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RAHANE, THE OTHER R WORD BARRING RIFT
Kohli’s Reassuring Words Should Boost Struggling Batsman
In all the din about a potential rift in the Indian cricket team between Virat Kohli and his deputy in ODIs, Rohit Sharma, and the numerous clarifications sought and offered, an important element was missed or rather under-reported as fine print when Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri spoke to the media ahead of their departure to the West Indies in Mumbai.
It was Kohli’s strong backing of his Test deputy, Ajinkya Rahane, the man who, with due respects to the skipper, was India’s best batsman overseas from 2014 to 2016, but someone who has been struggling after August 2017, since scoring his last Test hundred against Sri Lanka at the SSC. He’s played 17 Tests and scored 696 runs at an average of 24.85 since.
The skipper who has shared some memorable stands with Rahane, most notably at the MCG vs Australia in 2014 and in Indore in 2016 vs New Zealand, though chose to overlook that. Calling Rahane one of the most sorted out players in the team and one of the pillars along with Cheteshwar Pujara, Kohli, who was slammed for leaving Rahane out in the first two Tests against South Africa in early 2018 in Cape Town and Centurion and choosing to go with Rohit Sharma, stated, “We chose him (Rohit) over (Ajinkya) Jinx (in the South Africa Test series) because of the way he (Rohit) was playing in the ODI series against Sri Lanka. But Jinx is a solid player as well. He is one of the most sorted guys. He reads the game well too.”
The last comment is indeed true and it was reflected in his debut as captain in the series-decider vs Australia at Dharamsala in March 2017 where Kohli had to miss out due to a shoulder injury.
While his bat has been silent for a while, Rahane has remained impactful in the field with his safe catching in the slip cordon. With India boasting of a potent pace attack, nicks are produced by the bowlers often and fielders must ensure that they are pouched. Rahane is one player who has great give with his hands. Kohli knows that only too well, having spent a lot of time alongside him in the cordon. “He is a priceless fielder. We’ve all seen the impact he can make with the slip catching and everything. I don’t think we should jump the gun on someone like him. But I think he will come around as he is that good. Jinx will also come in, and he can start stringing in scores.”
Kohli realised he had erred in South Africa by dropping him and he promptly brought Rahane back into the playing XI in the third and final Test at Johannesburg and on a spiteful pitch, he scored a battling 48 which helped India put up 247 in the second innings and set a target of 241 and script a famous 63-run win.
Rahane’s diminishing returns though would be a cause of worry for Kohli and Shastri. He played all the Test matches in England and Australia last season and was expected to be one of the stars in the line-up. But it did not work out that way. In England, he scored 257 runs in five Tests at a disappointing 25.70. Australia saw only a marginal improvement as he made 217 runs in four Tests at 31. In the meantime, he lost his place in the ODI set-up too despite being one of the contenders for the No.4 slot in the World Cup as suggested by Kohli during an impressive outing in the ODIs in South Africa and winning the player of the series award in 2017 in West Indies immediately after the Champions Trophy where he scored 336 runs in five games at an average of 67.20. Credit to Rahane though that he has realised his struggles and has looked for ways to get matches be it for India A against England Lions or New Zealand A or look for county stints in difficult conditions. He played for Hampshire this season in early summer when the pitches are not at their best. A century in his first game against Nottinghamshire looked like start of something positive for him. But he struggled again after that.
Being retained as vice-captain despite the struggles will be a moralebooster for the understated Rahane as will Kohli’s words. Time to repay that faith with runs.
Dec: Team’s 3rd best scorer is made to ‘sit out’
In his last 10 One-day innings, Ajinkya Rahane has put up these numbers: 61, 53, 70, 55, 5, 5, 39, 60, 72 and 103. A total of 523 runs at an average of 52.30 and a respectable strike-rate of 75.21. Only Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli have scored more runs than Rahane in their last 10 ODI innings. Yet, Rahane finds himself sitting out of the team even when India’s batting pillar Virat Kohli is absent.
Rahane has often been criticized for being too slow for modern-day ODI cricket. The strike-rate for his last four fifties reads like 82.43, 80.30, 92.10 and 85.93, which means Rahane is scoring nearly at a run-a-ball. Still, frequently he finds himself out-of-favour in India’s white-ball scheme of things.
Indian team’s captain in the absence of Kohli, Rohit Sharma had made it clear after the Dharamsala ODI, where the batting line-up failed miserably in seaming conditions, that Rahane has been identified by the team management as an opener only.
“I think we made it clear in Sri Lanka that he (Rahane) is an opening batsman and we don’t want to keep changing his batting slot. It plays on anyone’s mind not just his, if one’s batting order keeps on changing,” he said.
“We have identified him as a top-order batsman and that’s the only reason he has to sit out. Having said that, we understand that he has scored a lot of runs in the past few series. But, we also want to give these guys (Manish) Pandey, (Kedar) Jadhav and (Shreyas) Iyer fair amount of games before we start touring abroad,” added Sharma.
This kind of stubbornness seldom works and the team paid for it in Dharamsala. When the middle-order is inexperienced, horses for courses should be the policy. Knowing the fact that Rahane plays fast bowling well, the Mumbai lad should be the go-to man for any captain in difficult conditions.
2020-21 tour of Australia
New Delhi: He was a central figure in India’s epic turnaround during the 2020-21 tour of Australia but stand-in captain of that series Ajinkya Rahane says “someone else took the credit” for decisions he made to resurrect the team after the nightmarish 36 all out in the Adelaide Test. As regular captain Virat Kohli flew out of Australia, Rahane took over the reins in the most difficult of circumstances.
What followed was one of the most incredible turnarounds seen in Test history as India rebounded to win the second match at the MCG, with Rahane leading the fightback with a magnificent hundred. “I know what I’ve done there. I don’t need to tell anyone. That’s not my nature to go and take credit. Yes, there were some things that I took the decisions on the field or in the dressing room but someone else took the credit for it,” Rahane said in an episode of ‘Backstage With Boria’. “(What was) important for me was that we won the series. That was a historical series and for me, that was really special. ”
Rahane did not take any names but his comments could well be a veiled attack on then-head coach Ravi Shastri, who was widely hailed as the architect of the turnaround, given that the dressing room resembled a hospital ward.
Rahane earned plaudits from the cricket fraternity for the manner in which he led the heavily depleted team in one of the most difficult situations, not just at the MCG but through the remainder of the four-match series.
“After that, the reactions from people or those who took credit or what was said on the media, it was for them to talk about,” Rahane said. “From my end, I knew what decisions I took on the field and what decisions I took on my instincts. Yes, we talked with the management too but what I did there, I knew. ” PTI