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Long before Kevin Costner started making crap films about futuristic societies such as Water World and The Postman, he appeared in the classic baseball movie Bull Durham. Among other apposite lines was the sage observation that baseball is a simple game and offered the advice that, “You throw the ball, you hit the ball and you catch the ball.”

Needless to say that Costner has (presumably) never visited the magnificent Offley Oval. Yet if he were to turn up he might see some feeble efforts at throwing the ball (Wayne Cutts’ body-popping exploits against Luton Indians spring to mind, apparently trying to throw the ball at the stumps while performing a move from the Bangles’ Walk Like an Egyptian video), the odd attempt to hit the ball and the truly pathetic efforts of Offley’s finest to catch the ball.

To suggest that Offley’s fielding efforts have declined over recent seasons is something of an understatement. In an era where players are deemed unfit for international duty if they are unable to field to a suitably high standard, Offley have started the season with a series of shambolic displays in the field that leave the purists longing for the glory days when Messrs Bains and Boatwright produced an impenetrable steel ring between point and cover.

Long gone are the days when Keith Towndrow could snaffle anything that came in his way and help disguise the general ineptitude around him. Jon Cerasale’s advancing years and loss of speed have also robbed the team of one of their more reliable catchers in the deep and although Richie Barker generally catches what he gets to the range seems to diminish with every passing week.

Towndrow’s ability to cover a wide arc between gully and mid off (and a similar area on the leg side if he was chasing after a caught and bowled opportunity) meant that weak links could be glossed over without too much trouble.

The likes of Bobby Boatwright and Stephen Hawking could have been deployed on either side of Towndrow and he would inevitably have come up with the catch. (Interesting point – if you had to stake your life on it, would you bet on Hawking or Boatwright to hold on to a skyer?)

Times have changed.

Today it’s left mainly to Nathan Brodie and Mark Tattersall to fight a losing battle against the plague of dropped chances that afflicts the club. Brodie seems ready to throw himself about the field like a demented lunatic and generally sets the tone in the field. However, seasoned analysts have begun to wonder how long it will be before Tattersall’s burgeoning dart player’s physique begins to take its toll on his athletic endeavours and restricts him to catching whatever is hit directly at him. The continued absence of Gary Davison owing to house moving / family gathering / kennel decorating duties has also had a detrimental effect.

Yet in contrast to Brodie’s and (for the moment) Tattersall’s ability to hold on to practically everything that comes his way, the rest of the squad appear to be fairly limited when the ball hurtles towards them.

Mo Chaudry generally looks as if he’s ready to hold on to everything but has managed to dislocate his finger in the process of dropping the odd chance while Colin Keeley could perhaps lay some justifiable claim to being the third best catcher in the club, a tag that would have been preposterous back in the days when he used to graze in the outfield, whittling sticks and gazing longingly at aeroplanes. Admittedly that claim took a knock when he shelled a sitter in his first appearance of the season….

Despite his prowess as a ground fielder, Darren Lunney still shows an almost tragic tendency to drop chances. In recent times Lunney has become a byword for missed sitters and has displayed a lemming-like enthusiasm for dropping catches. Chris Latino has proved that he has nerves of steel, a ribcage of iron but also has a tendency to display hands of stone. Cutts’ attempts at catching the ball invariably involve plenty of hand waving and a decent impersonation of a distressed traffic cop. Steve Bexfield has never really inspired confidence under the high ball, be it due to a combination of little hands or failing eyesight and it’s hard to see him reinventing himself as Jonty Rhodes at this stage of the day.

Steve Hoar has impressed with the bat since joining from Luton Indians but his ratio of two drops for every catch needs to improve. Matt Freeman has managed to avoid dropping a catch thus far this season, chiefly by the admirable method of being banished to fine leg as a result of some rather ropey bowling. Chris “The Kestrel” Austin is off to a rocky start behind the stumps since returning from his Alpine training camp while Qumar remains the fielder that eight out of ten batsmen would like to hit a dolly to in the hope of a reprieve.

So is there a solution, a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, a ray of hope on the horizon? Can Offley solve their catching difficulties or are they going to have to persist with creating 15 chances in order to bowl a side out?

In all honesty – and this is a fairly sad indictment of the way things are going – the answer is probably not.

News that the slip cradle has been repaired and is now available for fielders to practice their skills should be tempered by the fact that the club’s pacemen generally induce about four slip catches a year (at least three of which will be on the same bouncy strip away from home). Furthermore the prospect of a widespread bout of broken fingers resulting from over-exuberant use of the cradle would stretch the resources of an already thin squad to breaking point.

Catching practice is a fairly quaint idea but with some members of the team opting to turn up after the toss there isn’t really much opportunity to indulge in anything useful. Besides there are myriad rabbit holes to fill in (the ones littering the outfield, not the names of the batsmen at 8, 9, 10 and 11) and it’s too cold at the moment anyway.

All in all it’s not a particularly promising scenario and with certain fielders more likely to drop a beach ball than catch a cricket ball it could prove to be a long season with plenty of anguish for the bowlers. . . . . .