The pitches laid out during the India v Sri Lanka Test series have been the topic of discussion right through the competition, with Virat Kohli, the Indian captain, revealing that they had asked for strips that suit the faster bowlers, to prepare for the three-Test series in South Africa starting next month.
Overcast conditions in Kolkata for the first Test allowed the likes of Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar to take advantage of the green strip on offer at Eden Gardens, but the remaining two games, in Nagpur and New Delhi, had very little to offer to the pacers.
“Overall we bowled really well, especially this Test, looking at this surface,” said Cheteshwar Pujara, who spoke to reporters after the drawn Test at Feroz Shah Kotla on Wednesday (December 6). “We were expecting this surface to deteriorate a little more, on day four and five. Maybe because of the weather, it was still a flat wicket and didn’t have much help for spinners on the last two days.”
In the third Test, expectations were that the fifth-day surface surface would be the perfect hunting ground for R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. But as it turned out, the Sri Lankan batsmen, especially Dhananjaya de Silva and Roshen Silva, negated their attack with ease.
“If you look at the number of wickets [Ashwin and Jadeja] have taken, it is remarkable,” said Pujara, in defence of his teammates. “If you look at their performances throughout the season, they are the most difficult bowlers for any opposition to face.
“This was a game where there wasn’t much assistance. In India, any other pitch on day five, there will be lot of assistance. [But] at times, we get wickets where there is not much help. We just accept it.
“We played really good cricket throughout the season, we have done really well as a team, our batsmen have scored runs. So, there are so many positives. We wanted to win, but it ended in draw.”
India’s slip fielding has made the headlines over the course of the Test, with the side constantly experimenting with players being assigned the position, and as a result, a number of catches being dropped.
“We are having a chat about it and we will assign a few players who will be there throughout the series,” said Pujara. “We will prepare a few players who will be standing in the slips. We will also discuss that when we reach South Africa. We have already started talking about that.
“To be honest, we did not field well. At the same time, there have been injuries. Openers have missed out, someone like [M] Vijay who used to field at first slip, he had an injury and he didn’t play for about six months. So, we had to replace Vijay.
“At the same time, yes, we haven’t taken enough catches. So, we are trying to figure out options and we will definitely get better. Overall Indian team has improved as a fielding unit, but slip fielding is something we are looking to improve.”
Angelo Mathews returned to form with a gritty knock of 111 in the first innings, but only after Virat Kohli dropped him on six and then Rohit Sharma spilled one when he was on 98 — both at second slip. Dilruwan Perera, who opened the batting in the first innings, was also dropped by Shikhar Dhawan at second slip before going on to score 42 runs.
“Technically, I don’t know what is going wrong,” admitted Pujara. “But we put in a lot of hard work in our fielding, especially since we have realised slip catching is very important.
“All those players who were standing in the slips, they are taking about 50-100 catches every day. We are trying to improve. Eventually the results will come.”
The batsmen have been in great form, though, with Pujara finishing as the highest run-getter in Tests in 2017, and Kohli racking up the runs on a regular basis.
“2017 has been a fantastic year for me,” he said. “I still feel I could have done better at times … There are still some areas that I still want to improve.”
As the No.1 Test side, the team would be well prepared to take on South Africa, he said. “We have already started talking about the things we need to work on. The other thing is we have enough experience being in South Africa. I have been there in 2010 and 2013. Many of our players were there in 2013. It will definitely help us.
“At the same time, our fast bowling unit is much better now. I think our fast bowlers will do the damage. I feel that at one point South African batting what it used to be and what it is now, there is a difference. That will give us some advantage.”
Ajinkya Rahane has been the only chink in India’s armour, returning scores of 4, 0, 2, 1 and 10 in the five innings in this series.
“Talking about Ajinkya’s form, he has batted very well overall,” said Pujara. “Any batsman will go through a phase where he will not score many runs. Ajinkya is going through the same thing.
“He is one of India’s best batsmen and he has scored a lot of runs, in india and even overseas. We fully support him to make a comeback. Technically, I really don’t need to tell him what he has to do. He knows, he is a hard worker, in his batting, in his fielding, in his fitness … Once he gets a fifty or more, he will get his confidence back and he will be a very useful player in South Africa.”
India and Sri Lanka will lock horns for the three-match One-Day International series from December 10, before wrapping up the tour with three Twenty20 Internationals between December 20 and 24. The three-Test tour of South Africa begins on January 5.