Dravid, Laxman just won't let them slip by!

Rahul Dravid (right) and VVS Laxman have been two of the safest fielders for India in slips. AFP

Between deliveries, they keep chatting, the taller man in the floppy the more animated, his more introverted friend a patient listener with only the occasional word or two to offer in return.

The ‘floppy’ is the designated – or self-styled! -- slip marker, measuring out paces between the first and second slips, between the second and third, and so on. He does so deliberately and with great care, much to the mirth of his team-mates, but over the years, both he and his first slip pal have walked the talk. Outstandingly.

We are talking, of course, about Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, whose Test careers began within six months of each other.

Dravid and Laxman have grabbed eyeballs with their numerous associations and exploits at the batting crease, but less talked about is their partnership in the slips. Dravid at first slip is one of the more reassuring sights for a bowler, even at 38 when it could be expected that his reflexes might desert him. Laxman, beside him at second, is another outstanding presence with buckets for hands, making difficult catches look remarkably easy but also guilty at times of putting down the easiest ones.

The Bangalorean is Test cricket’s most prolific catcher with 209 catches in 159 matches, while Laxman has held 128 catches in 129 Tests. Dravid also has 196 catches in 344 one-day internationals, easily making him the one with the most catches in international cricket other than a specialist wicket-keeper.

Both men work assiduously on their catching, and are as proud of their catching numbers as their batting numbers. “It gives you great joy in holding catches because it means you have helped a team-mate take a wicket, and you have also contributed to the team’s cause,” Dravid had said after becoming the first fielder to hold 200 catches in Tests, with a  stunning left-handed grab of Dale Steyn late last year.

That, despite Laxman’s constant chatter between deliveries, both are always switched on when the bowler begins his run-up was all too evident during the Eden Gardens Test. Laxman held on to an excellent low catch to his left at second slip on the third evening to get tid of Adrian Barath in a brilliant display of anticipation and alacrity and end a burgeoning association with Kirk Edwards.

Things were beginning to get difficult for the hosts on the fourth afternoon with Darren Bravo and Marlon Samuels in the middle of a counter-attacking partnership when Dravid chipped in, with a smart catch to his right to get rid of the former. One of the most difficult tasks standing at slip is to maintain concentration ball after ball, especially on flat tracks where there is little chance of finding the edge frequently. Dravid was on high alert when Pragyan Ojha took Bravo’s edge; his catch to dismiss Carlton Baugh, also off Ojha as he flung himself to his right, was even more sensational, plastering a huge grin on his face.

“Nice when they stick,” Dravid said later. Nice, indeed, but they don’t just ‘stick’. Slip catches, several of which can turn matches, are seldom held by chance or luck. It won’t just be India’s batting that will be poorer when Dravid and Laxman call time on illustrious their careers.

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