Arshdeep Singh was in the news for the wrong reason during the India-Pakistan Asia Cup Super 4 match that took place in Dubai last Sunday. In a closely fought game that Pakistan won with just one ball to spare, Arshdeep dropped Asif Ali off Ravi Bishnoi's bowling in the the 18th over of the chase. Game was tightly poised at that stage with Pakistan’s score reading 151/4 and Ali had not opened his account when the lapse happened. Ali made full use of this breather and scored 16 runs off eight balls to keep his side in the race. Though Arshdeep dismissed Ali in the last over of the match by trapping him leg before wicket, Pakistan could not be denied.
Social media erupted with angry posts directed at Arshdeep in the wake of the defeat suffered by India. Pictures of skipper Rohit Sharma showing his annoyance in no uncertain terms at the dropped catch also went viral. This was doubly unfortunate as but for this mistake Arshdeep had a good game. He had bowled brilliantly, picking up one wicket conceding only 27 runs off 3.5 overs, which included the one bowled at the death as well. Further, it is never proper to blame one player alone for the loss as many factors contribute to the result. The good news is that there was a spontaneous show of support for Arshdeep from many present and former players as well from followers of the game across the country.
Is it such a sin to drop a catch? After all, catches have been dropped from the time cricket started being played. Taking catches is important as this is the most common manner in which bowling side gets wickets of batsmen. It is common sense that a side that drops fewer catches wins more matches. The adage 'catches win matches' has been coined to highlight the importance of this aspect. But, it is also seen that despite rigorous practice, catches get dropped occasionally. Even the best of fielders have dropped catches and no one who has played cricket will be able to claim not to have grassed sitters. But, on some occasions, the consequences of the drop tend to be more in terms of runs scored by the reprieved batsman and in some instances it can even have a bearing on the outcome of the match.
Since the topic is dropped catches, one should also talk about the notorious dropped catches in Indian cricket history. Among the few that come to mind readily, the most expensive in terms of runs will be discussed first. In the first Test of the series against England in 1990, India won the toss and chose to bowl. Bishan Singh Bedi, the team manager, had asked skipper Mohammad Azharuddin to choose to bat but the latter was influenced by some senior players who were worried about the cloud cover. Bedi, with his years of experience in county cricket, knew that cloud cover would vanish quickly and the pitch was a good one for batting first. Graham Gooch, who opened the batting for England, was on 36 when he edged one from medium-pacer Sanjeev Sharma, but Kiran More, the Indian wicketkeeper, spilled a straightforward catch. Gooch did not look back after that and went on to score 333, which won the game for his side.
Another dropped catch that had significance was the one involving Eknath Solkar and Brijesh Patel in the second Test of the series against the West Indies at Trinidad in 1976. After losing the first Test by a huge margin, India came back strongly in the second, taking a lead of 161 runs in the first innings. They had the West Indies in a spot in the second innings at 52/3 when skipper Clive Lloyd joined Lawrence Rowe at the crease. This was the last recognised pair and one more wicket would have swung the game firmly in India’s favour. At this juncture Lloyd launched into an on drive to a delivery bowled by S Venkataraghavan but he was surprised by the bounce and turn of the ball and skied it. The ball rose to mid off where Solkar, who was fielding as a substitute, got under it. But Patel, another good fielder, rushed in from extra cover and collided with Solkar, resulting in the ball dropping safely to the ground. Lloyd guided his side to safety, with a fine 70 as the match ended in a draw.
Lloyd was the beneficiary on another occasion, during the last Test of the 1974-75 series played in India. After losing the first two Tests, India struck back to win the next two and the series was interestingly poised when the last match began at the brand new Wankhade Stadium in Mumbai. Batting first, the West Indies got off to a good start and reached 194 when Lloyd walked in at the fall of the second wicket. Lloyd had scored a century and a fifty in the first two Tests but failed in the next two, which indicated the extent to which the visitors depended on a good performance from him. Lloyd was on eight when he failed to keep down a forward defensive push and lobbed a simple catch back to Bedi, the bowler. But Bedi failed to hold on to this offering. Lloyd made the most of this reprieve and went on to score an unbeaten 242, thus putting the issue beyond the hosts.
India’s tour of the West Indies in 1983 was one of the toughest undertaken by the national side as it meant taking on the strongest team in international cricket in its own den. Further, this series followed a tour of Pakistan where India were demolished 3-0 by Imran Khan and company performing at their peak. In the West Indies, India lost the first Test but managed to hold on to draws in the next two. In the fourth Test played on a rain-affected wicket at Barbados, the visitors were dismissed for 209 in the first innings. The hosts started well and reached 220 for the loss of one wicket but the Indian spin bowlers picked up three quick wickets to bring their side back into the game. Gus Logie, who was batting with skipper Lloyd, was distinctly uncomfortable against spin and edged one from Ravi Shastri and the ball lobbed to Venkataraghavan, standing at slip. But, to the surprise of everyone around, Venkat, one of the most reliable fielders close to the wicket, dropped the dolly. Logie stuck around and finally managed to get on top of the bowling to score 130 as the West Indies went on to take a first innings huge lead. For the record, the hosts won the Test by a margin of 10 wickets.
The most famous of all the dropped catches in international cricket is the reprieve that Stave Waugh got in the last Super Six match of the 1999 World Cup played between Australia and South Africa, where the former needed a victory to qualify for the semifinals. The Aussies were struggling hard to stay in the game when Waugh flicked Lance Klusener straight to Herschelle Gibbs, an outstanding fielder. Gibbs held the ball but tried to throw it up in an attempt at celebration without gaining full control over it, and ended up dropping it. Waugh rode on this stroke of good fortune to score a brilliant unbeaten 120 and steered his side to semifinals and thence to World Cup triumph.
I have recounted these instances as the players involved, with the possible exception of Bedi, were all known for their excellent fielding. Solkar was widely acknowledged as one of the best fielders to have graced the game, while Venkat and Patel had earned well deserved reputation for their fielding and catching prowess. More donned the big gloves for the national side in 49 Tests and was considered to have a safe pair of hands behind the stumps. Gibbs was recognised as one the best fielders in the world.
It is evident from the above that even the best of fielders have made mistakes and dropped easy catches. Such mistakes do not bring down the stature of the cricketers involved but only goes to show that they are also humans, prone to the occasional error. In none of these instances were the players who dropped catches berated by their colleagues or captain in public. Nor were they subject to severe criticism by the media and fans. Those who have played cricket and long-time followers of this game know that such instances happen all the time in sports, where even the best can have a bad day. Younger generations should acknowledge this reality and accept the fact that beauty of sports lies in its unpredictability. Knee-jerk reactions to mistakes and failures will only serve to undermine the confidence of new entrants to international cricket.
A nation aspiring for top global slot in any sport needs not only champion performers on the field but discerning and knowledgeable followers as well. The presence of such an audience alone will give the players the confidence to play without worries and apprehensions about failures.
(The author is a former international cricket umpire and a senior bureaucrat)