Why is Hardhik Pandya not on the tour of South Africa with the India 'A' team? If the idea was to groom him as an all-rounder, it probably would have served the cause better by having him bowl and bat a lot more in South Africa.
Pandya could have probably been more useful bowling and batting on South African pitches with the India 'A' squad currently playing there. At the SSC, he was given a mere five overs and often he was either bowling wide or short. Those five overs he sent down on Saturday might have been eminently forgettable except that Kushal Mendis, after helping himself to an excellent ton, feathered an inside-edge catch, which was brilliantly taken by wicketkeeper Wriddhaman Saha.
Another bowler to really test the wicketkeeper was Ravindra Jadeja. He seemed to take delight in getting the ball to pitch on or outside the line of off stump and watch it viciously spin away. The batsmen certainly were not obliging him by edging those deliveries. Instead Saha was tested and how well he rose to the occasion.
Saha really was outstanding on the day, particularly when he collected deliveries that bounced and turned. Earlier generation of coaches would insist that a wicketkeeper moved in a semi-circular arc while standing up and collecting for spinners, both on the off and down the leg side.
But not anymore. If a keeper moved in the arc to a bouncing, turning ball, he would be unable to take anything that bounced over shoulder height. Now the emphasis is on moving sideways, in a straight line, to accommodate that extra bounce and drag the ball towards a stumping. Saha, in fact, gave a superb exhibition of keeping to the spinners on the track.
Actually, of all the replacements to the earlier lot of greats, Saha has been an unsung but outstanding one. The absence of Mahendra Singh Dhoni behind the stumps is hardly felt thanks to Saha stepping up in such an efficient manner. Dhoni, of course, had amazingly quick hands when it came to stumping. If anything, Saha is only fractionally slower. Still, Saha, in this Test has thus far been outstanding behind the stumps.
One of the reasons that the Sri Lankan batsmen resorted to sweeping at the first opportunity was that they were wary of getting stumped if they used their feet to get to the pitch of the ball. Yes, many modern batsmen devote a lot of time to practising sweep and reverse sweep shots to throw downs. But the sheer volume of cross-batted shots attempted by the Lankan pair of Kushal Mendis, in particular, and Karunaratne was staggering. It left the spinners befuddled.
The Indian spinners could put this down to mental fatigue. It usually happens after a high. They were outstanding in helping the team grab a mammoth lead and must have been euphoric when their efforts bore fruit.
Sadly, they could not bring the same intensity into play in the second innings. That is one of the downsides of enforcing the follow-on.
Ravichandra Ashwin, who had completed his five-wicket haul in the morning, subsequently had two forgettable sessions. But he is too good a bowler to stay off colour for long. He will bounce back very soon.
Jadeja too must spend the evening and early morning introspecting his bowling in the second essay. He must get the arm ball into play a lot more to be a real threat. A slight shift in line and varying of pace would also be in order.
Both Ashwin and Jadeja have plenty of experience in bowling on turning tracks and will surely get back into the fray in double quick time. Perhaps the pacers could step up and reverse swing the ball before the new ball falls due in the morning session.
On Saturday, Sri Lanka’s second wicket pair batted brilliantly during the 191-run stand. But now that they have been separated India must move in to shut down all avenues.
The team has four frontline bowlers, with Pandya being the only weak link. They must make the presence of the four count on Sunday to ensure that Sri Lanka leave this Test a dejected lot. That would certainly have a bearing on the third Test.