THE spin bowler and the slip fielder. IT’S a cricketing relationship that doesn’t quite get spoken about as much or receives the kind of traction that it deserves. You might hear about opening partners or a pair of new-ball bowlers being raved about as though they are siblings. Even fast bowlers and wicket-keepers are spoken of getting along like a house on fire. But somehow, despite ‘c Jayawardene b Muralitharan’ being the most commonly recorded bowler-fielder combination in the history of the game, the spinner and his catcher have never quite been accorded with the same ‘pair made in heaven’ status.
But you just had to hear R Ashwin talk about Ajinkya Rahane after the first day’s play in Bangalore to just realize how much the off-spinner cherishes having him at slip almost in a ‘I know he’ll be there for me’ way.
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“He seems to be pulling off all the catches that are coming his way at this point of time. It is very important — we are not even thinking in the region, saying okay, changing someone, chopping and changing. We want Ajinkya at slip and that’s the kind of confidence that’s very important for the bowler at the top of his mark,” he said.
It’s not surprising that Ashwin would say that. Ever since Rahul Dravid hung up his boots, there has been a void in the slip region, especially when the spinners are on. That is till Rahane has taken over that role, in scintillating fashion, since the Sri Lanka tour. And as far as the numbers go, 7 out of the 19 caught dismissals that have come Ashwin’s way since the Galle Test have been courtesy Rahane. Most of them have also been rather spectacular grabs.
Like the one on Saturday, to dismiss JP Duminy.
It was a length delivery that the left-hander played back to, and since he didn’t poke at it, the ball was dying towards the ground by the time it reached Rahane. But he was alert enough and quick enough to push his body forward while bending and snapping the catch up inches from the floor. And he did it with absolutely no fuss.
“Even the catch he took of Duminy was a very very good catch, he made it look very easy,” he said.
Rahane is not the only torch-bearer of this catching renaissance that has seemingly made the Indian bowlers a lot more potent than they were in the last few months. One of the more unheralded reasons for India’s dominance in Sri Lanka was their conversion of half-chances that previously might have just hit the floor with nothing more than a ‘good effort’ on the fielder’s report-card. And these catches, like the many we saw at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, are helping Virat Kohli & Co not only gain the momentum but also turn the tide at crucial junctures of the Test. Like Rahane’s catch, which came at a time Duminy and de Villiers had forged a steadying partnership.