Three times in three matches. That is how many times Akila Dananjaya has dismissed KL Rahul in the ongoing One-Day International series between India and Sri Lanka. In fact, those three occasions were the only times Rahul has been dismissed by a spinner in is nine ODI-old career.
For someone as good as Rahul, that will sting.
Had he gotten out to three unplayable deliveries, Rahul could have consoled himself, dismissing it as bad luck, but only one of those balls from the offspinner was threatening. And even there, it was Rahul’s inability to read the ball out of Danajaya’s hand that cost him.
That ripper, a vicious googly (yes, an offspinner bowling googlies), came in the second ODI in Pallekele when Dananjaya was in a particularly devastating mood, finishing the game with six wickets to reduce India to 131 for 7.
Rahul, in particular, was livid with himself. He was the third person in the over to get out to an identical googly — the first two being Kedar Jadhav and Virat Kohli. But unlike the other two, Rahul is far more technique driven. So for him to leave a wide gap between bat and pad after coming at No. 3 was a head-scratcher, to put it mildly. He expected himself to pick and play the ball accordingly, but he failed and was bowled.
Rahul trudged back to the dressing room and had a sombre look on his face even as India fought back through MS Dhoni and Bhuvneshwar Kumar to win the game by three wickets.
In subsequent practice sessions, he has spent extra time with the spinners, using his feet extensively.
The problem is that Dananjaya’s action is a tricky proposition for any batsman. If you play him long enough, you could unravel the mystery, but that’s a long-term solution. Training against regular spinners won’t help you tackle the variations unless, of course, you do a Dhoni and get to the pitch of the ball every time. The others must be so lucky to find a net bowler who can mimic the action.
Dananjaya’s variations include the regulation off-break, carrom ball, leg-break and the googly. Each of these deliveries come out of his hand with only a minor tweak at the point of release. To top it all off, he has impressive control for someone with so many tricks up his sleeve.
That control wavered in the third game at the same venue, where he was not able to land the ball in the danger area as often as he had in the previous game. But it did not matter in the case of Rahul.
Rahul was all at sea against Vishwa Fernando, the left-arm paceman. He inside-edged nearly every second delivery and was fortunate to survive the phase, but his luck ran out after 23 balls.
Dananjaya was brought on in the 14th over. Rahul defended the first delivery off the back foot. The second delivery, he flashed at a full ball outside the off stump and missed. It was evident that he wanted to get on top of Dananjaya before the spinner got into his head.
The third ball was a short ball, outside the off and Rahul was only happy to add a couple of runs. Dananjaya had bowled only off-breaks up until that point. When the googly did rear its head, it was too short to cause any trouble, or so it seemed. Even as the ball hurried on, Rahul rocked back and then pulled it to Lahiru Thirimanne at deep midwicket. Dananjaya was over the moon, and Rahul was once again beside himself. Jadhav too was dismissed in Dananjaya’s second over.
Once again, Dhoni had to play the anchor role to see India through. This time he complemented Rohit Sharma’s unbeaten 124 with an unbeaten 67 of his own.
So bent on dominating Dananjaya was Rahul that he had thrown his wicket away.
Both times, India were under pressure and needed Rahul to hold one end up. One could argue that pressure got the better of him, but there was no such excuse to be found in the fourth ODI.
Rahul arrived at the crease with India surging towards 300 inside the 40th over. The score was 262 for 3 after the fall of Hardik Pandya. Rohit Sharma’s dismissal the very next ball from Angelo Mathews saw Manish Pandey join Rahul in the middle. The onus was on the Karnataka boys to take the team past 350.
Pandey completed the task with an unbeaten 50, and Dhoni, for the third time in succession, came up with an unbeaten knock, 49, to help India reach 375 for 5.
But before the Pandey-Dhoni alliance was forged, Rahul played into Dananjaya’s hands once again. This was yet another case of trying to force your way out of a tight spot.
One would have expected Rahul’s patience, a virtue that has seen him scale great heights in his young Test career, to come to his aid. For someone who was out of the team for nearly four months with a shoulder injury before being called up for the tour of Sri Lanka, this was the perfect opportunity to get some rhythm.
He looked in control, even against Dananjaya, at the start, but he misread another wrong-un and chipped it right to Wanindu Hasaranga at midwicket after making seven from seven balls. Rahul paid the price for using hard hands. In his long walk back to the dressing room, Rahul must have looked skywards and asked: “Why me? Why him?”
Rahul will need to find the answers soon because his bogeyman Dananjaya is sure to make the trip to India for the return series in November.