Thu, 24 Oct 2019

Pakistan have dropped 13 catches so far in this World Cup. At Edgbaston on Wednesday they continue their fight to stay in contention for a semi-final spot. New Zealand - this might surprise you if you haven't watched them closely - have dropped 12 catches. At Edgbaston on Wednesday, New Zealand can win and guarantee themselves a semi-final spot.

Pakistan dropped six catches against South Africa at Lord's and won the game comfortably. New Zealand dropped more than a few against West Indies at Old Trafford and scraped home. Let's then phrase this as respectfully and gently as possible, that the old chestnut that catches win matches is little more than a neat but vapid rhyme. Of course catches can win matches, just as a million other things, big and small, can. Wickets for example; runs too; also umpiring calls.

No team over the years has fought harder to prove the fallacy of this saying than Pakistan, rarely more so than at Lord's on Sunday. Because even when Wahab Riaz dropped Quinton de Kock in the very first over of South Africa's chase - a strange, awkward attempt to crocodile-cup a catch while diving at mid-on that didn't need crocodile-cupped hands - little about the way the moment played out suggested it would prove costly.

For one, Pakistan's ground fielding was as sharp as it has been at any stage in recent memory. Inside the circle, balls went straight and clean into hands, not dribbling out. Even Mohammad Hafeez, always a safe catcher but never an especially athletic mover, was proving difficult to get past.

Through the innings Pakistan fumbled just four balls in the outfield, according to ESPNcricinfo data. In terms of runs saved in the field over the course of the innings, Pakistan's fielding saved four runs and conceded four runs, a net runs saved total of zero.

That might not sound spectacular but it was one of their better performances in a tournament in which they have, in total now, a net run saving of -9 (the idea being that this figure should be a high positive). That puts them joint third-poorest in the tournament, alongside Sri Lanka, behind Afghanistan and also - surprisingly - India (-11 runs saved in this reading).

But what was important was that each time a catch was spilled against South Africa, Pakistan didn't unravel in the field. They maintained their standards, even after dropping Rassie van der Dussen and David Miller twice in two balls. It's difficult to pinpoint why it should be that way, that a team can drop six catches in the field and yet still maintain a high standard of ground fielding.

Mickey Arthur has consistently said it comes down to attitude, that more than a discipline like batting and bowling, it is an attitude. "We can't do more," he said before their game against India. "We've worked the boys incredibly hard. Fielding is an attitude. Batting and bowling is something that you can't really control because you're up against somebody else. Fielding, you can control. You can control your attitude in the field."

One relation could be to the bowling, that if a side bowls well, the fielding generally - not always - follows. Pakistan did bowl well against South Africa - their first all-round solid bowling performance in the tournament - and the fielding responded. They have not bowled well consistently in their other games and the fielding has dipped. This is, it should be pointed out, perhaps an empirical over-simplification.

The drops themselves are difficult to explain, for an international sports team that presumably practices this on a near-daily basis. After South Africa, Arthur was striving for an answer as desperately as anyone else. "That's the million-dollar question. We train and we train and we train, and we've put in massive amounts of work. That's something we'll be exploring again in the next couple of days because we can't be dropping that many catches and expect to beat teams."

In one sense though, you could write off Lord's as a freak occurrence as far as the dropped chances go - one, two, even three opportunities happen often enough but Pakistan nearly doubled their dropped chances tally for the tournament in one game. Three of the chances fell to one player - Mohammad Amir, who isn't a fielder for prominent positions but has been a fairly safe catcher on the rare occasions when called upon for it.

It could be, as Azhar Mahmood pointed out, just one of those days. "If you drop a catch once, then if you're thinking about it and the ball comes again... we speak often of how the ball just gets after you, it follows you all day some days. That is what happened [with Amir] - but if you have that confidence that if it comes to me again I will take it then it makes a difference."

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