For in lower league cricket catching is capricious - players will be selected year after year on the memory of them once leaping like a salmon to pluck the speeding ball from the air. The fact that they have not held even the simplest dolly since that magical day matters not a jot. They are invariably put at slip or backward point expecting the miracle to work again. The odds of this happening are less favourable than winning the Euromillions.
FB cannot recall shelling anything in his early career - he was confident and secure close to the wicket or under the steepler. He would dive and leap, sprint twenty yards this way and that, clutch with left hand or right hand and with that sense of joy come up with the ball. Sadly the passage of time makes a mockery of these faded glories and now he takes care to place himself in the place least in the field for a catch to be offered. The most recent occasion a catch came his way he managed to take it without touching it with his hands at all, caressing the ball to his chest with both elbows. A skill all players should practcise.
Once he was a compulsive diver. Nowadays any dive in the field takes meticulous pre-planning so that only a ball travelling at a pedestrian pace can be intercepted by the trouser-staining leap onto the grass. In reality the dive needs to be commenced before the ball is bowled which somewhat reduces the likelihood of its effectiveness. Many a small child on the boundary observing this ritual has been heard asking its parent in a worried voice 'Daddy, why does that man keep falling down?'
It is unclear why a brain so sophisticated as FB's cannot compute that it is as quick to take 3 steps to the left to stop the ball as it is to go the whole business of stimulating knees and hips into gravity defying action. Perhaps there is strategy here - having dived and missed, FB is excused the ordeal of having to chase the ball to the boundary - for nowadays there is only one winner in that contest. Further, the team will clap and utter the ritual phrases of condescending support 'Great effort - unlucky.' in a manner similar to visiting a demented elderly relative and suggesting that sitting all day with other demented oldsters 'Must be nice for you dear.' It is very heart warming.
It is a sad thing to monitor your own decline but FB is sure that it teaches character. All you young shavers tuning into the blogosphere may chuckle smugly, but you will find as all have before that youth and strong throwing arms are wasted on the young. The day is coming when you will crank up the shoulder, swing your arm with the action which once had the ball slamming into the gloves 80 yards distant and you will look up to see the ball gently fall to the turf nearer you than the wicket.
But perhaps it is the keenness of eye that goes first. Whereas last year you had no difficulty picking the ball out of the dark background trees as it hurtled towards you you, will find that this year you stand immobile and mystified until either it hits you or there is a shout from a colleague which makes you realise that the missile is headed your way. Even though you've no idea where the ball is, it is better just launch into a dive anyway to look convincing. 'Daddy that man's just fallen over again.............'
But then top players have the keenest possible eyes, their reflexes are electric, they only play in the bright sunlight, they practice hours every day and they still shell them like peas. The 2000th Test match at play just now at Lords has seem some fine examples from both sides. As they and FB's team mates found on Saturday there is no doubt that dropping is contagious. Once one player does it others follow. In the World Cup England couldn't hold a catch - and Pakistan dropped Tendulkar 4 times in their semi-final. At any level of cricket no one means to drop it - hard though it is for bowlers who always take it personally to believe this.
|On his way to 333|
- In 1990 at Lords, Indian keeper Kiran More dropped Graham Gooch on 36 - 297 runs later Gooch was finally out for what is still the highest innings ever played at Lords.
|I did it for you................|
- In 1994 Durham's Chris Scott dropped Brian Lara playing for Warwicks on 18. Lara went on to score 501*.
- In 2002 West Indian skipper Carl Hooper was dropped on 0 by Indian keeper Deep Dasgupta. He went on to score 233.
- In the Oval Test of the 2005 Ashes Kevin Pietersen was dropped on 0, by Gilchrist/Hayden, on 15 by Shane Warne and on 60 by Shaun Tait. He scored 158 and won the man of the match award. England drew the match and won the series. (FB thanks anonymous for the correction to the first edition.)
Cruel beasts these professional sportsmen. FB's team mates would never dream of suggesting to the opposition that they had just dropped 4th place in Div 7 of the East of Scotland League - that would be an insult too far.