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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'