Slip catching all in the imagination, says Ball

After England's dose of butterfingers an expert in the field reveals how he does it

As one chance dribbled to the floor and then another, followed by another - and that was only the first innings - the old line was hard to resist. Dropping is a catching business.

England shelled nine chances during the First Test at Lord's, all of them either at wicketkeeper, slip or gully, and helped to ignite the valiant Sri Lankan resistance. Explanatory theories, including the St John's Wood light, the fashion for sunglasses and the practice of deliberately dropping catches in training to hone the skill of getting the rebound, have been promulgated.

"There's a case for looking very closely at slip fielding and working on it extremely seriously," Martyn Ball said last week. Ball has never played Test cricket - he went on one England tour to India - but if places were available for specialist slip catchers he might have won 100 caps. In 190 first-class matches he has taken 221 catches, most of them at slip.

"If you look at any first-class cricket, you are looking to take three or four catches a game in the slip cordon. This is a key area of the game and if you can go from a 75 per cent catching ratio to 90 per cent then you are going to gain quite a bit."

Ball, like all specialists, has worked out what works for him. He still practises every day and when he spots a good "nicks man" for training he does not let him go. The practice edges must also be conducive to the state of the bounce on the pitch in play.

The first part of his career with Gloucestershire was spent at first slip where the accepted method is to watch the bowler run in and the ball all the way. In the past four years he has moved to second slip, where the convention is to watch the bat.

Ball has varied this. He imagines a picture frame with the batsmen in the left-hand corner. This enables him to pick up the ball about two thirds of the way in its trajectory and, he thinks, gives him a vital extra bit of reaction time.

To judge a pitch's pace he envisages a box into which the ball is likely to be edged. At his home ground of Bristol, Ball will stand with his feet well apart and the box stretches from the waist to the ankle. When he is playing at The Oval ("or at Perth I should think but I've never played there") he will narrow his base to stand higher and the box will be run from the knees to the shoulders.

Although much was understandably made of England's inability to take what came their way at Lord's, they have had previous bouts of the disease. Their epic victory against Australia last summer was achieved despite dropping 25 catches.

When Andrew Strauss put down two catches at Lord's it was surmised that he was not that consistent in any case. True, Strauss has indeed dropped 10 catches in his Test career, seven of them at slip and gully. But of those who have played more than 10 Tests, he and Marcus Trescothick are 14th and 17th respectively in England's all-time catches-per-match chart (WG Grace is top).

Similarly, in the match in which he became the quickest England keeper to 100 Test catches, Geraint Jones put down another two. All this suggests that the present England attacks - that is the first-choice one and the second choice one that played at Lord's - are simply creating more chances.

"Familiarity counts for a lot in the slips. Familiarity with being there, familiarity with who is alongside you. Paul Collingwood dropped a couple and he is an excellent catcher but he's not a regular slip," Ball said.

"Then there is the tiredness factor. As with batting you have to work out a way to switch on and off, to switch on for three seconds and then switch off for 35.

"Having people that you know can be crucial. I was alongside Jack Russell as keeper for years. We knew how far we could get away from each other and what we should catch and what we should cover. An unconfident slip cordon will tend to be too close together and once you drop one the doubts come in.

"Experience teaches you not to worry too much. Not to laugh at the bowler when you drop one of course but be safe in the knowledge that you'll get the next one. The great batters who fail twice in a row know that history says they'll get a hundred next time.

"It should be the same with slippers, but you are going to have bad days. Once, I dropped Graeme Hick twice at Worcester. The crowd gave me stick. I then caught one and gave the crowd some back. Two balls later, I dropped another."

Ball is also a hands-on- knees man. He believes that if the slip has his hands ready in catching position it makes it more difficult to adjust the angle appropriately when the ball comes. In a game where fine margins have come to count for so much, it is an area and a skill yelling out to be explored more.

Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
world cup 2014LIVE BLOG: Hosts Brazil take on the Netherlands in third-place play-off
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
life...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice