Steve Smith is one of the most prolific catchers in Test history, but the Australian vice-captain had a day to forget in the slip cordon at Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium on Friday.
The 33-year-old put down two regulation chances on day two of the Nagpur Test against India – one proved not very costly, while the other left a sour taste in his teammates’ mouths at stumps.
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Australia took the second new ball after the tea break, and captain Pat Cummins immediately found success by drawing an outside edge from rival skipper Rohit Sharma, who was unbeaten on 118 at the time.
But Smith couldn’t hold onto the catch at second slip, with the ball slapping into his wrists before rolling towards deep third man.
It was the first chance Sharma had offered in 211 deliveries at the crease. Smith shook his head in frustration.
Thankfully for Australia, Sharma couldn’t take advantage of the reprieve – Cummins knocked him over the following delivery with an absolute peach that seamed away from the right-hander and crashed into off stump.
Later in the evening session, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel combined for an unbeaten 81-run partnership for the eighth wicket to frustrate the Australian and push India’s lead towards 150.
Nathan Lyon, bowling his 37th over of the innings, thought he had unearthed a crucial breakthrough on the penultimate ball of the day, getting a delivery to turn and catch the outside edge of Jadeja’s bat.
But once again, Smith couldn’t get the job done. Standing upright at first slip, he desperately threw out his right hand to no avail, ultimately flailing on the turf after putting down another chance.
“What a nightmare this is for a slips fieldsman,” former Australian batter Matthew Hayden said in commentary.
“Sort of remained unsighted there. Should have made a better effort than that. Concentration factor – second last ball of the day. Bang. Gotta be on!”
Former Indian captain Sunil Gavaskar continued: “Absolutely, he wasn’t bending low. I don’t think he was expecting the catch to come there.
“The back isn’t bent and the catch came towards the knee. So that can make the difference. Yes, it’s been a long day. It’s been a tiring day, but the last couple of deliveries is where your concentration is most tested.
“Tough day for Steve Smith, he’ll feel it. he’s a good catcher.”
It was uncharacteristic for Smith to miss multiple chances in the field – he is currently fifth on Australia’s all-time tally for most Test catches with 151 in 93 matches. Only New Zealand’s Stephen Fleming has taken more Test catches at a faster rate.
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Earlier in the Nagpur Test, India’s Virat Kohli came under fire for botching two slip catches during Australia’s first innings, handing an extra life to Smith and Peter Handscomb on day one.
“It’s like he doesn’t think the ball will come to him, looks away from the game,” former Test batter Mark Waugh said in commentary.
“You have got to read the play. You have got to pretend you are actually batting when you are fielding at first slip to the spinners.
“Your legs have to be lot closer to be able to move quickly. Kohli was very high-up in his position. Should have stayed down a bit. He should have done a little bit better. Almost as if he wasn’t expecting it.
“He’s a pretty good fielder but there are a few technical things that he can work on. Those chances that dropped they both came quickly. Maybe change a couple of things, the way he stands and then he won’t drop any more catches.”
India was 7-321 at stumps on day two, leading by 144 runs with Jadeja unbeaten on 66 and Patel at the other end on 52.
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