The two catches England put down in the slips before lunch were part of an ongoing malaise, as the table below shows. Since the start of 2018, they are holding just under three-quarters of their slip chances. Only Bangladesh have been worse. It’s a bit of a problem.
The main issue is that in recent times England have not had a settled side, so the cordon has been chopping and changing. And in this game, with Ben Stokes away, it has changed again – although Stokes has dropped a few this summer, too.
The best slip cordons I played against contained the same faces, time and again. If you were playing Australia, you’d have Mark Taylor, Mark Waugh and Shane Warne – and those three barely missed a thing. Yes, they were all outstanding catchers, but they got to know each other’s idiosyncrasies, which is crucial when you have three or four guys in close proximity, each with their own style and method.
Ian Botham would often step a couple of yards closer at the last minute. Nick Knight would use a weird kind of reverse cup.
If I was at slip to the spinner, I’d leave more room to my right, because I was right-handed. Everyone does it differently. That’s why a new group will take time to get used to each other.
For the first drop on Thursday, Rory Burns jumped into place quite late. So, if you’re standing next to him, you might suddenly wonder whether you’re too close or too flat. My feeling is that with recent England sides the slips are too close to each other, and that can create indecision: is it my catch or the other bloke’s? All it needs is a millisecond of hesitation and the chance has gone.
And when Dom Sibley moved across from third slip to take the chance from Abid Ali, you could tell he and Burns were too close from the way Burns was ducking and diving to get out of the way. Stokes and Joe Root did the same thing in the last Test.
A good slip cordon will talk to each other. I used to listen to guys like Knight and Graeme Hick, who were both very good slippers. If they thought we were all standing too close, someone would say so.
By standing a bit wider, you obviously cover more ground. You also remove indecision about who should go for the chance.
And there’s the old coaching adage about giving yourself the opportunity to do something brilliant. You’re more likely to do that if you’re taking more responsibility. It probably doesn’t help England right now that Jos Buttler lacks a bit of confidence with the gloves.
The ball was wobbling around a lot on Thursday, and he was focusing so much on catching it that maybe he’s not in the right place mentally to take control of how the cordon is arranged. The keeper often sets the tone.
The second drop, by Burns, was more of a technical thing. Once a chance comes to you around chest height, you have to decide whether to go with your fingers pointing up – which is the Australian way – or down. Burns went down and got in a bit of a tangle. I think you’re better off bending the knees a bit and taking those chances with the fingers pointing up, as Australia’s Ricky Ponting used to do so well.
Burns held a couple of chances later in the day, but it was a shame for England those two catches went down before lunch because they were bowling well.
It was especially good to see Jimmy Anderson bowling with such good rhythm, which is exactly what he needs. It was excellent man-management by Root to tell him the day before that he was playing. Even after 150-odd Tests, Anderson is still someone who likes to play a few in a row. He looks as finely tuned as ever.