Cricket: Art of catching the moment

Nick Knight says slip fielding is all about patience under pressure
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The Independent Online
Slip Fielding is a peculiar occupation. It is a mixture of concentration and relaxation. Switch on, switch off. For 90 overs in the course of a full Test-match day it is like that. You never know when you might be needed, except that it could be from the ball which is about to be delivered.

To that extent the Second Test was typical. You get into a groove which comes simply with playing. As the bowler prepares to start his run-up it is time to concentrate. The slip gets down, his mind trained on the possibility of an edge, his eyes focused tightly on the bat, from where it will come.

After the ball has gone, there are a few crucial moments to relax. Brief discussions frequently ensue between slips or wicketkeeper. These can be pretty wide-ranging affairs, although they don't often get round to embracing the meaning of life. Sometimes we mull over the state of the match, how things are going, how a batsman is playing, where he looks likely to give us some action.

But something or somebody in the crowd might prompt some comment among us, or plans for dinner that evening may occasionally crop up. Then, just as you're deciding upon some quiet bistro round the corner from the hotel, the ball's back in the bowler's hand. Down once more, waiting for the chance.

This can be quite taxing over a full innings. There are odd times when your mind wanders slightly, when the ball has been delivered and you realise that your mind and body were not at that point fully trained on the task at hand. "Good job he didn't get a nick there," you tend to think.

All right, I have to admit there was something that was not entirely typical during the Wellington Test match. I was delighted with my catch to dismiss Blair Pocock in New Zealand's second innings. I can't say I saw it coming all the way, it arrived fast and true and I was just pretty pleased to grab it. I've seen how pleased from my reaction on the television replays and have had a word with myself not to get so excited if it happens again.

Still, it was a particularly pleasing moment. Any slip catch, I believe, needs sharp reflexes but some obviously need sharper ones than others. That came into such a category and, as Pocock was their one batsman offering prolonged resistance (over more than five hours), it had an added significance.

England fielded and caught well throughout the match and Alec Stewart's catch, high in front of first slip to get rid of Nathan Astle, was stunning. I should think Graham Thorpe was fairly happy, too, since he was fielding at first slip and with Alec diving across him the ball might have taken his head off had it been missed.

It was a marvellous performance by the side and when you are taking your catches the job is much easier. Drop a few and you find yourself, in effect, having to take 13 or 14 wickets to bowl a side out. We have worked hard in practice on this aspect of our game, the slippers tending to do short, sharp sessions of 10 minutes or so with catches coming all over the place.

The delight after Wellington was naturally huge but it was combined with relief. It has been a long wait to win an international match this winter. You begin to wonder what you have to do, but this squad has kept going - despite the disappointments - and the side could hardly have played better.

Well, yes, I could have done so. My batting is not quite in the shape it was at the beginning of the tour. With matches being compressed so tightly, the poor run hasn't lasted that many innings but I'm aware runs are expected.

I'm working in the nets to alleviate any technical flaws which may have crept in, especially with my foot movement. The shot I got out to in the Second Test was not of a high calibre, but equally the area backward of square on the off-side has been profitable for me in the past and you cannot simply dispense with it. All I can say is that form has slipped out of the room temporarily. It will be back.

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