A bowler runs in, gives it all, gets the ball to pitch in the right area, induces an outside edge towards the slip cordon; but the catch has been dropped. He gets back to his bowling mark, doused in honest sweat and repeats the cycle selflessly. His morale has been shattered, confidence has been crushed. He knows he has to pick himself up. Twenty wickets a pre-requisite to win a Test match. There is no shorter way around it. But he needs his fielders to back his efforts up.
Fielding in the slip cordon is undoubtedly the toughest place to guard on a cricket field, especially in Test cricket. It definitely requires a different set of skills and hawk-like concentration. The ball comes at the speed of a rocket at any height and direction. A player might be stranded for hours without the ball coming towards him and out of nowhere, he will be surprised with a catch. To succeed untiring attention along with immense stamina is required as the base.
With the evolving standards of the game, mediocrity on the field is a bane for any side. Catching in the slip cordon is a different thing altogether. A fielder might be outstanding in the outfield but can look bereft of oomph in the slip cordon. One shouldn’t forget, a fielder is often judged by a number of catches he has dropped and not by the ones he has cupped.
Bangladesh are scheduled to play two Tests against South Africa in their backyard. Bangladesh have developed into a force to be reckoned and did well against the big guns at home. But, Test cricket in South Africa will be a different challenge altogether.
Scoring runs are paramount for Bangladesh, but their slip catching will determine how useful those runs were. South African pitches will have more for the fast bowlers unlike the wickets in Bangladesh. Spin won’t play a massive role like it does in the sub-continent. Seamers will definitely have a key role to play here, which brings catching behind the stumps into play. Also, the frequency of catches in the slip cordon will be higher in South Africa then it was in Bangladesh. The slip cordon will be one of the busiest areas on the field.
Bangladesh does not have a penetrative bowling attack, which means limited opportunities might be created in the slip cordon. They need to grab each and every opportunity coming their way and cannot afford to drop any or else, they can be toiled for long if not taken.
As per Cricindex.com, Bangladesh have created the least number of opportunities in the slip cordon per game since January 2012 to April 2017. They have created just 1.22 opportunities against pace while against spin the opportunities created was 1.63 per game. Also, Bangladesh have the second-highest dropped catches rate (36.4) after Zimbabwe (40.7) against both spin and pace.
Talking just about pacers, Bangladesh have the worst record in cupping catches in the slips. A team like New Zealand have caught 80.2% of catches against pace and dropped just 19.8, which is also the best in the said period. But, Bangladesh have managed to catch 42.4% and dropped 57.6% against pace. Although, they have a far better record in the slip against spin, but conditions in South Africa will not assist spinners a lot.
One of the key aspects while fielding in the slip will be the height at which the ball will be travelling in South Africa. In the sub-continent, catches in the slip cordon usually comes at a waist height or below that, seldom one can see a catch being cupped at chest height. The fingers of the slip fielders are usually pointed towards the ground, which won’t be the scenario in South Africa.
South Africa are widely reckoned to have a reasonable amount of bounce in the wicket. Pace bowlers will undoubtedly get some bounce from the surface, which will make a difference in the slip cordon. One can expect most of the catches to come at chest height or at the level of throat, which means the fingers will be pointed upwards. Bangladesh players will have to make these adjustments in their technique and adapt quickly to the conditions. South Africa, on the other hand, are one of the better sides when it comes to fielding in the slip cordon; Bangladesh need to pull up on this front.
Success in the slip cordon is no rocket science, but one just can’t achieve it overnight. The fact that there is hardly any time to react in that area makes the position threatening. It demands hours of practice, temperament and precision. This tour is a huge test for the Bangladeshi side and to succeed they should give equal importance to slip catching as they might give to batting or bowling.