Test matches may span over 5 days, but more often than not, they are decided in a session, an over and sometimes, a ball. When such a chance comes along, the men involved need to be sharp. The most precarious position to be in during this time is the slip cordon. One error could lead to a catastrophe as has happened many times over the life of test cricket.

Slip fielders are the ones placed right next to the wicket-keeper. It is arguably the most important position in test cricket as a new swinging red ball is bound to induce the slip cordon into work. It requires specialization and is not a position which anyone on the field can occupy. It requires quick reflexes, soft hands, awareness of where surrounding players are and immense concentration. The slip cordon needn’t be filled with players who are “physically gifted”. In fact, the history books are a scathing indictment of how bad most outfielders have been in the slip cordon, and how effective the “slow movers” have been. After all, who can forget Bermuidan Dwayne Leverock springing to his right getting a young Robin Uthappa out in 2007? Other worthy names include Graeme Smith, Andrew Strauss, Sunil Gavaskar, and even Ravi Ashwin in recent times when he’s been given the chance whereas Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, Jos Buttler and many such agile fielders have abysmal conversion rates in the slips.

ESPN’s Charles Davis had made a data compilation in 2016 which showed 4000 missed chances behind the wickets in 635 tests. The data also showed the lowest drop percent (ever, since reliable data has been available) which was 16.9% in 2013 by the Proteas. Unsurprisingly, South Africa were number one in the test rankings that same year.

History suggests that droppedd chances behind the wickets have been the most costly. The most expensive missed chance since the beginning of 2000 is 297 runs for Inzamam-ul-Haq, who made 329 after being missed on 32 in Lahore in 2002. There have been many such benefactors including the likes of Brian Lara, Ross Taylor and Sachin Tendulkar who punished the opposition scoring immensely more off the second chance. Virendar Sehwag scored 8586 runs in his test career and has been dropped 68 times (37%) in his career. This is the highest number of reprieves given to a batsman. Out of this number, a huge proportion is accounted for by the misses in slip cordon. The same goes for Sangakkara who’s been missed 67 times. He has scored a whopping 12400 runs in his career and made 270 in Bulawayo after being dropped on 0. Most recently, Virat Kohli was dropped in the first test of the ongoing tour against England. He went on to score his maiden test century on English soil.

The need for specialist slip fielders has always been high. But the increased employment of makeshift slip fielders has significantly cost the teams doing so. Players like Rahul Dravid, Mark Waugh and Viv Richards did more than just bat. They were prolific behind the stumps too.

This trend points out to us, that some aspects of the game are immune to change no matter how radically the game moves. Catches still win matches and slip fielders cannot be compromised or “improvised” for any other aspect. Doing so has cost teams dear and will continue to do so. It remains to be seen if teams are willing to keep stable slip cordons.

If not, they could ‘slip’ right out of any game.

 

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Sriram Ranganath

Senior Writer

22Yards

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