There was a time when England bowlers thanked their lucky stars if flashing edges were stopped by the slip cordon, never mind caught.
But the look of mild surprise on Jimmy Anderson's face yesterday when Graeme Swann needed a couple of grabs to wrap up the first Test spoke volumes about the progress made in that department.
Swann – now settled in the second slip berth between Andrew Strauss at first and Paul Collingwood at third – took the chance comfortably enough in the end to complete a wonderful morning, and just about faultless match, for England's close catchers at Trent Bridge.
The nearest they came to spilling anything all match was when Swann, flying right during Pakistan's first innings, just about grasped a snick but grounded the ball as his hand hit the turf. And that, frankly, was more a case of four runs saved than an opportunity put down.
As for the catches that stuck, several of them were stunners, with Collingwood's Sunday morning pair – one high, off Umar Gul's bat, the other low and lightning-fast to get rid of Shoaib Malik – the joint stand-outs. Either might have been dropped, but neither were and Pakistan's bowlers could only look on with envy.
England will have a bad day in the field at some stage this summer, almost inevitably, because no team has ever maintained a 100 per cent success rate. But the improvement in catching, and throwing, has been a feature of their game for a couple of years now and proves that former coach Peter Moores was absolutely right to recruit a specialist helper back in 2008.
Moores and Richard Halsall had been together at Sussex. Now Moores is back on the county circuit, snapped up by Lancashire following his sudden exit from the international scene 18 months ago, but Halsall continues to work tirelessly on raising standards in the field.
Halsall, born in Zimbabwe, played second XI cricket for Lancashire before graduating in sports science. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that, as an 11-year-old, he represented the North of England against the South at throwing the cricket ball, he has found his niche helping top-flight players hone their fielding skills.
Events at Trent Bridge must have had Halsall purring with delight – at least when he was not shaking his head in dismay at some of the efforts of Pakistan's fielders. While Collingwood and Co looked capable of catching pigeons, the visitors showed how not to do it. Calamity keeper Kamran Akmal had no real rival for the dunce's cap, despite one remarkable take to get rid of Kevin Pietersen, but Imran Farhat also grassed a sitter at slip to give Eoin Morgan a life.
Mohammad Aamer suffered more than anyone from shoddy catching, understandably kicking at the turf in sheer frustration on one occasion when the ball went to ground. Anderson, on the other hand, could afford to start celebrating every time he found an edge. "It obviously helps when they catch like that," said England's man of the match. "Everyone is working hard at catching and fielding and it's all paying off at the moment."
Strauss took a couple of catches, Swann held four, keeper Matt Prior snaffled two chances and Eoin Morgan's direct hit to run out Mohammad Asif put another big tick in the fielding box. But Collingwood, with four victims, was top man in the catching department.
"Collingwood's two catches on the final morning were half-chances, really, and he made them stick," Strauss said. "On pitches like that, you need your slip fielders to play their part, because there is nothing more frustrating for a bowler than bowling a perfect ball and seeing the catch go down.
"You certainly don't get the impression there are any weak links in the slip cordon. Even if you field slip for your county it is another thing coming into a Test – you know that if you drop one, it will be shown on the screen and everyone will be booing, so you have to get your head around that and concentrate on catching the ball softly and late. I think all three of us feel pretty comfortable in our roles."Reuse content