India Enter New Era With Youngsters Occupying Middle Order and Close-in Fielding Positions

November 8, 2016 will go down as one of the most remembered dates in Indian history as Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes. The Indian cricket team was in Rajkot for the series opener vs England, starting on November 9, and eve of the match certainly turned out to be a date to remember.

Hours after the announcement, which triggered chaos and sudden rush to withdraw crash from already crowded ATMs, cricket was back in focus in the city as then England skipper Alastair Cook won the toss and elected to bat on what turned out to be a good surface to bat.

Also Read: On ‘Flat’ Rajkot Pitch, India Expect Spin to Come Into the Picture at Some Point

More than the runs visitors scored on the opening day, it was the chances India missed due to some inept slip catching. In the morning session itself, Cook was dropped twice, debutant Haseeb Hameed got an early life and local boy Cheteshwar Pujara added to the woes by dropping Moeen Ali in the afternoon session.

Four dropped catches by close-in fielders in a day’s play meant India frittered away a golden opportunity to put the visitors under the pump and allowed them to score 537, which remained their highest total in the five-Test series.

Eight years later, both India and England are set to lock horns at the same venue again. There has been no stark difference in the pitch as it continues to retain its flat flavour but there have been plenty of changes in India’s slip cordon and the close-in catching positions for spinners.

From Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Murali Vijay and Virat Kohli in 2016, India’s close-in fielders are set to feature debutants and a new-look slip cordon will be on display when they take the field on February 15.

India’s fielding coach T Dilip was working extra time with Sarfaraz Khan, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Rajat Patidar and Dhruv Jurel on Tuesday as the younger, and inexperienced lot, worked on their reflexes. Captain Rohit Sharma joined them briefly before instructing the coach to keep the height of the catches a bit on the lower side.

India’s Yashasvi Jaiswal, right throws a ball during practice session. (AP Photo)

The skipper went for his batting session but the youngsters continued and action soon moved from slip-catching to drills for short-leg and silly-point positions. Both Sarfaraz and Rajat spent close to 20 minutes staying low and were quick to react to anything within their range.

New entrants

If they go on to make their likely debuts, Dhruv Jurel and Sarfaraz Khan will be the latest entrants to India’s close-in catchers’ club. From seeing the likes of Kohli, Rahane and Pujara man those positions, it will take some time to get used to the likes of Jaiswal, Shubman Gill, Sarfaraz and Patidar.

More than the viewers and fans getting used to it, how much of a challenge is it for a team to have a tuned-in slip cordon?

“It doesn’t matter if you haven’t fielded together in the slips for a long time. The slip fielders know when to go for it and when not. So playing and fielding together helps but it doesn’t matter a lot. All you need is good hands and most importantly good energy,” says former India fielding coach R Sridhar.

Both Gill and Jaiswal have been a safe pair of hands in the slip cordon and Sridhar has been very impressed with the youngsters’ energy.

“If you look at both Gill and Jaiswal, they have been very safe catchers. Jaiswal in particular was brilliant in South Africa with his catching technique, hand position, energy and reaction time. All that contributes to you doing well as a slip fielder. Now if Sarfaraz comes into the team, he too will have to follow the same approach and keep the energy high. Energy is very important in the slips and captain Rohit is leading from the front with his slip catching,” explains Sridhar.

Not just the slips, the close-in fielders at short-leg and silly-point could well see new faces in the Rajkot Test but Sridhar feels the way England have been batting, those positions will not be too busy during the Test match.

“Not really sure how much silly point or short-leg would come into play. Especially because the way England bat in Test cricket. Rajat Patidar did take a good catch of Ben Duckett at silly-point but I feel those positions will not be that busy,” adds Sridhar.

Without complicating, Sridhar’s simple advice for the debutants would be to keep the energy high. He understands there will be some initial nervousness of playing Test cricket but feels the energy and sticking to the technique which has worked will do the job.

As far as India are concerned, they would hope the youngsters make the quick adjustment so that there is no repeat of 2016. The rest of the country meanwhile would hope there are no late evening announcements.

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