Don Topley: England prove that catches win matches. And take a bow Alastair Cook
- Credit: PA
In this week’s ‘Toppers’ column, Don Topley looks at England’s fine series win over India and pays tribute to the retiring Alastair Cook
England defeated the number one Test Match side, India, with a Test to play - that’s an excellent achievement. England’s impressive win at The Ageas Bowl allows England to arrive at The Oval for Alastair Cook’s farewell on Friday with the series now standing 3-1.
However, in my book, England should have defeated India much earlier and totally dominated them. There’s that old adage of ‘catches win matches’ but it’s true.
In the first three Test matches England dropped 15 catches, with many going down in the slips. That’s a remarkable stat, meaning England have to collect more wickets than normal in order to bowl the opposition out.
That’s an average of five drops per Test or 2½ per each innings.
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England’s perceived best slip cordon is Johnny Bairstow (wicketkeeper), Alastair Cook (first slip), Joe Root (second) and Ben Stokes (third, or gully).
But for this summer they have employed some of the new recruits like Keaton Jennings and Oli Pope, even if they don’t field slip for their counties.
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You must have consistent personnel in the slips.
Clearly, the keeper is consistent in choice and in his identified space.
Then first slip takes his place depending on the diving distance of the keeper.
Second slip does likewise and third slip too.
But once you change the personnel the new chaps will be unsure what his neighbour goes for and what is his own catch. A moment’s hesitation will be costly as you either miss the ball looking for your neighbour or you will clang it as the timing of the catch becomes too late while you snatch at it and don’t pouch it with soft hands.
For last week’s engaging Test in Southampton, someone (the management or Joe Root) rightly insisted there was no Pope, Jennings or Buttler in the slips but re-employed Root and Stokes and it worked!
Root more recently liked to be away from the slips and as captain he has much on his plate; the captain obviously likes being at mid-off or mid-on, so he can chat with bowlers Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad.
These two dominating bowlers like moving fields sometime at the annoyance of the skipper, but being adjacent to them prevents that.
However, Root and Stokes together with the wicketkeeper did a fine job and basically took what was offered at slip making England’s job of taking just the 20 wickets so much easier.
Had they dropped their average of five per Test then England would have lost in Southampton with India in the ascendancy at 2-2.
For me, England would have been ripe for the taking at The Oval too.
To re-inforce my point I look back to my career with Essex.
My slip catching cordon was frequently David East or Mike Garnham (wicketkeeper), Derek Pringle (first slip), Graham Gooch (second) with Kenny McEwan or Mark Waugh (third).
Mark Waugh was undoubedly the very best slip fieldsman I have ever seen.
Nasser Hussain was quite good but only got in the ‘grabbers’ when one of the aformentioned was bowling or away with England.
That was a part of why Essex were so powerful in that era.
We simply didn’t drop many!
I’ll be at The Oval next week and do hope I’ll see Alastair Cook’s final Test innings.
I always remember my father talking about being at The Oval for Sir Donald Bradman’s final innings back in 1948.
Bradman was bowled out for a duck but if he had made just four runs – he would have had a Test batting average of 100!
Cook hasn’t any stats to gain but he is England’s highest aggregate run maker (12,254) some 4,000 more than the next placed batsman. He has most centuries, most caps, most wins and most catches. Don’t discount a Cook century because that’s his greatest asset – his mental application and toughness.
Many greats from the game, have offered some wonderful tributes about Cook.
I would like to add that Cook had planned to announce his retirement after the series win at the Southampton Test last week.
He changed his mind after the wonderful ‘man of the match’ performance of Mooen Ali and the team.
Cook didn’t want to take the headlines away from them – that’s another measure of the man.
Alastair Cook, take a bow, enjoy everything at The Oval and thanks for ‘Opening the Batting’ brilliantly for 12 years!
Go Well Chef!