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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Catches Win Matches

Australia v Pakistan, MCG, Day 1

There is an old saying in cricketing circles: 'catches win matches.'

This was never more evident than in the first session of play in the Boxing Day Test. The Pakistani's dropped both Australian openers on lowish scores with Shane Watson and Simon Katich going on to make 93 and 98 respectively.

These dropped catches did more than just cost the fielding team well in excess of 100 runs. Holding either or both had the potential to destabilise the Australian team. It would have brought Ricking Ponting to the crease against a faster, harder, newer ball at a time when he is still recovering from the elbow injury sustained in the last Test against the West Indies merely days before. While Michael Hussey has finally returned to form, his position in the order means that he rarely has to face a newer ball at the start of his innings.

These were major opportunities lost. The game was quite possibly lost in that first two hours of play.

Poor fielding has been a feature of the Pakistani game for years. Quoting the Pakistan coach, Intikhab Alam:

"This is the weakest part of the game we have. This is a grass roots problem in our country, those who play don't take fielding that seriously, this has been a problem for a very, very long time."

In this day and age where cricket is played at a very professional level, it beggars belief that players of a national side can take such a lax approach to fielding. The first catch spilled at slip for example, was simply unacceptable - it should have been almost regulation for that level of the game. For that matter, most club players would have expected that one to stick.

Cricket is more than a national pastime in Pakistan, it assumes near-religious overtones with burning effigies of players deemed to have failed. The Pakistani President is known to have words with cricket authorities about his displeasure over selections, providing a political overtone to proceedings as well.

With that background, why is it so difficult to hone Pakistani players on the full range of required skills? A smart fringe player could significantly enhance his chances of long-term selection by simply becoming a reliable fielder, especially in the slips region.

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