England v India – Fourth LV= Insurance Test Match: Day Four
Sunday, 5th September. Bright sunny day in London, flat track at The Oval. India are batting on 296/4 in their 2nd innings. Woakes has just trapped Jadeja LBW with Kohli is at the other end.
In walks Rahane, looks up at the sky as he reaches the boundary line. This is an important innings, it might be his last innings. He takes guard before anxiously noting the position of the fielders. Into his stance, he sees Woakes running up. Gentle length delivery on off stump, Rahane presses forward to defend, it hits the middle of the bat. Relief.
Defends the next one nicely too. Third ball, on a length, jags back in, Rahane offers no shot. England appeal as Rahane watches with bated breath. Up goes the finger. His heart is throbbing, he consults with Kohli and goes for the review. He watches the big screen tensely to see the ball just going over off stump. Relief.
Doesn’t face a delivery in the next over. Back up against Woakes. Over 103. Defends the first three. Getting comfortable but still nervy and not off the mark yet. Fourth ball, full on off-stump, angles back into his pads, Rahane looks to flick but misses. Loud shout. Nervousness, anticipation, jitters. The Indian vice-captain sees the finger go up. He walks, back to the hut for 0, his head down. He knew it was out. Agony. Disappointment…
* * *
Many thought that that was Rahane’s final innings in Test cricket. In fact, many thought that that should have been Rahane’s final innings in Test cricket. To be fair, they had good reason to argue so. After all, there’s no denying the fact that Rahane has been highly inconsistent for the better part of the last 3 or maybe even 4 years.
Consequently, there has been no shortage of tumultuous appeals, from both fans and experts alike, asking for Rahane to be excluded from India’s Test setup. Many feel that his inconcistencies and ‘brief bits of brilliance’ are not enough to save his Test career.
That, however, is but a hasty and blunt solution. Rahane, other than being the vice-captain of the team, has also been a mainstay for the best part of the last decade and it would not be just to simply show the door to a player of his caliber. In fact, it would seem that the apprehension of the masses is misplaced for Rahane, who, with 1159 runs at an average of 42.92, was India’s leading run-scorer in the previous World Test Championship cycle between 2019 and 2021.
In more ways than one, Rahane is the nice guy of Indian cricket. He’s soft-spoken, respectful and selfless. In other words, Rahane embodies all the qualities of a true ‘team-player’. Yet that does not paint the full picture of who Ajinkya Rahane the cricketer is.
When Rahane is at the crease, he is like a meditating monk – capable of demonstrating exemplary amounts of discipline, concentration, grit and character. Like a monk in a deep trance of meditation, Rahane is never fazed by his surroundings and externalities. Rahane’s batting personifies calmness, able to sedate even the world’s most lethal bowling attacks on the spiciest of pitches, while inducing a sense of serene tranquility amongst all those watching.
Why, then, is there a public outcry calling for Rahane to be dropped from India’s Test team? The answer might lie in the fact that Rahane, even whilst scoring runs, has failed to inspire confidence, has failed to look secure and sanguine which, ironically, might be because he himself is extremely low on confidence.
Of late, Rahane has failed to demonstrate all the qualities mentioned above. In simpler terms, he’s been but a shadow of his former self. That is reflected by the fact that in this series against England, he has accumulated a a grand total of 109 runs from 7 innings and that works out to a sorry average of 15.57, an average that certainly isn’t befitting of one of India’s top-order batsmen.
It doesn’t, however, change the fact that Rahane has been the recipient of some harsh remarks. Case in point; Virat Kohli averaged a dismal 13.40 in 10 innings during India’s 2014 tour of England. Yes, Kohli was a lot younger then than Rahane is now and it was his first tour to England. But as Kohli himself went on to prove later on, a bad series does not define the kind of player one is. To state it simply, Rahane is being judged only based on his recent performances in lieu of his overall career.
To be fair, India’s entire middle order, consisting of Pujara, Kohli, Rahane and Pant, hasn’t been at its best. Cumulatively, they average an exact 25 in this series but Rahane has borne the brunt of the flak that the team has received. Yes, his 15.57 is the lowest amongst the Indian batsmen but he’s one big innings away from turning the tide.
Its not the first time in his career that Rahane has had to endure something like this. He’s been subjected to unfair treatment on many occasions in the past. The most notable of these was probably when he was unceremoniously sacked as the captain of the Rajasthan Royals before being traded away to the Capitals for no real fault of his own. Rahane, an experienced campaigner who’s scored nearly 4000 runs in the tournament at an average in excess of 30 and a strike-rate that’s over 120, finds himself on the bench.
And yet, Rahane isn’t outspoken or brash. There is no furore or outlash, no scathing remarks from any of his fans. Because that is who Rahane is, a virtuous gentleman who goes about his business without any faff.
A big score might be around the corner of Rahane
Rahane scored a gritty 61 in the 1st innigs of the 2nd Test at Lord’s
Rahane is a true fighter. He doesn’t back away from a challenge and while he might not take on the bull by its horns like Kohli does, he wages his own valiant yet insipid battle. He may lack the fire and flamboyance of Kohli but he has proven on numerous occasions, most recently in Melbourne last year when he led the Indian team to a historic win in Kohli’s absence, that he’s cut out for the task.
He might not be at his best currently but there’s been enough to suggest that he possesses the qualities to make a resounding comeback. It might not be in this series, it might not be in the next but sooner rather than later, Rahane is sure to break the door down once again with his performances.
At 33, Rahane the batsman might be closer to the end of his book than its beginning but I’d be damned if this was the last chapter in his Test career.