By Tony Cozier
At KENSINGTON OVAL
As England batted through the last day of the fourth Test for the predictable draw yesterday, the West Indies would have, should have, brooded over one of cricket’s most relevant maxims.
Catches do win matches and, if the run-filled excellence of the Kensington Oval pitch neutered the limited bowling of both sides, their chances of winning this one were erased by a standard of fielding that would have embarrassed and angered any school coach.
Five of England’s top seven batsmen in their first innings benefited from dropped catches. Andrew Strauss was missed at 58 and made 142. Alistair Cook, out for 94, didn’t make similar use of his luck at 85 and 86. Kevin Pietersen was put down at 20 on his way to 41.
The most expensive were Ravi Bopara (dropped at 4, scored 104) and Tim Ambrose (reprieved before he had scored his unbeaten 78).
All together, they cost the West Indies 298 runs. England made 600 for six declared. The math is simple. They would have been restricted to, let us say, 350 and the match would have taken an entirely different course.
Nor was it just the actual expense. The disheartening effect was obvious. Bowlers who have to work hard enough in such conditions are exasperated, even angry, when their fielders so badly let them down.
No one worked harder or was more unfortunate than Fidel Edwards whose efforts were diminished by the misses off Strauss, Pietersen and Bopara who he had set up for their false shots with his hostility.
No team can expect any success with such carelessness. None has ever achieved greatness without fielding standards to support their bowling.
The indomitable West Indies under Clive Lloyd were powered by fast bowling as formidable as any in the game but they would have had a far less phenomenal record had they been as generous to their opponents as their present successors.
As an Australian, head coach John Dyson must appreciate the situation. He held the finest outfield catch in my experience, from Sylvester Clarke in the 1981 Sydney Test.
He has gathered around him fellow countrymen C.J.Clark as physiotherapist and Steve Folkes as strength and fitness trainer. He now needs a fielding coach, such as those who attend most other international teams, someone to place more of an emphasis on this aspect of the game.
If he is in any doubt about the capacity of fielding to boost even the weakest of teams, he needs only refer to the example of the South Africans in Australia in 1952-53.
They were so disregarded the tour was almost cancelled because it was felt they were too weak to compete with the powerful home team. As it was they shared the series 2-2.
“Rarely in the history of international cricket has a team so thoroughly routed the prophets,” Wisden reported. It gave as the main reason for its success “a standard of fielding which truly deserved the description of brilliant”.
“On arrival in Australia, (captain) Cheetam told friends that he might not be leading a strong batting or bowling side but he was resolved that they should excel in the field,” it added. “At times in the opening fortnight at Perth, the South Africans devoted three to four hours a day to fielding alone and to the end of the tour they practised fielding as assiduously as batting and bowling”.
It’s the kind of effort the West Indies now need to complement their improvement in other areas.