This is part of the specialist fielding series of articles, for the full list of fielding positions covered click here.
As a slip you are the highest profile fielding position because you are at the sharpest end of the game.
Catch the nicks that come and the bowlers will love you forever. Put even the hardest chance down and be prepared for long stares from everyone in the side. There is no hiding place and no respite even when nothing has come to you all day.
Slips are an attacking field position. That is to say, they are placed with the single aim of catching the ball that has struck the outside edge of the bat, either from a defensive or an attacking shot by the batsman.
For this reason the slips field behind the wicket on the off side, relatively close. Depending on the pace of the bowler and the wicket they could be anything from 4-20 metres from the batsman.
Because an edge is an out-of-control shot the ball can travel at angles from the bat. This means a fine edge could go just wide of the wicket-keeper to first slip but a thicker edge could go as wide as fourth or even fifth slip.
As the slip position covers a wide area there are several ways to lay out the slip cordon:
- No slips: In situations where wickets are not important (later in limited over games, or bowling for a declaration) the slips can be removed completely and be better places at third man and backward point.
- One slip: A single slip is common with spinners (especially ones moving the ball away from the bat). It's also used by seamers who are moving to a more defensive field but are still hoping for an edge, or those who tend to move the ball in towards the batsman and have close catchers on the leg side.
- Two slips: This is a very common configuration in club cricket early in the game where wickets are needed and so a wider area needs to be covered for the catch. It's usually combined with a gulley fielder.
- Three slips: Quicker bowlers, or medium pacers on the attack can add an extra slip if there is enough carry. Sometimes the gulley is better employed at third slip depending on the style of batsman and the line and length of the bowler.
- More slips: It's very unusual to see more than 3 slips, but with very quick and accurate bowlers moving the ball away on fast wickets it's possible to have 4-5. With this many slips, not many balls will be pitched up.
When it comes to deciding where to stand in the slips, the traditional coaching books still have it right:
- Take your cue from the wicket-keeper. First slip stands a little way back from the keeper, 2nd slip will be roughly level
- Stand arms length away from the 'keeper or other slips.
- In general stand a bit too close rather than a bit too far away. It's better to have dropped ball that flys off an edged drive than to see a defensive edge drop short.
- On very slow and low pitches you may find that the slips have to come closer than orthodox to make sure edges carry. Here you may see 2nd slip in front of the keeper and first slip almost level.
In modern times, wider, or staggered, slips have been used to try and cover a wider area. Here the fielder stands wider than the orthodox position to try and cover more area. For example, if you have an athletic keeper who can dive in front of 1st slip to take catches, the slip can move wider to cover 1st and 2nd. You can apply this theory to any slip position (for example spreading out 2 slips to cover 3 positions). The risk here is that the ball will be edged between the slips so your fielding needs to be even better.
Perhaps the most important part of slip fielding is your ability to stay focused. You may field for 50 or more overs with nothing coming to you then on the last ball of the day you get a difficult chance to win the match. You need to have to concentration to be focused on every ball the same.
It would be impossible to stay laser-focused the entire day, so the secret is to concentrate hard as the bowler is about to bowl the ball, stay alert until the ball is dead then relax between balls. The good thing about slip fielding is there is always someone to chat to between balls. The less this chat is about cricket, the better you concentrate when you have to switch back on.
There is some debate about what you focus on in the slips. The standard advice is to watch the ball if you are fielding at first and watch the edge of the bat if you are fielding wider. This is not hard and fast rule though, so experiment with both in practice to see what is most comfortable for you and gives you the best reaction time.
Ways to practice
Slip fielding is crucial to a team's success so a good captain and/or coach will pick out the 3 or 4 fielders most likely to be slips and make sure they are getting the right practice.
First, make sure your technique is spot on and close to copybook:
- A relaxed stance with bent knees ready to move quickly in any direction.
- When the ball is edged, watch the ball, keep your head over the line and let the ball come into the hands, giving slightly.
- Even if you are an experienced slip fielder there is no harm in revisiting these key point by tossing a tennis ball to each other, knocking up some slip catches with a cricket ball in the warm up.
With technique sound, you can make practice a little more realistic to a game situation. You can do this with a series of fielding drills designed to replicate slip catching like this one and this one.
In an ideal world you will do some kind of catching drill every day. More realistically, every practice session needs the potential slips to go away on their own for a few minutes and focus on getting catching right.
Slip catching is specialist because such long periods can go by without a slip being required but every chance that arrives is golden. The only way to get good at this is to practice it until your hands hurt and it becomes second nature.