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Bangladesh's growing problem of dropping catches drags them down in T20 World Cup

Bangladesh's catching has been ordinary since 2018, and has become more problematic in 2021, as the data suggests

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
In all international cricket this year, Bangladesh have dropped the second most number of catches behind Sri Lanka  •  Getty Images

In all international cricket this year, Bangladesh have dropped the second most number of catches behind Sri Lanka  •  Getty Images

Bangladesh's poor catching in 2021 has literally caught up with them in the ongoing T20 World Cup. Their three dropped catches and a missed stumping cost them heavily in the three-run defeat against West Indies on Friday. It also took their dropped catches tally to nine in six matches in the tournament.
After Mahedi Hasan dropped Roston Chase twice, Afif Hossain shelled a chance of Jason Holder, who hit two crucial sixes in the last over to help West Indies post 142. And Liton Das' missed stumping allowed Nicholas Pooran to hammer his 22-ball 40. It was a repeat of how Liton's dropped catches in the outfield cost Bangladesh against Sri Lanka too.
Liton put down both top-scorers Bhanuka Rajapakse, on 14, and Charith Asalanka, on 63, allowing the pair to add 86 for the fifth wicket, which lifted Sri Lanka from 79 for 4 to a winning position while chasing 172. Five days earlier, captain Mahmudullah's dropped skier could have been costlier had Oman's Jatinder Singh batted for a little bit longer.
Seven out of the nine dropped catches were skiers; Shakib Al Hasan, Mahmudullah, Liton, Mahedi and Afif, regarded as generally safe fielders, dropped these chances.
Too much chatter from inside and outside
Dropping so many catches is a general reflection of a collective lack of concentration among Bangladesh's fielders. Add Bangladesh's kryptonite in big tournaments - the fear of failure and consequences - and you have a recipe for disaster.
Dark clouds have hovered over the Bangladesh camp from the start of their T20 World Cup campaign in Muscat, darkening still after almost every game. Comments from the BCB president, retaliation from senior players, former captain blaming the South African coaching staff; all the outside chatter hasn't helped Bangladesh's catching, powerplay batting and death bowling.
The team has given mixed messages on the problem during the World Cup.
"Catches get dropped," reasoned fast bowling coach Ottis Gibson before their match against England. "In every cricket match, one or two catches go down. Obviously, when the catches play a part in the results in a game, it is highlighted more. We do a lot of catching practice. Ultimately, when the guys are out in the middle under pressure, then mistakes like catches going down happen.
"Is it a concern? I wouldn't say it's a concern because we practice it every day. But the fact is, obviously, when it gets dropped, when catches go down, then at the end of the game, that's the thing that gets highlighted. We work very hard on our skills, catching being one of them."
Habibul Bashar, the selector traveling with the team, acknowledged the problem, and explained that when good fielders put down catches, the focus should be on the team's overall psychology in pressure situations.
"You can have a bad day in batting or bowling, but we have to be more consistent in our fielding," Bashar said in a video released by BCB. "It becomes more pertinent in big tournaments. Misfielding ruins the team's tempo. We are a better fielding side, but I really want to see a lot of improvement in this area.
"We do a lot of fielding during training. When we play at home or in a big tournament, it is important to handle the psychological pressure. I think we miss out on handling that pressure. Some of our best fielders dropped the catches. We have to work on how to handle pressure moments, and take important catches in these moments."
A year of drops
It is no surprise that Gibson didn't offer a better explanation. But dropping catches isn't an opinion. Bangladesh's catching has been ordinary since 2018, becoming downright problematic in 2021.
Including their T20 World Cup matches so far, Bangladesh's poor catching has directly impacted at least eight matches this year. It started from the white-ball series against New Zealand in March, where they dropped 12 catches in six matches. They missed catches at crucial moments in two ODIs, and among their seven drops in the three T20Is, they shelled four chances from Finn Allen in one game in Auckland.
Upon arrival in Dhaka, rookie Nasum Ahmed claimed that they were unsighted by the clear skies in New Zealand. His quote is an occasional punchline whenever Bangladesh drops catches.
In the following month, they dropped Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne repeatedly in the two Tests, allowing him to score a double-hundred in the first Test, and a century and fifty in the second. Bangladesh lost the Test series 1-0. When Sri Lanka visited Bangladesh in May, they dropped captain Kusal Perera on 68, 80 and 99 on his way to a century in the third ODI. In the one-off Test against Zimbabwe in July, they dropped six catches, and a few more in the white-ball matches.
The damning data of 2021
Mahmudullah and Shakib, Bangladesh's top two catchers in international cricket currently on 148 and 99 catches in cricket, have dropped five catches each this year. Mushfiqur has dropped three as wicketkeeper, while good fielders such as Afif, Mahedi and Soumya Sarkar have also spilled three each. In total, 20 fielders and wicketkeepers have dropped at least one catch.
Bangladesh have dropped one-third of their chances near the pitch: the bowler, keeper and slip fielders have combined to drop 16, roughly 34% of all their drops. They have also dropped 12 straight down the ground: at mid-on, mid-off, long-on and long-off. Strangely, they have dropped three sitters at short fine leg as well.
Taskin Ahmed has suffered the most among the bowlers, seeing 10 catches go down off his bowling. Six catches each have been dropped off Mustafizur and Shakib while five have been dropped off Mehidy Hasan Miraz.
In all international cricket this year, Bangladesh have dropped the second most number of catches (47) behind Sri Lanka (55). Among teams to have created more than 200 chances (catches taken + catches dropped), Bangladesh's 3.87 catch-to-drop ratio and 20.52 drop percentage is the third-lowest, above Sri Lanka and India.
One purpose vs many thoughts
Bangladesh's downward trend in results in the last three years could also be correlated to their declining catching standards. Their progress from 2015 to 2017 slowly gave away to defeats at home and continued failures abroad. In at least 11 matches in 2019, dropped catches had a direct impact on results. Bangladesh lost in the World Cup against Australia, India and Pakistan after dropping David Warner, Rohit Sharma and Babar Azam, respectively, before they went on to make big scores.
It is worse in this T20 World Cup when they are giving away strong positions in matches due to their poor catching. This aspect of cricket can't just improve in training. Fielding is down to the individual level, where enthusiasm, athleticism and game awareness are as important, if not more than, technique and experience.
When the fielder is under a skier, the time it takes for the ball to balloon high and then descend quickly towards the ground can be a few seconds. Many thoughts could pass through your mind at that time. The catch often goes down when these thoughts outweigh the singular purpose of catching the ball. Bangladesh seem to have a lot on their mind, except catching the ball.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84