The Indian slip catching has been poor in the recent times and has cost India in tests.
As the old adage in cricket goes “catches win matches” and obviously that holds true for all formats of the game. Catching has been a big problem for this young Indian side. There was a time when Indian slip cordon consisted of the Dravid and Laxman with Sehwag, Sachin ET all making up the other slip. The catching was brilliant and it was the main reason for India to climb in the rankings. Yes there were few drops here and there but mostly all catches were taken.
It was not only the slip catching but overall the Indian fielders were good in taking catches. The one criticism that Indian team had then was that their ground fielding was really poor. Now with the current team India faces quite the opposite problem. The Indian ground fielding is one of the best but the catching overall has been very poor. Over the last few months the Indian fielders have dropped some crucial catches which has changed the course of the game. The slip catching has been tentative and the overall catching has been casual. Statistics say that India has tried as much as 5 fielders in the first slip in the last 19 tests and as much as 8 catches have been dropped in the slips by India in the last 7 tests. This is a very revealing stat and something which has been completely ignored while blaming our bowling.
The Indian bowlers aren’t world beaters and they require all the assistance they can get from the fielders. The drop chances have really hurt India and their chance to win few games. The Wellington test comes to mind immediately, the drop chances of Williamson and McCullum cost India the test which they were well on the way to win. In the first test at Lord’s Rahane dropped Robson but luckily for him the batsman did not make most of that chance. India let a chance slip of Gary Ballance in the first innings and he went on to score a hundred. Alastair Cook was dropped in the first innings of the 3rd test which allowed him to get of the wretched form he had been under to post a career saving 95. The captain Dhoni himself hasn’t been a safe catcher himself in the recent times.
Young players like Jadeja, Rahane and Kohli have been pretty bad and have dropped some crucial takes over the last few months. Virat Kohli has been the biggest offender among the young brigade. His casual attempt at nabbing Brendon McCullum’s feeble drive at short mid-on in the second test cost India dearly. Jadeja has dropped couple of crucial ones. Dhawan has been a reluctant first slipper and has hardly shown intent to go after difficult takes. Rahane has dropped a few in the slips.
This has been a disturbing trend for the young Indian team. The young players who have been brilliant in saving runs and effecting run outs have been poor catchers in the slips as well as in the outfield. This problem has not only been in tests but also has been in the ODI’s and T20 games. India needs to arrest this problem fast if they have to compete at the highest level. Good players will always make you pay if you give them a second chance. India has found that out in the recent times to a devastating effect. The team needs reliable slip fielders and the outfield catching needs to be sorted out too.
India has two more tests after the current one at the Rose Bowl in this series and then they travel to Australia later this year. India needs to take all their chances to compete in these games. Top teams will make you pay if you drop catches. The coach and captain need to find a way to get through to these young players and figure out what is going wrong with the catching. If they do not arrest this trend soon, India will be finding themselves chasing the leather most often than not and the only ones to suffer will be the bowlers.
The first time I watched VVS Laxman was in the home series against South Africa in 1996. It was in the Ahmadabad test where both the teams were even after the first innings and India needed a decent enough lead on a crumbling pitch. Laxman batting at number 6 scored an important fifty on debut which helped India to an unlikely victory. That innings showed Laxman’s fantastic temperament which he displayed throughout his career. In spite of the great talent he possessed Laxman struggled to establish himself in the Indian middle order. Part of the issue was the position in the lineup Laxman was batting. Since India struggled for consistent opening combinations through the 90’s Laxman was pushed to open which proved to be his undoing.
Laxman’s talent was evident as he kept piling on the runs at the domestic level. He truly arrived at the international scene with a blistering 167 which he scored against a fantastic Australian attack. An attack which boasted of McGrath, Warne and Lee in their ranks and the fact that the runs came in just 190 odd deliveries showed what Laxman was capable of. Even though that innings should have been a turning point in his career, he struggled at the opening spot which he was clearly not comfortable batting in.
In 2001 when Australia toured India and Laxman finally returned to the middle order and only then did the real legend of VVS Laxman emerged. His innings in Kolkata of 281 while following on is considered as one of the best test innings of all time. The partnership with Rahul Dravid was truly special and for sure paved way for many more such match winning partnerships between the two legends. VVS was an incredible player. A player with magic wrists could play both pace and spin with equal ease. A soft spoken individual and a true team man, Laxman became an integral part of the Indian middle order for a decade.
Laxman’s biggest trait was how he always came to party when his team was in trouble. Most of his best performances in test cricket where when India was in trouble. His 73 n.o chasing 200 odd against Australia in 2010 was one of the best innings played in recent times. He did better that innings in the same year with an unbeaten hundred in the fourth innings against Sri Lanka chasing a 250+ total. He has shared some of his fantastic partnerships with Rahul Dravid who announced his retirement just few months back. It isn’t hard to imagine why these two shared such special rapport as both of them are similar individuals and extremely humble human beings.
VVS Laxman was always fantastic against the Aussies and it was ironic that his last tour to Australia was a disaster. Laxman had many memorable innings against the men from down under. He scored 2434 runs at an incredible average of 49.67 against Australia.
Laxman wasn’t a bad ODI player either, even though his ODI record pales in front of his test achievements. His biggest disappointment was not making it to the 2003 world cup squad. He did come back to the ODI team later the same year and had his best year in the shorter format where he again dominated Australia in the CB series.
It is sad to see both Laxman and Dravid retire within the span of few months. Laxman was one of the main pillars of Indian middle order and one of the chief architects of many of India’s overseas wins. He along with Dravid, Sachin and Sehwag were instrumental in taking India to the top of the test rankings. Laxman will for sure be missed and it will be hard to imagine the Indian test team without him walking in to bat at number 6. Laxman would end his career with 134 test caps, scoring 8781 runs at an average of 45.97 with 16 test hundreds. He played 86 ODI’s scoring 2338 runs at a modest average of 30.71 with 6 hundreds.
Laxman was a special player and was an important cog in the Indian batting wheel. He will for sure be missed and I hope that he continues to succeed in whatever career he decides to take over after his retirement. Laxman will still continue to play first class cricket and I hope that he gets involved in Indian setup in some vicinity.
As Dhoni said after India’s loss at Perth, the seniors need to be phased out. The Indian selectors during the golden Dhoni-Kirsten period did not try too many middle order candidates and sudden influx of young players isn’t going to help the situation. India needs to start by giving Rahane and Rohit Sharma a chance in the final test. The series is already lost and this will be a great chance to try out these youngsters.
The phasing out should be carefully planned. There are reports that VVS Laxman might retire after this series so this will be ideal time to test out Rohit Sharma at number 5
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