The longer one plays, the more does it come home to one that matters which seem trifling in themselves are liable to make or mar a match. I once saw a man put short-slip in a university match who had never fielded there before, though elsewhere he was if anything above the average. He was only there one over, but he missed an easy catch given by a good bat, who took advantage of his escape to the tune of a century. There were four or five men on the side who would have caught that catch to a certainty. But "it didn't matter for one over." No! but it mattered for a considerable number of overs afterwards. Everything matters in cricket, as in all other games worth playing.
A noticeable characteristic of a high-class field is his consistent alertness. He gives one the idea that he expects every ball to come to him. When the ball is hit, he seems to get by instinct into the exact place to field it. Indeed he starts sometimes before the stroke is fully made. Dr E. M. Grace has often caught a man out from point literally off his bat, within a couple of feet of it. He could see by the way the batsman shaped that he was going to let the ball hit and drop off his bat. Quick starting is half the secret of covering a lot of ground. Even without much pace an attentive fielder can be here, there, and everywhere if he watches bowler and batsman with all his might. Whenever a fielder seems surprised that a ball has been hit near him, it may be inferred that he is thinking of something else—race-horses, stocks and shares, or lunch. It is sound advice to fielders, so to watch every ball bowled as if it were to be hit to them. The value of a quick start cannot be overestimated. Often an apparently impossible catch is easily secured because the fielder was ready to start. Surely it is not much to ask of a fieldsman always to be ready. Yet how few really are! The difference in the behaviour of a side during the first innings of their opponents, and during the second when matters are approaching a crisis, is a study in human nature. In the former case, things are allowed to drift and arrange themselves; in the latter, matters have to be forced into one definite result—a win. Nothing shows the real grit of a side more than what is called "dash." "Dash" is difficult to define, but it is the characteristic of some individuals and some sides. "Dash" wins matches. It is unmistakable. Watch a fieldsman. You can tell in a moment whether or not he has this priceless quality. His expectant look, his eager watching of the bowler, indicate a determination to start at once. The very poise of