England drop the ball...again, and again, as slip fielding nightmare escalates

'Soul-destroying' to see so many catches dropped - Farbrace (1:12)

Paul Farbrace has some strong words for the England slip cordon after they dropped big chances on day three (1:12)

It's not surprising James Anderson has a reputation for being a bit grumpy.

As if it's not frustrating enough bowling for a side who have lost 10 wickets within a session three times in the last couple of years - no sooner has Anderson taken off his boots and warmed down, he has to put them back on and warm up - he also seems to be cursed with a slip cordon who have had their hands replaced with hooves.

By the time Anderson saw Virat Kohli dropped - missed might be a more accurate description; Keaton Jennings barely laid a hoof on the ball - at Trent Bridge, he had suffered five dropped chances in the series. To make matters worse, two of those chances had been offered by Kohli, who may well be the best batsman in the world. It's hard enough to find the edge of his bat once; to have to keep doing it is damaging England severely. Both times, Kohli has gone on to complete a century. And Anderson has yet to take his wicket in the series. "It must be soul destroying," England's assistant coach, Paul Farbrace, said afterwards.

But it is not just Anderson who is suffering the missed chances. England have actually missed 12 chances in the cordon this series - four offered by Kohli - when the seamers have been bowling. That was, for a while, as many as they had taken before Alastair Cook clung on to two edges in the dying moments of the India innings. Those errors in the cordon have, to date, cost them 217 runs.

They have also cost Chris Woakes - the most unfortunate of the bowlers - six Test wickets, Anderson five wickets, Stuart Broad two and Ben Stokes two.

And it's not just in one position. In this game, they've dropped chances at first slip (Cook), second slip (Jos Buttler, who out down Pujara on 40 early on Monday), third slip (Jennings, who put down a simple chance off Hardik Pandya on the first day) and gully (also Jennings). It is more colander than cordon.

That profligacy has won a couple of England's team an unwanted place at the top of a league table. According to figures published by CricViz on Monday, Cook has, since the start of 2015, the worst success rate in the slips of anyone playing Test cricket who has taken more than 10 catches. He takes, on average 70 percent of the chances that come his way, while by comparison, Faf du Plessis (who is the best in the world over the same period) holds on to 96 percent of the chances that come his way.

To make matters worse for England, Stokes has the second worst success rate in the cordon over the same period. He has taken 74 percent of the chances coming his way.

Such figures, over such a long period of time, cannot be put down to poor form or coincidence. They point to something more fundamental. Something in either the system or the environment that is not working.

"There's no excuses; there's no hiding places," Farbrace admitted. "It simply hasn't been good enough. But we've been saying that for too long. We have changed people but there's only so many people you can put in there.

"It comes down to two things: either it's concentration not being good enough. Or it's confidence, because when you start to miss chances it eats away at you."

There is, no doubt, some truth in that. And with England's slip cordon currently stocked by three men whose batting is under some scrutiny - Cook, Buttler and Jennings - confidence cannot be as high as it might be. Fielding so often provides a window on the self-confidence of an individual or the team and it was noticeable that, in the games before they were dropped, Mark Stoneman and Dawid Malan started to miss more than their fair share of chances.

That's one of the reasons why Ed Smith likes to spend a bit more time around the squad during Tests than might be expected. Smith, the national selector, might have used the last couple of days to watch County Championship cricket with a view to future selection. Instead, he has stayed around the squad to evaluate the mental state of some of the team. It remains to be seen what he has concluded from the chances Jennings has dropped but, from afar, they hint at a scrambled mind devoid of confidence. He may well be playing to save both his career and the game on Tuesday.

The Cook dilemma is more difficult. He has taken more Test catches - 168 - than any England player in history and took an outstanding one in the first innings. But he has become much less reliable in recent times and there must be doubts over whether he should remain in the cordon. The fact that it is not obvious where else he can field is troubling.

But, aside from concentration and confidence, there may also be a technical element to England's slip catching issues. Just as the technique of England batsmen was found wanting on Sunday when they pushed at the swinging ball with hard hands and an aggressive approach - really, you wonder if there's too much testosterone and too little technique with this side - so the technique of England's slip fielders may be at fault.


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Certainly they have been working on catching technique in training. But while Carl Hopkinson, the newly-appointed fielding coach, works on the individual catching technique of players, it is Trevor Bayliss who runs the training sessions for the slip cordon.

But whatever Hopkinson and Bayliss are doing, it's not working. England's cordon has been unreliable for some time and, just like their batting, it's showing no signs of improvement. Either they have the wrong individuals in there or they are doing something wrong in training or in match situations. Either way, it doesn't reflect especially well on the team management. We're more than three years into the Bayliss regime, after all, and, for all the improvements in the limited-overs sides, the Test team seems to have achieved disappointingly little bearing in mind some of the players at its disposal.

India have problems of their own in the slips. They have dropped five of the 12 chances that have come their way there off seamers in this series. But the way England have batted - and it's worth remembering they were helped significantly by Sam Curran's half-century from No. 8 at Edgbaston and Chris Woakes' century from No. 7 at Lord's - has ensured it hasn't cost India more than 94 runs.

"We think we have some good catchers, but you can't keep shelling chances the way we are," Farbrace said. "But it's like any aspect of the game, when it comes under pressure in a match situation, that's when you want the technique and the hard work to stand up. No-one means to drop chances - of course they don't - but it is becoming too regular.

"The one great thing from today is that the bowlers stuck at their job really well. They kept plugging away. But when bowlers are creating opportunities and catches are being dropped, it must be soul destroying."

Soul destroying and prospect destroying. Good teams will punish one or two errors. Even modest ones will punish the number England are making. It is undermining their chances and requires urgent attention.