Malcolm sharpens his performance in the field

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The Independent Online
What a difference it makes if all the catches are held. The only blemish in Australia's long first innings was a fiendishly difficult leg-side stumping chance given by Mark Waugh off Adam Hollioake. Nothing destroys bowlers' confidence more than missed chances.

Right through that disheartening first day, England's fielding was as good as it has been at any time in the series. Countless runs were saved and even Devon Malcolm, who is somewhat less than a dynamic athlete, was keeping the batsmen to singles at third man where at other times they would have been able to take two. It must be accepted that there will never be 11 Nasser Hussains in the same side. There will be a gazelle or two, just as there will almost certainly be the odd donkey. But donkeys can teach themselves to become reliable fielders by practice and application.

Concentration is all-important, just as it is with batting and bowling. A bowler who has just had 20 runs taken off an over must not shuffle off to third man and allow himself to be immersed in gloom for the next six balls. If that happens, a snick to third man will almost certainly result in easy runs.

Geoffrey Boycott was not a naturally athletic mover but by hard work and application he turned himself into a highly competent fielder in the outfield and the middle distances. He also developed a good, accurate throw. In the pressure-cooker atmosphere of contemporary international cricket, the more sluggish fielders should make every effort to imitate Boycott.

The wicketkeeper also plays a most important role as the centre of the fielding cog. By coming away from the stumps to take a poor throw on the full toss makes the fielder's effort look better it was. Seeing the wicketkeeper set the example, as Alec Stewart did so splendidly in Australia's innings, is an inspiration to the fielders.

The loss of the toss at Trent Bridge was a body-blow for England, and it was greatly to captain Mike Atherton and Stewart's credit that they never allowed the others to lose heart. They prevented Australia's batsmen from taking complete control on Thursday and then they enabled the bowlers to take full advantage of more helpful conditions on the second day.

It was clear that a lot of hard work had gone into the fielding. Often this seems to be a department of the game in which England come second to the opposition, be it Australia or whoever. The lesson of Trent Bridge is that top-class fielding makes the bowling seem that much sharper. It is such good propaganda.

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