Rahul Dravid, speaking on the Lessons Learnt with the Greats podcast, gave a detailed insight into how he became of the world’s greatest slip fielders ever, admitting that he wasn’t a natural to begin with, but perfected the art with relentless grind.
Dravid, who took 210 catches in 164 Tests, the most by an outfielder in Test history, was a wicketkeeper at the U-15 and U-17 level, but strong competition within Karnataka, his state team, forced him to “give up the gloves at the age of 17-18”. Having turned into a specialist batsman, and looking at ways to contribute more as a player, Dravid then started taking his fielding seriously.
“I love being involved,” Dravid said. “I wasn’t a good enough bowler to be able to contribute with the ball. I tried my best. So I sort of figured out ‘How do you contribute to the team? What do you do?’. I mean, sitting there as a batsman, what can I do really well, and one of the things was, if I catch well, it’s a contribution. You feel you’re involved, you’re playing a part.
“I had to work on it, I don’t think I was as much a natural, but I had to practise a lot of slip catching, and one of the really good pieces of technical advice that I received early on was to ensure that the weight was on the balls of my feet and ensuring that my balance was really good as a fielder, and ensuring I got into a really good position.”
Two years into his Test career, he got to work with Australia great Bob Simpson, who briefly served as a consultant to the Indian team, helping Dravid fine-tune the basics of slip fielding.
“I remember Bobby Simpson came and spent some time with the Indian team in 1998/99 and he took us through a lot of slip catching drills. And one of the things he stressed on a lot was having your feet bent a little bit so that you could get your weight into the balls of your feet. That was something I took to heart and practised a lot.”
“Even watching someone like Mark Waugh, the way he stood, in some ways I used to watch that. It was a really good Australian slip-catching unit: you had [Mark] Taylor, Waugh, they were really, really good, and you used to sort of watch them.”
Stressing that fielding is a trait that can be improved by working hard, unlike batting and bowling which require one to be “a little gifted”, Dravid said that he used to challenge himself by standing at different distances to spinners during practice.
“Slip catching, a lot of it, is about practice – the more practice you can do, the variety of practice you can do – it’s not mindlessly taking catches. I think catching [to] spinners was a very important thing for India, about a hundred of those catches are off two spinners – [Anil] Kumble and Harbhajan [Singh], I took about 60 of them playing in India – we do prepare turning tracks!”