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Explained: How catching standards in the India-Australia series have dropped

Dropped catches have become routine in this series, with both sides benefitting from fielding errors. Australia’s Marnus Labuschagne has ridden his luck more than anyone else.

Ajinkya Rahane dropped Marcus Labuschagne when he was on 37 (AP Photo: Rick Rycroft)

The first day of the Brisbane Test ended with Australia having their nose slightly in front. Without three dropped catches, the hosts, however, would have finished the day losing at least seven wickets instead of five. Dropped catches have become routine in this series, with both sides benefitting from fielding errors. Australia’s Marnus Labuschagne has ridden his luck more than anyone else.

How many catches have India dropped so far?

Going by statistical data from different sources, India have dropped 31 catches during their ongoing Australian tour so far, starting from the ODI series. In the three ODIs, India dropped seven catches followed by 12 in the three-match T20I series. In the Adelaide Test, the visitors put down four catches followed by one in Melbourne, four in Sydney and three more in Brisbane on Friday.

How many catches have the Aussies dropped in the Tests?

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So far in three Tests, Australia have grassed 13 catches – one in Adelaide, seven in Melbourne and five in Sydney.

How have Australians benefitted from India’s errors?

There are examples aplenty. To point out a few: In the first Test, in the 18th over of Australia’s first innings, Labuschagne survived a sitter, as Jasprit Bumrah dropped him off Mohammed Shami. The batsman was on 12 then. In the 23rd over, Prithvi Shaw dropped Labuschagne off Bumrah when he was on 21. He went on to score 47. In the 55th over, Mayank Agarwal dropped Tim Paine off Bumrah on 26. The Australian skipper ended up on 73 not out.

Cut to Brisbane on Friday, when Ajinkya Rahane dropped Labuschagne off Navdeep Saini’s bowling when he was on 37 and Australia under pressure at 93/3. Ten overs hence, Cheteshwar Pujara dropped him at first slip off T Natarajan on 48. Labuschagne rode his luck to score his fifth Test century.

In the 80th over, Shardul Thakur let go a simple caught-and- bowled opportunity to allow Cameron Green a reprieve on 19. That was just before India took the second new ball and a dismissal would have had Australia six down. Green stayed till the end of the day to tilt the balance in the hosts’ favour.

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How have the Indians benefitted from dropped catches?

In the 81st over during India’s first innings in Melbourne, Steve Smith dropped Rahane when he was on 73. The India captain scored 112 to take the game away from Australia.

In the third Test, Rishabh Pant survived on three during India’s second innings, when Paine dropped him off Nathan Lyon. Pant was new to the crease after Rahane had been dismissed in the second over on Day Five. The left-hander went on to score 97, which raised the prospect of an improbable Indian victory-push. Eventually, his innings set the platform for a memorable draw.

In the 101st over of India’s second innings in Sydney, substitute Sean Abbott floored Ravichandran Ashwin when he was on 15, and with nine overs remaining, Paine dropped Hanuma Vihari off Mitchell Starc. Ashwin and Vihari remained unseparated till the end to secure a great escape.

Why Labuschagne is one of the luckiest?

A CricViz Analyst tweet mentions that he has been dropped 10 times in his Test career, which is currently 18-Test-old. In 29 innings before Friday’s match, Australia’s No. 3 had scored 1,752 runs at an average north of 60. Another tweet from the same handle points out: “Since the start of the 2019 Ashes, only Ben Stokes has been dropped more often in Test cricket”.

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Who should be held responsible for India’s catching glitches?

Rahane’s drop on Friday was a one-off, for he is one of the safest catchers in the team. But India’s overall fielding/catching standards during the ongoing tour have been way below par, to put it mildly. Some sitters have gone down and while the errors have been made by Test cricketers who are supposed to take those catches, fielding coach R Sridhar has a lot to answer for. Two years ago, the erstwhile MSK Prasad-led selection committee had re-appointed Sridhar, ignoring South African Jonty Rhodes’s candidature. It would be interesting to see if the current selection committee, headed by Chetan Sharma, or the BCCI hierarchy call for an explanation from Sridhar after the tour.

Any fixed template to improve catching?

Former India captain Mohammad Azharuddin, arguably the country’s greatest-ever all-round fielder, had one during his playing days. “It’s imperative to take at least 150-200 catches during practice every day. As a fielder, you should always want the ball coming at you and the more you take those catches (in practice), the more you feel comfortable. You are always game-ready,” Azhar told this paper during a conversation last year.

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