Bangladesh caught in a catching quandary

Moments of joy in the field have too often been interspersed with the frustration of a drop for Bangladesh on this tour AFP

Mashrafe Mortaza had sounded an early warning when he talked about the body-language problem with Bangladesh's fielders during the first ODI of this tour in Christchurch. Seeing how they have dropped catches so regularly through the rest of the tour, though, that warning seems to have gone unheeded.

The 20 dropped catches on tour have affected Bangladesh adversely both in that particular moment and over the larger passage of play. This sloppiness in the field has compounded their woes, which have included batting collapses, the lack of big runs from senior batsmen and the inexperience of the Test pace attack.

Mashrafe had tagged Bangladesh's fielders "lethargic" after the ODI in Christchurch, where they allowed 27 twos and 111 singles. Back at the same venue for the second Test, their last game on tour, Bangladesh dropped seven genuine chances.

In the fourth over of New Zealand's first innings, Mahmudullah didn't stay down for long enough when a Jeet Raval catch came his way at second slip off Mehedi Hasan. A little while later, his dive to his left at square leg couldn't intercept a Ross Taylor flick. In between, Sabbir Rahman dropped a sitter at second slip offering Raval another life. Later Kamrul Islam Rabbi dropped Taylor at deep midwicket, and then Mehedi Hasan put Southee down at second slip. Nazmul Hossain Shanto also dropped a straightforward chance at gully; he had already shown poor technique at silly mid-off when Henry Nicholls had struck him on the body twice in the 44th over. Both would count as chances - albeit very tough ones - as it hit him on the full, but the bigger point was why was Nazmul ducking into the ball instead of jumping over it, as close-in fielding technique would demand in such cases.

What was also confusing was the choice of slip cordon, where most of their catches have gone down. Mehedi Hasan continued to be there despite dropping two in Wellington Test as well. Sabbir dropped a catch in the first Test at third slip too, but continued in the same position in Christchurch where he dropped that sitter off Taskin Ahmed.

Slip catching is considered a specialist's job and Bangladesh haven't really found their specialists. The reason for posting Sabbir and Mehedi Hasan in the slips was the absence of the injured Imrul Kayes, a recent regular in the spot. But he too had dropped one, that too one of the easiest chances on the tour, when Neil Broom had edged-behind in the third ODI in Nelson.

That is not to say that catches have not been dropped elsewhere during both the ODIs and Tests. Some of these catches going down could be explained as a matter of pure luck - as Tamim Iqbal said after the loss in Christchurch, "it just happens".* But several of these missed opportunities have translated into New Zealand batsmen going on to make a big score.

Clearly, given the despair the matter has caused to some of the bowlers, it has been discussed in team meetings, and efforts must be underway to eliminate the problem. Tamim agreed that specialists need to be found. "We can definitely work on our catching, especially in our slip cordon. We will have more chances going to slips now that we will play more overseas. We have to look for specialists in that position."

The home side dropped catches too, and the issue has been brought up with their players in media conferences. Bangladesh's extensive catalogue of problems on tour, though, has meant that their dropped catches have not really been questioned much. When he was asked about it, Tamim said the team just could not afford to fluff chances in conditions overseas. "We can somehow manage this thing at home. Conditions are such that chances are created quite regularly," he said. "Here they [New Zealand] can drop five catches but we cannot afford to.

"It takes a lot of effort for our bowlers to create one chance. I think our pace bowlers did very well here. But these things make a difference. It would have been so much better had we taken even 70% of the catches."

The easiest way to react to drops is to blame the fielder first, and then the fielding coach. But that is too simplistic a view. Fielding is about involvement and enjoyment out in the middle. If that's missing when Bangladesh goes out to field, it might suggest deeper issues to look into. The faster the problem is pinpointed and sorted out, the better it will be for the team.

*10.15 GMT, January 23: Tamim Iqbal's quotes were added to this article at the end of day four of the Christchurch Test.