Rahane the 'complete package' as fielder - Sridhar
Ajinkya Rahane could easily be considered the Indian fielding unit's MVP, given his flexibility and ability to patrol all parts, and across all formats. He has speed on the ground, the athleticism on the ring, and the soft hands valuable in the close cordon.
That he broke the existing record of seven catches by a fielder in a single Test is a reflection of those qualities. Of his eight catches, six were at first slip and two were in the gully. Five were off the spinners, and two off the seamers. Rahane himself had no idea about the world record he had broken. "Vijay and Umesh told me (during a drinks break) it was a world record and I was quite surprised."
In Test matches, Rahane said he stood in two main positions: always in the gully for the pace bowlers, and put into first slip for the spinners in this Test by captain Virat Kohli. India are still trying to find a settled slip cordon and the incumbent Shikhar Dhawan moved out due to a hand injury on day one; in this match Rahane has shown that he has the chops to prepare for and master slip-fielding.
India's fielding coach R Sridhar told ESPNcricinfo that Rahane was the "complete package" on the field.
"It's about strong hands and anticipation which he is excellent in and because he is a good athlete, he is good in the outfield," Sridhar said. Once Rahane learnt he was to field in the slips on this tour, he took it upon himself to ask for "very, very specific sessions."
He expected, Sridhar said, for more catches to come off the left-handers to spinners and "made sure he took a lot of catches low to his left standing at first slip, going away from him, and that paid off." Rahane has taken a range of first slip catches in the match - the conventional, which demand stability with a low-centre-of-gravity, the fast faders moving away from his wrong hand and the diving one-handed screamers: e.g. off Thirimane in both innings, and the key wicket of Kumara Sangakkara in the second. Sridhar says, "He has also got enough cricket acumen and wisdom to position himself absolutely appropriately."
Rahane believes the key to fielding in the slips is "focus and concentration". According to Sridhar, along with asking for specific sessions, Rahane also did a lot of "rapid reaction and decision-making drills and match simulation catches." The close-in drills, done with all the fielders, involved two different-coloured soft balls, one red, one white, being thrown at the fielder, with the coach calling out the ball that he needed to catch. "We throw both at the same time and they are hidden - the players can't see which hand I am holding the ball in."
According to Rahane, the Indian players have been taking "fifty to hundred" catches a day during training, and Sridhar felt it was Rahane's "excellent reflexes" made him an obvious candidate to field at slips. "He has got a very nice composed demeanour which suits slip fielding," Sridhar said. "A slip fielder requires good bouts of concentration, also lots of calmness and composure.
"Ajinkya is a very calm and composed guy, at the same time he has got excellent reflexes, reactions and anticipation. It's a combination of these two which prompted our captain Virat Kohli to suggest that Ajinkya should be at slips."
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo