Ajinkya Rahane’s intriguing comment at the end of the day’s play that Indian batsmen used their feet against the Sri Lankan spinners so that they could score runs off the backfoot was a revelation. It gave away the thought process behind the effort to get the opposition to bowl to the Indian batsmen’s strength.
“Against Rangana Herath and other spinners we used footwork so we could get more runs off the back foot. We knew that if we used footwork we would get runs off the back foot.
"So when I went in to bat with (Cheteshwar) Pujara, we decided to put pressure back on them, and that's what we did by using footwork against the spinners,” he stated matter-of-factly.
Apparently, stepping out repeatedly to the Lankan spinners on a first day pitch and early sessions of the second day — when the pitch would not have been conducive to spin — left the bowlers flummoxed.
The batsmen were scoring runs off the front foot. In order to check this and ensure that the batsmen would not be able to take the ball on the half-volley, the Lankan bowlers opted to bowl a lot shorter. However, the Indian batsmen, instead of stepping out and attempting to convert these deliveries to a half-volley, hung back and cut and pulled gloriously at every opportunity.
These tactics ensured that the bowlers were unsure of the length to bank on, particularly in the early stages of the match when the pitch was the batsman’s ally.
This same ability to adapt to the situation was seen late in the evening when India came out to bowl at a weary Sri Lankan team. Off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, who during his stint while batting earlier in the day had a fair inkling of the pace of the pitch, returned with the ball to exploit the surface.
He often imparted greater revolutions on the ball and at the same time bowled slower while pitching the ball further ahead. Every time he targeted particular spots he was able to get vicious turn.
That the SSC pitch had already become dusty by the third session of Friday was obvious. But what set Ashwin apart was his willingness to vary his spin, angle of deliveries and line.
While turning deliveries can cause a fair bit of alarm for viewing, these are seldom the ones to fetch wickets. More often than not they only beat the bat. It is the ones that are imparted lesser spin or the straight deliveries which are likely to fetch wickets on a crumbling track.
The deliveries that do not turn or do so only marginally are the ones that get the edges for close-in catches, either bat-pad or at slip-gully. Ashwin ensured that he kept varying the revolutions on the ball to confound the batsmen and keep them guessing.
The Sri Lankan batsmen’s response to Ashwin was also fascinating. They knew that the ball had to pitch at a certain length to hit the stumps, else it would go over or spin into their pads. They wanted to put Ashwin off that length. On a turning track using the feet was not an easy option. Instead they brought out the slog sweep in an effort to discourage him from bowling at that particular length.
Skipper Dinesh Chandimal slog-swept him over deep mid-wicket for a six once while the other right hand batsman, Kushal Mendis played similar strokes thrice to earn boundaries.
Of course, these strokes are fraught with danger but as a ploy to throw Ashwin off that length and line they could pay off. Of course the bowler was smart. He knew he had the cushion of a huge total and lots of time. So he did not target the spot regularly in an effort to lower the batsmen’s guard.
At the other end, Ravindra Jadeja was bowling at his normal pace. He was getting the ball to grip and turn but couldn't pick up any wickets. But if the pitch breaks up further, he could be devastating.
Sri Lanka’s best bet would be on Saturday morning when the effects of the roller would have settled the top surface somewhat. That is when the wicket would behave at its best. But within an hour the pitch would revert to its character and make batting miserable.
Ashwin and Jadeja have tons of experience in bowling on dusty pitches. No doubt the Lankan batsmen have been weaned on these tracks. But the bottom line on deteriorating pitches is that the batsman has to be lucky all the time; the bowler just once. Hardly a comforting thought for an embattled home side.