At a conservative estimate India concede 40 runs while fielding. Add to that the runs English batsmen score after being reprieved (Cook made 25 more after he was dropped while Owais Shah got seven after Dhoni failed to stump him).

And then there is Dinesh Karthik. Supposed to one of the better in-fielders, his performance so far has been high on theatrics and low on results. He gives the impression of being energetic, but his slides are mostly unnecessary

And what about the runs lost owing to their poor running between the wickets? England's batsmen are well into their stride even before the ball is bowled; India's batsmen, especially Sourav Ganguly, are sluggish and poor at calling. Replays showed that at the top of the bowler's run-up Cook-the-non-striker had backed up at least two yards, while Ganguly, in the same position, had his bat firmly stuck behind the crease.

Dravid was frank in his assessment. "We are getting some good knocks and some of our bowlers are bowling well, but they are out-fielding us. Sometimes good fielders can make bowlers look better than they really are."

The facts are simple. Indians can't throw long, can't slide and can't hit the stumps. They often grass catches, concede overthrows and make a mockery of themselves in trying to stop a cricket ball. Their running between the wickets continues to be ponderous.

With four matches to go, there's still plenty of fun to be had. In 1948 spectators filled these stadiums to watch the Invincibles and now they watch the Indians making the ball seem Unstoppable.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo