Vaughan's brief glimpse of Caribbean fielding manual

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"Catches win matches" may be near the top of the list of cricketing clichés but, none the less, it contains one of the game's essential truths: good sides seldom field scruffily; great sides never. A team that is in the cricketing doldrums as the West Indies are at the moment is almost invariably untidy in the field. On the other hand England's fortunes are on the up and their outcricket generally has become sharper and more precise.

It was ironic, therefore, that rather than teaching the West Indies a lesson in that depart-ment in this Test, England should have allowed themselves to fall for some of the time to the level of their visitors. Has an easier catch ever been dropped at this level of the game than that by Michael Vaughan at short-midwicket from Shivnarine Chanderpaul off Ashley Giles when he was on 21? There can never be an adequate excuse for poor fielding. It is the one area where a side who may not have the artillery to match their opponents in the two major disciplines of batting and bowling can narrow the gap with inspirational fielding which, more than anything, is the product of hard work.

It is almost impossible to recall an Australian side who have consistently let themselves down in the field. In the 20 years when the West Indies were in their pomp under Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards, the fielding was seldom other than brilliant. Great fielding came with the confidence derived from success.

The West Indies fielding at the moment is symptomatic of an unhappy dressing room, which they appear to have. The coach, former batsman Gus Logie, must take some responsibility here. In his defence one hears that he does not get on too well with his captain whose limited enthusiasm for practice is well known. It is not easy for a coach to be as firm as he might wish to be with the rest of the players if he does not have either the example or the support of the captain.

Their general scruffiness in the field both here at Edgbaston and at Lord's in the First Test tells the story of a side who do not have too much pride in their own performance. England's momentary fall from grace in the field is unlikely to be habit- forming. The coach, Duncan Fletcher, will see to that.

Two catches were dropped in the morning session and perhaps it was no coincidence that both went down at a time when England's bowling was being stretched by some excellent batting on the easiest of pitches. First Graham Thorpe dived to his left in the gully and got two hands to a firmly hit stroke from Chanderpaul, but could not hold on although one would have backed him to have taken it three times out of four.

Then came Vaughan's extraordinary miss shortly before lunch. Chanderpaul chipped Giles gently to short-midwicket and Vaughan inexplicably allowed the ball to go through his hands above his head. It would be hard to imagine a much easier catch and, charitably, one can only think that Vaughan was so exercised with the problems of trying to take a wicket, that only half his mind was on the job of fielding.

If ever an easier catch has been put down in a Test it was surely at Lord's in 1961 when England were playing Australia. Colin Cowdrey fended at a short ball from Alan Davidson and it flew in a gentle parabola to the gully where Peter Burge was fielding. He put both his hands up for the ball, but it hit him on the shoulder and a catch that most people's grandmothers would have swallowed went begging. Richie Benaud reckoned his dropping of Peter May off his own bowling at Melbourne in 1958-59 was a close second.