This was the second time in 2017 that India’s spinners have failed to do something that used to be a given: force a result on the final day. However, considering the dead pitch, they might look back on the second and third days in the search for turning points. India were riding a massive wave of momentum and yet their slip fielders couldn’t even catch a cold despite the bad Delhi air.
Dilruwan Perera, dropped once at second slip, and Angelo Mathews, let off twice, went on to bat valuable time – Mathews scored a century – that proved to be the difference in the final equation.
This Indian team’s standing against those of the past will become clear over the next year but one thing is certain: the slip catching is decidedly worse, and worryingly it has not improved at all since they came together. There have to be questions asked of the fielding coach and the management because their technique remains largely faulty: fielders keep getting up too early and hands remain just as hard.
There seems to be one silver lining. Cheteshwar Pujara seems to be doing okay at first slip, and he was the man left defending his neighbours after the end of the Delhi Test. “To be honest, we haven’t fielded well and I will accept that,” he said when asked about the lack of improvement in the cordon. “At the same time, there have been injuries where openers have missed out, someone like M Vijay, who used to be at first slip didn’t play due to injury, he didn’t play cricket for six months. So we had to replace Vijay with someone.
“We haven’t taken many catches but we will definitely get better at it. Overall, Indian team has improved as a fielding unit but slip fielding is something we are still looking to improve.”
With fitness being on agenda, India players have become better athletes, their ground fielding has improved, but nobody from the camp has been able to say why the same fielders seem to resemble non-stick cookware at slips.
“Difficult question to answer as I don’t know, technically, what is going wrong,” Pujara said. “I do agree that we haven’t taken enough catches, we are working hard. To be honest, we put in a lot of hard work in our fielding. We know catching is very important. All players standing in the slips are taking 50 to 100 catches every day. So we are trying to improve ourselves, and eventually the results will come.”
Pujara admitted India were aware that a revolving cordon can be a problem, and were looking to zero in on the candidates before starting the South Africa series. “We are having a chat about it, and we will assign a few players throughout the away series. We will prepare a few players who will be standing at the slips. We will discuss when we reach South Africa, but we are already talking about that.”
There are two areas where India don’t seem to have a problem: first slip for spin and gully for quicks. Pujara was asked why that man was not being used at slip for fast bowlers too.
“When we’re talking about defining a fielding position, Ajinkya [Rahane] has been fielding at gully for quite a long time,” Pujara said. “We don’t want to disturb him from there. And the way he’s fielding when the spinners are bowling, he is anyway at slips. He is set, we can’t keep on changing fielders. When he’s at gully, he knows the angles, he has the idea of where to stay when he starts fielding at gully.”
Rahane’s batting has been a talking point with his getting only 17 runs in the whole series. “He has batted well overall,” Pujara said. “Any batsman will go through a phase where he might not score too many runs, and Ajinkya is going through the same thing. I think he is one of India’s best batsmen and has scored a lot of runs in India and even overseas. We fully support him, and I think he will make a comeback.
“Technically, I really don’t need to tell him anything. He knows. He is a hard worker, he puts in lot of effort in his batting, fielding and fitness. He’s an all-round cricketer, and once he gets a 50 or more, he will get his confidence back and will be a very useful player in South Africa.”