IPL 2017: Spilled catches, uppity shots, rare yorkers — this season needs a dose of the 'old-school'

On Tuesday night, batting on 29 against the Delhi Daredevils, Yuvraj Singh top-edged a pull shot towards deep square leg fielder Sanju Samson. Four nights prior to Yuvraj's shot, the ball had flown off Robin Uthappa’s bat and had landed within arm’s reach of Samson and his colleague, Amit Mishra. On this occasion as well, Samson, manning the boundary by himself, dropped the catch after a bobble.

And it’s not just 22-year-old Samson, players across teams, toppers to wooden spoon contenders, have dropped regulation catches in this season of the Indian Premier League (IPL). There have been one-time offenders, such as Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Jaydev Unadkat; repeat offenders such as Robin Uthappa; and even trusted hands like Ravindra Jadeja and Virat Kohli, who have made a mess of straightforward catches, aka 'dollies'.

The spills have given another life to dangerous batsmen (Uthappa owes most to this 'butterfingers' epidemic), ruined bowling figures of the likes of Trent Boult (KKR’s culprits owe him a foot massage every night) and unsurprisingly, swung results.

In the long run, an entire IPL tournament often gets stored away into our memories by one striking feature. If this season was like an episode of the hit TV series F.R.I.E.N.D.S, it would be titled, 'The one with the dropped catches'. The count, according to Kevin Pietersen, was 'in the mid-60s', and that was eight matches back. We are heading towards an embarrassing century that no team wants credit for.

Both old hands such as Mishra and young guns such as Sanju Samson have been culprits of some shoddy catching and fielding this season. Source: BCCI

Both old hands such as Amit Mishra and young guns such as Sanju Samson have been culprits of some shoddy catching and fielding this season. Source: BCCI

While every dropped catch has a distinct reason for the hand-eye mismatch behind it, it’s tough to not see a pattern here. With the jam-packed calendar of the IPL – eight weeks of rigorous travelling, withstanding ranking table pressure and dancing in after parties – there is little time for practice drills, such as high catches.

Such drills are assumed to have been taken during the formative years of the boys, not when there’s time for just one net session in-between two back-to-back, must-win games. But, have the IPL’s poster boys and wonder kids put in those long hours in catching when nobody was watching, we can’t be so sure.

Would they rather master the reverse-sweep and 'Dil-scoop' or have blisters on their hand from taking 100 catches a day? Ask the teams’ old-school coaches, and they’ll say both are possible.

They would also say that they’re peeved to see the number of batsmen playing loose shots in the air and getting out. The biggest culprits, again, have been Delhi’s lads, who possess a devil-may-care attitude towards grounding their strokes like some of Punjab’s big-hitting names.

Of course, one may argue that IPL, with its smaller boundaries, thrives on sixes like Ravi Shastri thrives on his swagger; but when a talented batsman’s muscle memory makes him balloon a shot and get caught, when he could have kept it down and run two, it becomes a problem.

This ailment has gone viral but it’s still not an epidemic, for we have young guns such as Sanju Samson playing sweetly timed ground shots and still riding on a strike-rate touching 140. There will be trouble, though, when the IPL’s famed 'future Indian batsmen’ go abroad, over-rely on their newly shaped forearms and hit shots that would be sixes back home but would be caught in the deep. And the Australians and the South Africans, as we know, don’t drop many.

Those struggling with this simply need to watch and emulate how the finest batsmen across formats ground their drives and cuts – Kane Williamson, Steve Smith and Kohli for instance. Of course, that’s only if they admit that they don’t have the gifts of timing and power a la Virendra Sehwag and Chris Gayle.

The last chink in this shiny, branded armour of IPL this season has been the paucity of yorkers. The ailment is only third in order of effect on match results, but the sight of a toe-crushing, perfectly aimed yorker getting rarer is a sign of waning old-school practices.

Yorkers this season have been so less, it’s easy to count the ones who bowl them regularly – Nehra, Bumrah, Malinga, Shami and Bhuvaneshwar are the only prominent ones in a pool of over 30 fast bowlers.

This guaranteed wicket-taking, dot-ball inducing tool comes with a rider though – deviation of even an inch often results in a boundary. Fast-bowlers can only reduce this margin of error in the nets, by putting shoes near the stumps, bending their backs and aiming away.

For a product that has prided itself on pushing the envelopes of batting, bowling and fielding, this season has been an advertisement of the opposite. The key to having more such spectacles in the future would be to take a look back, and to return to the old school drawing board.

Updated Date: May 03, 2017 15:00 PM

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