Cricket is a game of partnerships. Not only between batsmen or bowlers, but also between bowlers and slip fielders. Kumble-Dravid, Warne-Taylor, Anderson-Cook are a few pairs who have left a big impact on the game but are not as famous as the other batting or bowling ones. Slip catching is a high profile field position and we have seen many games being made and broken there. Drop one catch and be ready for long harsh stares with no place to hide, not to forget the cameras!
1. Cover The Basics
Mostly we see as many as three slip fielders employed by the captain and to have more is a rarity. The thumb rule for slip fielding is, a fielder at first slip must watch the ball right from the time it leaves the bowler's hand while the other slip fielders should only look at the edge of the bat. Apart from that, the fielders need to possess some skills like temperament, technique and desire to stand in that position.
The textbook technique to catch a cricket ball while fielding at slips is, never snatch the ball. Allow it to come to your hands. In Mark Waugh’s words – “Don’t try and catch the ball, let the ball catch you.” Soft hands play a key role while grabbing the catch while the crucial elements like hand-eye coordination, balanced feet and above all, sharp reflexes cannot be ignored. In addition, if you have bucket-like hands like Andrew Flintoff or Brian McMillan, it’s an added advantage.
3. Stay Calm And Composed
Patience is a virtue and it’s the most important quality that a slip fielder can have. There will be times when the ball will not come to you for ages but you still have to be focused on every ball. Hence, to stay relaxed is very important. The common advice that’s been given is to concentrate hard as the bowler is about to bowl, stay alert until the ball is dead and then relax between balls. To learn to master the art of switching on and off between deliveries is of utmost importance.
4. Where To Stand?
The distance from the bat and the one between the fielders in the slip cordon are of equal importance too and it’s the main key to success. It varies across conditions. When standing in slips in Australia or South Africa, where there is extra pace and bounce, the slip fielders usually stand a little deep and there is more distance between the fielders in order to cover a larger area. On the contrary, in subcontinental conditions where there is less bounce, the slip fielders stand up and are a bit close as the ball doesn’t carry much.
5. Slip Catching To Spinners
When a fielder stands at first slip to a fast bowler, no doubt, he needs to have lot of concentration. But what about the time when there is a spinner on? That time he needs guile and reflexes. There is some technique when one stands to an off spinner as opposed to a leggie. Good slip catchers usually stand closer to the keeper against an off spinner as they expect the edge to come to their left with the ball spinning in to the right-handed batsman. Similarly, when a leggie is bowling, they stand a bit farther, as the leg break induces an outside edge which tends to go wider. The reverse stuff is used for a left-handed batsman or if a doosra or a wrong ‘un is bowled.
To sum up, nothing is easy in life or cricket. Fielding is difficult as it involves throwing oneself around. But to stand in slips is perhaps the most difficult of the lot as the ball deviates at different angles when it comes to you. Just as a good batting line-up or a strong bowling attack is crucial to a team’s success, likewise, a sharp slip cordon is quintessential to a team’s success.