Enormous hands and superb reactions make Ollie Rayner ideally suited to the slips, but it’s technique and practice that have helped him become one of the finest close-catchers on the county circuit. Here the Middlesex spinner explains the art of slip fielding and how you can give yourself the best possible chance of clinging on.
One thing I would always say is: every cricketer is capable of taking a slip catch. The difference between the slips and people who don’t generally field there very frequently is how they react when there’s actually a nick. You stand there with the coach at the start of the day, he whacks a load of balls at you and everyone catches them.
The key to being a slip fielder is you could stand there for six hours doing nothing and then one comes to you. That’s when you’ve got to take it and not panic.
I’d recommend lots of general catching – it doesn’t have to be under pressure, it doesn’t have to be at lightning speeds, it could be just tennis balls. But you need to take a high volume of catches and get used to having the ball in the middle of your mitts.
Then try and work in some sort of distraction, trying to catch under a bit more pressure. For example, you can use a Katchet ramp to make the path of the ball less predictable and then add certain things to that. Ask someone to wave a stump in front of your eyes, trying to put you off. Or you could get someone to wave a cloth, almost like a matador, so you can see when the ball’s coming. Slip catches are not always going to come straight to you and these training methods make you catch more reactively. But be careful! We don’t want any injuries.
Then we’ll get whoever’s going to be fielding in the slips – say, keeper, first slip, second slip, third slip – and we’ll have a feeder chucking balls at someone with a bat who deflects it. You can’t get anything in training that replicates taking a slip catch in a game – it’s just impossible unless you have a practice game in the middle and one happens to come to you – so in order to get a good volume of catches we get a batsman to edge them to us deliberately. Obviously you know the catches are coming but it could go to any one of the three or four slips who are doing the drill, so that does add an element of ‘what’s mine, what’s yours?’ and a bit of left-right, up-down from the feeder’s point of view.
GO YOUR OWN WAY
It’s important to remember that slip catching isn’t the same for everybody. We played against Essex recently and I had a chat with Alastair Cook and I couldn’t believe how late he left it to go down into his stance – he leaves it almost until the bowler’s in his action, whereas I would be down halfway through their run-up, or at least before the last quarter of it. That’s just a preference thing. We do it differently but both catch the ball pretty well.
Alastair said he likes to go a little bit narrower in his stance to make himself a little bit taller, and he felt that that helped him move better – up and down to the ball. I’m a big guy and probably not as athletic as Alastair and I like to go with quite a wide stance. The only problem with that is it can limit your explosiveness moving to your left or right, but it’s just a case of practice and preference. Like everything you do in cricket, you’ve just got to find a way.
I like to let the ball come to me as much as possible. I don’t like to snatch out at the ball or grab it in front of me – I generally try and take it right under my head.
You can’t always do that, because you’ll be diving or you’ll be caught on one leg more than the other and have to go the other way, but generally try and get your head as near to the ball as you possibly can.
As for my feet, if the ball is going to my right I open out my right leg a bit, just to help my access to the ball, and vice versa if the ball is going to my left. I actually do some keeping stuff sometimes to help me with this. They’re the best catchers and they do a lot of hip mobilisation. They’ll also do a lot of catching with their left hand to their right-hand side, and their right hand to their left hand side. That helps get your shoulders and your head all moving together – it accentuates all the movements.
When kids are taught to catch they’re told to take the ball in front of them and as it comes in, bring their arms in almost behind them, but I don’t ‘give’ at all with my slip catching. By that I mean I don’t cushion the ball at all. If you watch a keeper, they’ll take a ball and they won’t move, they’ll just bring their hands together and it will thud in, and that’s generally how I like to catch in the slips.
FIRST v SECOND
You might not be lucky enough to choose your position in the slips but I feel much more comfortable at second slip. At second you don’t have as much time before the ball arrives and that suits me perfectly – the less thinking that I do in the cricket, generally the better it goes for me!
I like the short reaction time: it just comes and you catch it. I also found that fielding at first slip didn’t help my concentration. I had too much going on either side of me, with the keeper and second slip. I don’t like having too much in my eye-line. If you have a strong preference, make sure you get in your captain’s ear!