Good slip catching is a pre-requisite to Test success, which is why it hardly makes the headlines. India have, however, ensured that it becomes a subject of discussion, with their extremely poor catching in the slips during the ongoing series. Most teams, including England, have good fielders in the important position, and thus do not have much trouble taking their catches, no matter how easy or difficult they are. India, however, have played musical chairs with their slip fielders in this series, which has resulted in disastrous consequences. In fact, their bizarre slip fielding is one of the reasons they have been outdone by England.
Even since the retirement of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, India haven’t found stable fielders to stand in the slips. Virender Sehwag has done a good job at the position over the years, but his batting form has been so wretched that he has had to be dropped from the side itself. Post Sehwag, Ravichandran Ashwin stood there for a while, and did a decent job. But, since he wasn’t selected for the first few Tests in England, India had to look for his substitute, and they have failed miserably in this cause.
Everyone from Virat Kohli to Ajinkya Rahane to Murali Vijay and even Ravindra Jadeja have been tried at the crucial position, but each has dropped catches, and has piled on the misery for bowlers. While all of them are good fielders in their respective rights, slip catching is a specialist position, and thus needs varied skills. India must realise the same, and zero in on a couple of players who have occupy the position for a long term. Chopping and changing would only do more harm than good for the team. Sticking to a couple of players might prove costly for a while, but it might help the team in the long run.
As mentioned earlier, slip fielding needs special skills --one of the most important being having soft hands. There is a reason why many slip fielders like Mark Taylor, Mark Waugh, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Mahela Jayawardene and Stephen Fleming have acquired legendary status over the years. They all had soft hands. While standing at slips, it is crucial to allow the ball to come to you rather than pushing your hands towards the ball. This is a highly skilled gift that has to be developed with years of practice. India really need to work hard to develop fielders with similar gifts.
One of the major obstacles for India when it comes to slip fielding is that their players don’t play as many Test matches as the number of T20s and ODIs. In the shorter format, you need different type of fielding skill sets, which calls for hard hands, and stopping the ball at any cost. Slip fielding hardly has any role to play to T20s. And, it is no secret that the new generation of Indian cricket has been brought up with major doses of T20 cricket, which is why the likes of Kohli and Rahane have hard hands. India’s slip fielders must ‘soften’ up.
--By A Cricket Analyst