Finally a fielding error has hurt India big. They have been lucky that their bowlers have been creating opportunities again and again to make sure a reprieve doesn’t cost them big runs, but finally Moeen Ali – dropped on 0 by KL Rahul – ended the day unbeaten on 120, rescuing England from 21 for 2 with help from Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow. The costliest miss of the series for India is at least not part of a pattern. It is the slips standing back that have been a headache ever since Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar retired.
R Sridhar, India’s fielding coach, is of the view that the recent spate of injuries has put them off the good work they had done in the last two years. “I would agree that our catching, especially our close-in catching of pacers behind the stumps, has not been up to scratch as far as this series is concerned,” he said. “We have set right standards for the last couple of years, and this particular series things haven’t gone our way.
“It is a work in progress. There have been a few injuries for players in the series. We have changed personnel in the close cordon all the time. That is something we are working on. It is not an excuse, but it is something we have to get around. We are trying to manage the workloads, and the injury part as far as fingers are concerned. We are working hard to improve. We are sure to get better from here.”
Sridhar said his ideal slips cordon from the players available in this series would be M Vijay at first slip, Karun Nair at second and Virat Kohli at third, with Ajinkya Rahane at gully. That means missing out on Shikhar Dhawan, who had worked on his slip catching over the last two years. Also, Nair has played only the last three Tests, and has not been entrusted with slip catching. At any rate, to play both Nair and Rahane, India will have to drop one bowler.
The injuries mean India have had to push Kohli to second, and Ravindra Jadeja has had to fulfill third-slip duties. All three – Vijay, Kohli and Jadeja – have dropped catches this series, which raises questions not just over the personnel but also over the technique. They might get away with it at home with bowlers creating chances again, but when they go away and there will be fewer chances India won’t be able to afford such ordinary slip fielding. To add to their woes, Rahane has been injured for the last two Tests, which means Kohli has had to move to slip for spinners too.
“I think Kohli has been magnificent, filling in for Rahane,” Sridhar said. “But we miss Kohli’s energy in the outfield. He is an absolute livewire when he is fielding at short cover or short midwicket where he stops a lot of singles and creates opportunities. We have Jaddu who stepped up today. He was magnificent in the field today. He stopped a few boundaries and a few singles at covers. So with Kohli at slip, there is no difference in the slip. He is as good as Ajinkya. Only thing is we miss Kohli’s energy in the outfield.”
Back to the costliest drop then. “It burst through his fingers over the head,” Sridhar said of Rahul’s mistake when Moeen offered a chance. “Maybe the timing of his jump could have been a little better. But these things happen in cricket. It was a tough situation for England at that time, getting Moeen out early could have helped us because the first session, especially in the first hour, there was a little moisture on the wicket. Later the wicket eased out, and became good to bat on. As Moeen showed, he batted beautifully for his 120 not out.”
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.