Ajinkya Rahane has revealed that India have made a conscious effort to attack the spinners on their tour of Sri Lanka, and in particular use their feet against Rangana Herath, the prime threat. As a result they have piled on successive 600-plus first-innings totals, and have all but neutralised the threat of Herath, whose average against India since fashioning the Galle win in 2015 is 53.61, and economy rate 3.58.
In all, India’s batsmen have left the crease 84 times when facing Herath in this series, taking 123 runs off those balls while losing two wickets, Wriddhiman Saha the batsman dismissed on both occasions. It is not just the runs scored off those balls, though. There are also the short balls earned in the bargain.
“When we played last time here against Sri Lanka, especially after Galle Test match, we decided that using footwork against him was very important,” Rahane said. “Here again in the first Test, Shikhar [Dhawan, scoring 190] batted really well, but throughout against him and their spinners we wanted to use our footwork so we could get more runs on the back foot. Especially on this kind of wicket, it is very slow and dry, so we knew that if we use our footwork we will get more runs on the back foot.
“So when I went in to bat with Pujara we decided to change our momentum because Virat [Kohli] got out and we wanted to put pressure back on them, and that’s what we did. So we knew using footwork we would get more runs on the front foot as well as the back foot.”
This was Rahane’s first century since Indore last year, but he said he was confident his batting was in good enough shape. “It was important, but for me I was confident,” Rahane said. “Even throughout that time, not getting a hundred for 9-10 Tests, I was confident about myself. I knew that if I get in I will get to a big one. It was all about thinking positive even throughout that period.
“Coming to Sri Lanka, I was batting well in West Indies as well so wanted to carry that form forward. And batted well in the first Test. So here I decided if I play positively I will convert it to a big one.”
The result was what Rahane called one of his best innings against spinners. He has historically had some issues against spin even though he has proved himself against quick bowling in South Africa, New Zealand, England and Australia. As a No. 5, he often comes in at a time when the ball has begun to turn and reverse. The case here was similar: India had lost two quick wickets, and were 133 for 3 with the ball taking turn. He came out and began to attack the spinners.
“My mindset was completely blank coming into this innings,” Rahane said. “I wanted to take my time initially but later on, we thought if we dominate, if we change the momentum, they will be on the back foot straightaway, and that’s what happened. Because the same thinking was in Melbourne [in December 2014] in Australia, wanted to dominate them and that’s what we did.
“But here the challenge was slightly different, a spinning-friendly wicket and we knew that if we get a good partnership – because I was talking to Virat in the dressing room before lunch that if we get a 150-200 partnership, one big partnership, they will be on the back foot and that’s what actually happened. Me and [Cheteshwar] Pujara got that partnership.”
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
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