It’s not overnight that Ajinkya Rahane has turned into one of India’s best slip catchers in recent times as he takes “hundreds of catches” during training session, revealed Indian team’s fielding coach R Sridhar.
“He is (Rahane) evolving into an excellent slip fielder. He has got the temperament and demeanour to be a good slip fielder. Let’s make no bones about it — he works really hard at it. He takes hundreds of catches and he is very specific about where he wants them, what he wants to do, at what height he wants them, what he’s likely to get in the match,” Sridhar told mediapersons about the Mumbaikar, who holds the world record for maximum catches in a Test innings.
“Also he has got excellent understanding of the angles, the pace, depth (dipping) of the ball, which is likely to come (at him). We spoke of perception earlier — that is something he is developing standing in the slips. He is evolving into a very good slip fielder, which augurs well for the team,” the fielding coach was lavish in his praise.
Sridhar emphasised on the need to have a settled combination for the slip cordon, which is essential for a team’s success.
“We would love to have a settled slips cordon but injury is something we can’t control. You saw in Sri Lanka, Shikhar (Dhawan) and (Murali) Vijay got injured. Then we saw (Lokesh) Rahul standing in the slip cordon. We always have had the luxury of having Virat (Kohli) and Ajinkya at slip. It’s something, we would like to have — a settled combination. But when it’s not in our control, we try and have the best fielders available in the slip cordon.
“Also we do have plans like having a left-hander in the outside slip for left-hand batsmen and a right-hander in the outside slip for right hand batsmen — things like that. That is about it.”
Asked to name the best fielders from either side, the fielding coach was predictably non-committal but did say that there are various fielders, who bring various attributes to the field.
“You can say AB de Villiers is a good fielder but I think (Ravindra) Jadeja is a wonderful and natural athlete. In our team, each guy brings in something out of the table, making it a good fielding unit collectively,” Sridhar said.
“Virat gets in the intensity and energy. (Ajinkya) Jinks brings in the sharpness (as a) close-in (fielder). Somebody brings in the calmness, Shikhar brings in the athleticism. So there’s so much each guy brings in, making it a good collective unit. And that’s what we say about good fielding teams hunt in packs.”
While he praised the team’s fielding performance in Mohali, the former first-class cricketer from Hyderabad did not want to get into rating the effort.
“It will be very difficult for me to mark each and every effort but we as a team and as a leader what Virat expects from this team and as a bunch of young cricketers what these people do is a process of improving,” he said.
“Each and every guy, even in the practice if you see, they are the ones who are pushing me, ‘I want to do this, I want to move to my left and get my throw right, I want slip catches low on right’ … things like that. They are the ones who are coming and pushing me and that is a big plus, a big positive from my point of view.
“Like Rohit (Sharma) said at the beginning of the series that over a period of time this team will be one of the best fielding teams in the world. So it is player driven and my job is to help them be at their best they can be.
“So for example I want Pujara to be the best he can be at every given point of time. I don’t want him (Pujara) to field like somebody else but I want him to be at his best all the time, similarly with Ajju (Rahane) or Monk (Murali Vijay) or anybody else for that matter.
“These guys are really enjoying their fielding and that is a culture which has come into this team not only from now, it’s been there from before I guess and I am carrying that forward – enjoying the fielding,” said Sridhar.
Cheteshwar Pujara has had a dodgy knee in the past after surgeries and certainly is not the most agile fielder to have crouching at forward short leg position but the coach insists that it is getting better.
“If you see now, Pujara is much more agile with his feet and he moves well. If you recollect the catch he took of Faf here. As Faf stepped out, you can see Pujara skipping, moving sideways along with him (Faf) so that it enabled him to take that catch. He’s been working on his fitness, to strengthen the area around his knee so that he can become more nimble with his footwork,” Sridhar said.
“The experience of standing in that position works a lot and Pujara has been getting that experience standing close-in and he has been improving by leaps and bounds in that department.”
Sridhar, who was the coach of the World Cup winning India U-19 team of 2012, feels that match simulation is very important for the players during training as it becomes “an extension of real situation.”
“The best thing is to try and create a match situation in practice. Especially, when you work with the angles, when you know certain fielders are going to field in certain areas. We try and create the same angles for them, so that you try cutting the angle as much as possible,” he said.
“It’s not rocket science; it’s a no-brainer to try and create a match situation every time you get out there in practice so that the match becomes a lot easier. The match should just be an extension of practice – that is the idea of a good practice session.”
He feels that the outfields in the Indian stadiums have become better, which enables the players to dive in any situation.
“To be very honest, the fields in our country are so good nowadays that you don’t get an outfield which is not good, especially at the international level. The fields are absolutely lush, green, I think the BCCI has done a great job not only at the international level but also at the junior level you get some really good fields for young kids to dive around, slide and throw themselves around.
“Being in a country where you don’t play contact sports, the young cricketers you see them come with such good diving abilities, which they learn from what they do at the grassroots. I think we have some good fields and this is something I will not tell them, not to dive. The only thing
which we as a team try and do is no ball shall pass you without your best effort so the outfield is not in question at all.”
Any good fielder faces inevitable comparison with Jonty Rhodes, but Sridhar finds it unfair.
“It is not fair to compare two different fielders. Two fielders should never be the same. The game is such that two players can never be the same. Otherwise then, it will look too robotic. So each guy should be at his best. That’s what we try to develop – in mind their and their skills as well.”