Graham Thorpe drops Matthew Elliott

Thank you, Graham: Mike Smith ended his Test career wicketless after this costly drop

© Getty Images

High Fives

Drop it like it's hot

Records, redemption and ramifications: the consequences of five dropped catches that cannot be forgotten

Daniel Brigham |

Kiran More, England v India, Lord's 1990
I didn't see the drop. Kiran More's, that is, when Graham Gooch was on 36, still 297 runs off his daddy destiny. I was half-watching in my parents' living room. Here was Gooch, pristine whites and an even whiter helmet giving him the look of a moustachioed polar bear, and making a sport suddenly bloom into life.

I didn't see the drop. Perhaps I had scuttled to the kitchen for a sandwich. Perhaps it happened during a toilet break. But I do remember the runs that followed, runs that turned Gooch's score from something achievable in playgrounds into something otherworldly. It became a thing to tell friends, a reason to drag my parents to the sports shop.

I didn't see the drop. But from then on, cricket had shifted in my mind from something dull and grey like teachers, porridge and suits, to something full of possibility and unimaginable numbers. Without More's drop, England would still be searching for their first triple-centurion since 1965 and I would have been lost to the game.

Unknown fielder, Essex v Hampshire, Chelmsford 1992
I was at Chelmsford, my first day of county cricket. Essex, my recently acquired county, were taking on Hampshire. A win for Essex would secure them the Championship. Beyond the boundary was the polar bear, Graham Gooch, and Mark Ilott, who bowled left-arm quick like my new hero Wasim Akram.

There were others but most thrillingly there was Malcolm Marshall bowling for Hampshire. Essex's last pair, the crotchety spinners Peter Such and John Childs, had awoken a murmuring crowd with a squall of miscued sixes and fours. One thumped Marshall towards the midwicket boundary in front of me. The fielder - perhaps Kevin Shine, perhaps Shaun Udal - stood under it, waiting. The crowd barracked. The ball fell in but bounced out from his hands. The crowd cheered. Dropped.

Kiran More's spill made Graham Gooch richer by 297 runs

Kiran More's spill made Graham Gooch richer by 297 runs © Getty Images

Marshall, who should have been in the dressing room, then took his place on the midwicket boundary. I felt sad and as he turned around, I waved, keen for contact. Marshall caught my eye, nodded and waved back. Childs and Such put on 79 comedy runs and Essex won, but for this star-struck ten-year-old, the wave meant more than anything.

Graham Thorpe, England v Australia, Headingley 1997
Australia's dominance over England coincided with my cricketing awakening. Four successive Ashes defeats had left adolescent scars.

Yet here was hope. Australia were 50 for 3 in reply to England's 172, with the series tied at 1-1. Mark Taylor, Greg Blewett and Mark Waugh were gone. On came debutant Mike Smith. In his third over he found Matthew Elliott's edge and it carried at a nice height to Graham Thorpe, the one player the Aussies feared, at first slip. Down went the catch. Down went the hope.

Elliott, on 29, made 199, Australia won by an innings. After the spill, Mike Atherton said to Thorpe, "Don't worry Thorpey, you've only cost us the Ashes." It cost more. It was a drop that showed even England's best players could be sucked into the quagmire, a drop to remind fans that however well the team looked like it was doing, it was a fleeting mirage. It was a drop that confirmed that with England, despair was always on the coat tails of hope.

Monty Panesar, India v England, Mumbai 2006
It is a lonely world, waiting for a ball to reach its peak trajectory, hover, then drop, hurtling towards you. Is pain heading your way? Glory? Humiliation? Will the cheers be real or ironic? Palms pointing up or down?

Not Jonty, it's Monty: Panesar didn't have to live with the humiliation of his Wankhede 2006 drop for too long

Not Jonty, it's Monty: Panesar didn't have to live with the humiliation of his Wankhede 2006 drop for too long © AFP

For the crowd it is the Pinter pause, the moment before the song kicks back in. For Monty Panesar, these moments must have sent him dizzy. Boorishly patronised for his fielding, he was an unusually jerky mover until it looked as if, standing under a high catch, he was a puppet, the ball his puppeteer. In Mumbai, with England closing on a famous series-levelling win, Panesar found himself underneath an MS Dhoni miscue. His limbs fought to settle, but all he could do was spin like a dog chasing its tail. He knew what was coming, the crowd knew. The ball, inevitably, landed safely.

Panesar wasn't safe yet. Oh, no. Two balls later, history repeated itself. An edge, a ball plunging from the sky. This time Panesar was still, no juddering, no spinning. The ball crashed into his huge hands and didn't burst through. The cheers were real. Panesar, offered sport's special brand of redemption, had taken it.

Andrew Strauss, England v Australia, Old Trafford 2005
Like batsmen and bowlers, fielders get lucky too. Sometimes that luck can show which way a series is headed. In 2005, with the Ashes locked at 1-1, England were pushing for victory at Old Trafford in the third Test. Andrew Strauss had scored a second-innings hundred to put England in command and Australia were struggling.

With ten overs remaining England needed three wickets. Andrew Flintoff - always Flintoff - found Shane Warne's edge and the ball flew to Safe-Hands Strauss at second slip. It cannoned back off his thigh. Dropped. Thorpe 1997 all over. But hold on, what's this? The deflection whizzed past Marcus Trescothick at first slip and wicketkeeper Geraint Jones flew full length to his right to grab the catch of his life.

"In the air, oh he's dropped him, oh no he's got him, what a good catch!" was Tony Greig's cry. The ghost of Thorpe erased, one man's drop is another man's catch, and England's Ashes luck transformed.

Daniel Brigham is a journalist and editor. @dan_brigham

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