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Dropping like flies

This afternoon, when the rain finally eased, and while the Punjabi folk singer Hans Raj Hans was entertaining the crowds and appalling the bored journalists, Pakistan's players diligently formed a slips cordon for some much needed catching practice. Inzamam-ul-Haq stood at first, Younis Khan at second, Shahid Afridi at third and Taufeeq Umar at fourth, as Bob Woolmer deflected a series of throws from Shoaib Malik.

They took the majority of chances that came their way, some simple, some not so and one stunner which had Afridi diving low to his right to scoop the ball a couple of inches off the ground. That happened to be the last catch of the practice session, and though Woolmer appreciated it then, he wouldn't have known it was the last they would hold on to all day.

Virender Sehwag may have treated Mohali to a private net session today, but if Taufeeq Umar and Younis Khan had concentrated as hard as they did while practising, he would not have made it past 15. Umar dropped the first chance, off Mohammad Sami at third slip, quick but comfortable and head high; Younis dropped the second at first slip, failing to complete the classic legspinner's trap that Danish Kaneria had set. The teasing flight tempted an expansive drive, the drive delivered the requisite thick edge; only Younis's hands failed to deliver. If Sehwag goes on to make a substantial score tomorrow - as Pakistan's attack and a good pitch threaten to make possible - then they can't say they haven't been warned.

Pakistan's fielding, and in particular their catching, has rarely been anything but the butt of deserved jokes. But in the last year, they have been working on the self-destructive habit of dropping crucial catches as they did today, chances that have led to the reprieved compiling not only pivotal (and obscenely large) scores, but ones that guarantee victories.

Sehwag himself will remember Pakistan's generosity at Multan last year. If Sami had held the simplest of dollies at deep midwicket, not only might Saqlain Mushtaq (the aggrieved bowler) still be around, but an epic 309 would have been a briefly destructive 68. Just for good measure, Saqlain dropped him at mid-on a few overs later, and as if inviting Pakistan to deny him history, he was dropped twice in one over by Moin Khan when in the 280s.

A freak occurrence perhaps? Perhaps not. In the decider at Rawalpindi, Yasir Hameed was so busy, by his own admission, studying Rahul Dravid's flawless technique, he spilled a looping cut to point when the Wall was on 71 - at least he only added 199 runs to his total. And at Perth late last year, 13 should have been unlucky for Justin Langer, but Kamran Akmal dropped him off Mohammad Khalil and Langer, with 191, ended up scoring more than Pakistan managed in either innings.

But in case you think Pakistan struggle to catch colds, think again. When Moin accepted an outside edge from Sanath Jayasuriya off Shoaib Akhtar at Faisalabad in October last year, he had made 9. Unfortunately, it was a no-ball. Jayasuriya, of course, blitzed 244 more runs.

Osman Samiuddin is a freelance writer based in Karachi.