At various times during Day 4 of the Sydney Test, we collectively marvelled at the composure shown by Jasprit Bumrah.
It started with the second ball of the day when Hanuma Vihari was caught napping at backward square leg. Marnus Labuschagne hit it uppishly and not too hard. The ball reached Vihari low to his left and he went at it with both hands. But he didn’t get his hands to it, instead, the ball hit the wrists and the catch was put down.
Labuschagne was on 47 then and he went on to get 74 and Bumrah covered his face with both his hands to hide his anguish. Then, as he turned to go back to his bowling mark, he smiled as if to say it happens.
Much later in the day, Australian skipper Tim Paine was dropped by Rohit Sharma at first slip. Once again, it was a regulation catch that should have been taken at the Test level but it was put down.
Paine was on seven then but he went on to get 39 not-out before the Australian innings was declared. Once again, Bumrah didn’t say much and he shouldn’t either but someone clearly needs a talking to.
At close of play of Day 4, India need 309 runs on the final day to win or to survive 97 overs to earn a draw. If they had taken their chances, this figure could have been lower.
All teams drop catches. It is not an exact science but dropping catches costs the fielding team. On this tour, India have dropped far more than good sides should and it has cost them.
India on the Australia tour
1st ODI: 4 dropped chances
2nd ODI: 1 dropped chance
3rd ODI: 3 dropped chances
1st T20I: 2 dropped chances
2nd T20I: 1 dropped chance
3rd T20I: 2 dropped chances
Adelaide 1st innings: 4 dropped chances
MCG second innings: 1 dropped chance
SCG first innings: 2 dropped chances
SCG second innings: 2 dropped chances— Tour games not included | Stats via Cricbuzz
So how does one tackle this malaise? After all, intent isn’t just about batting or bowling. It is also about fielding – about how you attack the ball, about how you back-up and perhaps most importantly (at least when it comes to Test cricket) about how you catch.
Indian fans rejoiced when Ravindra Jadeja threw down the stumps to run-out Steve Smith in the first innings at Sydney. His run to pick-up the ball and then the direct hit showed why he is a candidate for being one of the best fielders in world cricket. But the celebrations were that little bit more boisterous because of how bad the team has collectively been on the tour. You know how they say a candle seems to shine even brighter when there is no other light close by.
The team hasn’t come close to taking the half-chances and have found ways to drop regulation chances. And at the end of the day, for an attack that is struggling due to injuries, this is a death knell. The batting has been letting the bowlers down in away matches for a few years and now, the fielders are joining the procession.
Is there someone that needs to be held accountable? It is kind of shocking that the fielding coach, R Sridhar, still has the job.
He’s probably doing all the right things during the fielding drills but if he can’t help them get better results during a match, then the team is probably in need of a new direction. Maybe someone who can teach them how to switch on and off between deliveries. They are all decent catchers – you don’t get to this level by being a poor fielder but something is consistently going wrong.
And if Sridhar can’t figure it out, then perhaps India need to look elsewhere for inspiration and guidance. There’s no other reason to pay him the big bucks. He cannot be judged just on his processes. He has to be judged on the results.
Despite 145 international tons on his watch, batting coach Sanjay Bangar was shown the door by the BCCI as they looked for some ‘freshness’, while other coaches were retained.
“Frankly speaking, if you see the last five years, there is definitely some improvement. But, looking to the Test Championship and two T20 World Cups, we thought there must be some freshness in that department. That’s the reason why we went ahead with Vikram Rathour as the first choice,” MSK Prasad had then said while explaining the decision.
If one applies the same yardstick to Sridhar, then it can be easily argued that India’s fielding methods need a dose of freshness too. It’s been a long run but his methods are not working and sometimes, a change helps.
It’s either that or more dropped chances that could cost India matches. The BCCI can either catch the problem or simply, as they so often do, drop the issue.