CHENNAI: One of the biggest reasons behind India's win was their decision to play Rishabh Pant after the defeat in Adelaide. It changed the complexion of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. India's fielding coach R Sridhar speaks about why they went back to Pant and the work the wicketkeeper is putting behind the scenes in an exclusive interview with this daily.
First Test you went with Wriddhiman Saha. Was he considered a safer option with the pink ball?
Woof... I think the first Test, we had multiple reasons. We thought Rishabh was still not ready yet and he needed to do some work with regards to his keeping and fitness. That is why we wanted to go with an experienced man in Saha. It was a tough Test and we wanted a reliable wicketkeeper. Saha had played well in the red-ball practice game. So that was a decision taken by the think-tank and soon we realised that we needed a left-hander.
Pant's fitness was an issue before the tour began. Did it concern the team management as well?
Definitely. But during the 14-day quarantine, he really worked hard and lost around 6-7 kgs. Since he was not part of the white-ball squad, he got the time to work on his fitness and keeping as well. But one thing we must all understand with Pant is whether you want the package or not. He is a package, who will come and smash the bowling, he will sledge from behind and enjoy his game. He may drop the odd catch. But if you look at his keeping against fast bowlers, you can't find fault. Even in Brisbane, he took some lovely catches -- one down the leg-side off (Matthew) Wade and a jumping one against (Tim) Paine. Yes, against spinners he is a work in progress. That is the package. You can take it or leave it.
And he is still young...
He is 23 and keepers tend to get mature as they grow. Things will improve. As a fielding coach, the biggest positive I'm seeing is he has become more open to learning and improving. He listens a lot these days and wants to improve his keeping skills more than ever. There have been so many days on this tour where he says 'I don't want to bat, I only want to keep' and we have done keeping drills for one-and-a-half hours. It is a good sign and he is willing to take the extra mile. It will take time. Keeping is not an easy skill.
You mention about him losing weight, was he on diet?
He was very disciplined throughout the tour. He did a lot of running and was very cautious about his diet. Very particular about what he had. His calorie intake was lesser than calorie output and all that. He did it well and got ready.
Moving to Melbourne, you wanted a left-hander, but he had not played any matches before. Was he under pressure?
I don't know if Pant feels any pressure. He is always the kind of guy who will take things as it comes. He was nervous initially, like any cricketer. He is quite tough mentally.
At Sydney, he was promoted to go for the target. Was it instant or was he told beforehand?
It was a very well thought out move from Ajinkya (Rahane), Ravi bhai (Shastri) and Vikram (Rathour). They came up with that and we were clear he should get to face as many overs as possible before the second new ball. By the time the second new ball was taken, he was well set like in Brisbane. We have always been flexible with the batting factoring the left-right combination.
You have England coming up. Is Pant ready for home run?
We have to get him ready. After his exploits in Brisbane and Sydney, he is a sure shot. The whole world will be looking at him.
In terms of keeping at home?
It is no doubt going to be challenging for him. Make no mistake, India is one of the most difficult places to keep wickets. In England, it is difficult to keep against seamers and that is the same here when spinners are operating. He is going to work hard. But people have to be realistic as well. He is not going to become a marvel overnight. People have to be realistic. One thing for sure is he will give his 100 per cent. The boy has matured a lot in the last 12 months and this series is a big lesson for him. There are a lot of positives for him.
How frustrating was the drop catches?
I felt very bad. Going into the second and third Test, we did a lot of fielding drills. But if you see the whole series, both teams had so many dropped catches.
What was the reason?
There are multiple factors. It could be because none of the guys had played cricket for a long time. So that ability to raise your concentration for a longer period of time will be tough. And when you start training after such a long break, cricketers tend to focus more on the primary skill which is batting or bowling. Fielding won't be in the mind. They will be visualising about batting and bowling and even a lot of time on improving their fitness, so fielding takes a back seat and maybe it was not on the priority list until you made an error. There were also good catches and good saves. If any fielder has taken three and drops one, you can't say, 'he dropped it'. We must cut them some slack. Not just to the Indian team, but overall. As long as they are following the process, I'm okay with it.
Can you break down how it was in the series?
Despite these drops, we had a conversion rate of 81 per cent for the series. We took 43 catches and dropped nine. And I'm leaving out the half-chances. We dropped three easy catches in Adelaide. In Melbourne, we had a good game as a fielding side. At Sydney, we were good for the large part of first innings. Second innings, we put down a couple. In Brisbane, with multi-coloured seats, it can be difficult to spot the ball. That is what happened with Rahane.