Many a slip……betwixt being a dynasty and merely a great team.I have never been an advocate of a dominant team. I have argued, variously, that a dominant team
– Has a limited shelf life.
– Clogs up the supply line because players are reluctant to leave, and selectors unwilling to bring in fresh talent.
– There is undue pressure on anyone coming through the ranks to meet, or exceed, the person they are replacing.
– Leads to Hubris.
I am, however, very vocal about India’s prospects as the next great cricketing dynasty, following on the footsteps of the West Indies and Australia.
Unlike them, however, I remain wary of India becoming a dominant team, for the reasons stated above.
Also, unlike them, I also believe that India can sustain their dynasty for a much longer period of time without undergoing a sustained rebuilding process, that takes forever.
Just consider – the ages of the current touring side in England (plus Bhuvneshwar Kumar)
If one goes by conventional cricketing wisdom, both the batsmen and the bowlers (with the exception of Murali Vijay and Dinesh Karthik) are within the age range where players hit the peak of their powers.
Consider too, the fact that, the core of the team has at least 5 years of international cricket under their belt.
Now consider the upcoming FTP. Since away records, especially in S.E.N.A (South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia) countries, is the benchmark for Asian teams, here is how India’s away schedule, post the Australia tour later this year, looks like:-
2019: West Indies – 2 Tests
2020: New Zealand – 2 Tests
Australia – 4 Tests
2021: England – 5 Tests
South Africa – 3 Tests
It is wholly conceivable that most, if not all, of the current touring party, will play in the series in South Africa in 3 years’ time.
Juxtapose this with the A and B teams and there is absolutely every reason to believe that India is on the cusp of becoming the next cricketing dynasty.
If 2011 was the nadir of away tours, 2018 could very well be the inflexion point.
Statistics published in the course of this current England tour put India in the bottom rungs of slip catching.
And India knows only too well the cost of dropped catches
– Vide Mike Hussey being dropped in the slips at Melbourne in the first Test of the 2011 series. Australia, 163/6 at that stage, ended up at 240. India lost by 122, setting the tone for the rest of the series.
– Vide Alastair Cook being dropped in the slips at Southampton on 18. A beleaguered captain, struggling for runs, and his team down a Test in the series. 77 runs and a new lease of life later, the series is done and dusted.
– Vide Brendon McCullum being dropped in the slips on 9 at Wellington. 293 runs later, the difference between a drawn series and a New Zealand win is there for all to see.
– Vide Keaton Jennings at Mumbai.
– Vide Keshav Maharaj at Centurion.
– Vide Sam Curran at Edgbaston.
(As an aside, Jos Buttler’s series scores, prior to being dropped on 1 at Trent Bridge, read – 0, 1, 24, 39. The dropped catch being the difference between a selectorial masterstroke and the wisdom of promoting white-ball players in red-ball cricket.)
Series, and fortunes, have hinged on holding on to catches.
Now, I am no one’s idea of an athlete, not even mine. But I know this for a fact – I am more comfortable fielding in the arc between square leg and point, in front of the wicket.
Slip was, and continues to remain, a dirty four letter word.
For starters, there is the stance. Keepers and forward short legs squat, fielders stay on their toes, slippers are somewhere in between. And knowing to go up, or stay down, from that in between stance, is an art.
Then there is the question of space – the slip cordon feels like a Mumbai local during peak hour. Everywhere else on the field, there is acreage; slips are the very definition of claustrophobia.
Then there are the adjustments – how much space will the keeper cover, what is the dominant hand of the keeper and the other slippers (dictating who moves which way and therefore whose catch it is), and whether to stand finer or wider, depending on the playing surface.
If wicket-keeping is an art, slip fielding is art and chemistry rolled into one.
I recall the time when Eknath Solkar worked with Mohammad Kaif on fielding at forward short leg. Now Kaif is one of the finest fielders India has produced but is no one’s idea of a forward short leg. And the inputs and the coaching did not make him a forward short leg either.
And that is the crux of the matter – slips are a specialist position.
There is much talk about the fact that Kohli has yet to field the same side, 38 tests running. And how that changes the team dynamic and makes people less secure.
But it also yo-yo’s the slip cordon. And that is not necessarily healthy.
Since around the time Duncan Fletcher was coach, the slip cordon has been in constant flux. From the sure-handedness of Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar, the slips are now an all sorts.
India now has a potent bowling attack, seam and spin alike.
This bowling attack is capable of taking 20 wickets, every time they take the field. From bowling for the opposition declaration, the Indian bowling lineup has, starting with South Africa’s tour to India, taken 20 wickets in 24 of the 33 Tests it has played.
While this is impressive, it has not necessarily translated into results. Mostly on account of catching, primarily in the slips.
At Trent Bridge, India held on to its catches. Whether this is an outlier or the norm, only time can tell.
But if India’s tryst with destiny has to manifest itself, very substantially, it could well begin with holding on to the catches in the slips.
First Published: August 28, 2018, 12:30 PM IST