One heartening statistic for India, who have finally begun to find quality openers, is that in the last six Tests, barring Melbourne, at least one of them has scored a century. In Fatullah against Bangladesh, both Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan helped themselves to big centuries.
While that has been the trend in Sri Lanka, too, it has also seen one opener dismissed cheaply in each innings. KL Rahul fell without reaching double figures in Galle, where Dhawan scored a century, while it was Vijay’s turn at the P Sara Oval. Rahul got his second Test hundred which turned out to be match-winning.
The current team management has told players to stay positive, asking batsmen to see a scoring opportunity rather than think about the risk of getting out. But the Kookaburra ball used in Australia as well as in Sri Lanka has brought its own challenges. The seasoned Dhammika Prasad has made it count when the ball is new. The Kookaburra usually loses its sting after 20-odd overs, which makes it vital for batsmen to see off the shine.
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Batting coach Sanjay Bangar, though, believes the top-order batsmen, while they have delivered as a unit in the series, need to be constantly trained to shake off the over-aggressive traits imbibed in limited overs cricket.
From hard hits and heavy bats, Test cricket demands soft hands and sharp foot movement, and the ability to stay focused to leave deliveries as much as playing them. Rahul in fact was bowled for the second innings in a row by Prasad.
"Basically, batsmen tend to get into the habit of playing with hard hands. So playing with softer hands, playing under your eyes, they seem to be very basic but those are really important in the longer format of the game. Apart from that, the approach regarding strike rotation and not allowing the opposition to get on top of you is also important.
Bangar added, "Playing as close to the body as possible, which benefitted Ajinkya Rahane and others, is key for the batsmen to succeed in this series."
Injuries forcing the opening combination to be changed in each Test has not helped both batsmen click together. "You definitely want your openers to ride over that tough phase of playing that new Kookaburra ball that does much in the first 15 overs. That has been a challenge. Having a different opener in every Test also plays a role."
It will be interesting how well India do in the first innings. Bangar feels the hard pitch will help seamers, and the moisture will allow dents on the surface which can be exploited as Sri Lanka will be batting last.