Under Virat Kohli, the current Indian team has taken giant strides, winning nine of its last Test series. What has changed is the intent. This team is aggressive, looks for victories and has now equalled the tally of most consecutive Test series wins which was earlier held by Australia between 2005 and 2008. Kohli has somehow put together the best looking Indian fast-bowling unit that has the potential to rattle South Africa. But, what did all the great fast-bowling units of past had in common? An equally brilliant line up of men behind the wicket who can latch on to anything that comes their way. The Indian team has done well to replace Mahendra Singh Dhoni behind the wicket with Wriddhiman Saha, who is equally brilliant.
But, the slip-catching has let the team down on more than one occasion, most recently during the Kotla Test against Sri Lanka at New Delhi. Shikhar Dhawan (off Dilruwan Perera), Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma (both off Angelo Mathews) dropped three regulation catches, allowing the visitors to fight back. Pujara, who is usually a brilliant close-in fielder was later seen guarding the first slip, with his pads on. He did reasonably well but that doesn’t solve India’s problem.
Even in the past, when team India wasn’t considered a great fielding unit, it had some brilliant slip fielders. Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly ensured that whatever chances were created, did not go waste. The difference was that these men were specialists in that position.
Both Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri need to understand that just like openers, a team needs to have good slip-fielders to win Tests, especially in overseas conditions. So, what’s the solution? Well, its standing right there at gully in the form of Ajinkya Rahane (holds a record of most catches in a match) and yet somehow, isn’t noticed.
Rahane is one of India’s best catchers and guards the slip cordon for Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. Yet, against the fast bowlers, is mysteriously positioned at gully where you hardly see the ball going in the air, especially in India.
Cheteshwar Pujara after the match said that Rahane has been fielding well at gully and the management doesn’t want to disturb him. The middle-order batsman said that the team is preparing a few players who can guard the position in South Africa.
How long will it take for these players to adjust is still unknown. And, is team India ready to pay the cost? Certainly not.
Perera, who came in as a makeshift opener in the Delhi Test was on 16 when second-slip fielder Dhawan invaded the space of his colleague stationed to his left and dropped the catch. He went on to score 42 runs from 54 balls. Such is the confidence of the skipper in himself that he sent Dhawan to fine-leg and Kohli himself took the position, only to drop Mathews a few balls later. The former Sri Lankan captain scored a century thereafter!
This comes from a team that has set really high standards of fielding in last few years. For some reasons the team might believe otherwise but right now, Ajinkya Rahane is their best bet at slips.