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By Chetan Narula
London: Aug 20, 2014
Two days ahead of their practice game versus Middlesex at Lord’s, India regrouped with a net-session with under-fire coach Duncan Fletcher and bowling coach Joe Dawes overseeing proceedings ahead of the five-match ODI series starting August 25. Interestingly Dawes has been rested for the One-Day Internationals (ODIs) after India’s 3-1 Test loss against England with fielding coach Trevor Penney also been given a break. Though Dawes was making the bowlers go through their paces, Penney was just hanging around without too much involvement.
India’s newly-appointed Team Director Ravi Shastri, who is also part of the Star Sports commentary team, was not around and even assistant coaches Sanjay Banagar, former India all-rounder, and ex-India pacer Bharat Arun are yet to join the Men in Blue and will probably be relieving Dawes and Penny of their duties on their arrival.
Team India though went through the customary drills with skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni watching on. The emphasis lay on batting and bowling but surprisingly the fielding aspect was given a miss. However, many pundits believe the slip-fielding issue needs to be tackled at the earliest. Missed chances in the slips were one of the biggest reasons that India failed to make count their 1-0 advantage gained at Lord’s. When England skipper Alastair Cook was dropped by Ravindra Jadeja at Southampton, it became the turning point of the series.
That chance was spilled at third slip and the following day, Dawes went on record saying that ‘despite being the best slip-catcher ever, even Mark Waugh dropped a few’. It wasn’t an apt statement to describe India’s slip-fielding woes. At The Oval, Penney had opined that ‘this young unit has done very well in every department and the question of slip-fielding will find an answer sooner rather than later’. A day later, two catches were dropped in slips. Two days later, India surrendered the five-Test series after losing the final Test by an innings and 244 runs.
“We want our best fielders to stand at those three positions,” Dhoni had claimed during the course of this Test series on more than one occasion. It has been a constant process of chopping and changing, with the team management trying to find a permanent solution. Ravichandran Ashwin and Virat Kohli were present in the slip cordon at home versus West Indies and then in South Africa, before being shifted out.
Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay and Rohit Sharma were the slip cordon in New Zealand. And now in England a completely different set of fielders stood there, without encouraging results. “We are trying our best to find a solution to the slip cordon problem. We can only practice and get better, but we are also trying different players at this position. The batsmen are doing the job right now and maybe we might even ask the bowlers to give it a go. It will allow us to find the right combination in the slips,” said Ashwin, after missing out on a slip-position since he was dropped for the first three Tests here.
One of the key features of India’s abject performance in this department is the manner in which catches have been dropped at first slip. When Dhawan stood at that position in the first three Tests, he was standing back from the usual position by at least a yard if not more. Whenever keeper Dhoni decided not to go for a chance himself, the ball fell short of the first slip. It was a technical fault spotted and pointed out by Rahul Dravid on-air several times. It is ironical that his position at first-slip hasn’t been filled out yet and the transition in this department is still ongoing.
Dawes explained this phenomenon saying that ‘Dhoni likes the first slip to be proactive and judge what catches he might be leaving.’ It doesn’t help though when different players stand there at different times. It has been observed that India used different fielders at first slip for medium pacers and spinners during this five-match series. Dhawan or Vijay stood at first slip to the quicker bowlers while Rahane stood at first slip to the spin bowlers.
“Chopping and changing your slip fielders doesn’t help,” said former England wicket-keeper Alec Stewart. “First of all you want to have a regular first-slip. That helps in growing the relationship between the wicket-keeper and first slip. Once they play together for some time then they are able to understand each other’s territories better. This way the keeper knows what chances he can let go to the first slip and the fielder knows which chances the keeper will let go to him. Not having a regular firs-slip makes this process all the more harder.”
When the ODI series gets underway, Vijay will not be standing at first slip since he is not part of the squad. It might be any of Dhawan, Rahane, Rohit or even Jadeja, meaning once again a different player at first-slip. The new management under Shastri will do well if they start with sorting out this particular mess first.
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