While India suffered a batting collapse in the second innings of the final Test at Durban, Ajinkya Rahane continued his good run in the Rainbow Nation to notch up his second half-century on a tough tour. With 209 runs in two Tests at an average of 69.66, Rahane not only announced his arrival in the Test arena in style, but also showed there’s yet another Indian batsman ready to make giant strides in international cricket, says Devarchit Varma.
It isn’t easy to break into the Indian Test side, keep aside the challenge of cementing your place in it. The competition is not only fierce, but the margin of error is so, so minor that even the smallest of slip could result in a wait that will look ever-lasting. Ajinkya Rahane, who has been a part of the Indian squads on several occasions, yet not able to find his place in the playing eleven, is the best man to tell you this story.
A part of the Indian Test squad for almost two years, starting from the West Indies series in 2011, Rahane struggled to find a place in the Indian team which was coming off the disastrous tours of England and Australia. He was with his Mumbai teammate Rohit Sharma on the tour of Australia as a part of the Indian Test squad. However, there was no place for him in the side. Rahane had to wait once again when England toured India in 2012, and his Test debut came only in the fourth and final Test of the Australia series at home in early 2013 — in a dead rubber at the Ferozeshah Kotla in New Delhi — wherein the right-handed batsman failed to make a mark.
Rahane was a part of Sachin Tendulkar’s farewell Test series against the West Indies last month, wherein Rohit got the nod ahead of him. A batsman of the caliber of Rahane, having a First-Class average of more than 60 and having ample amount of runs under his belt, he was perhaps reduced to being only the perennial bench-warmer and drinks-carrier for the Indian team.
And then, it came. After a long, long wait, Rahane broke into the Indian Test side. And the challenge was many folds tougher compared to what his fellow young batsmen like Cheteshwar Pujara (against New Zealand in 2011) and Rohit Sharma (against the West Indies in 2013) faced when they got their chance. Mahendra Singh Dhoni decided that an extra batsman was necessary against South Africa, and on the bowler-friendly track at the Wanderers in the first Test and Dhoni had no better choice than to play Rahane.
After 65 First-Class games, 20 centuries and 24 half-centuries which helped him garner 5,800 and more runs at an average just above 60, Rahane was ready. He may have got a little nervous watching the way the Indian batsmen tackled the South African pacers early on but he didn’t show any of it when he walked out to bat. After the long wait, with all that experience and numbers and the roller-coaster ride, Rahane was ready.
To face the mighty South Africans in their own backyard is never an easy task, especially for the batsmen who have flourished in conditions and pitches that are completely different to these. But Rahane was up for the challenge as in the first opportunity that he got — in the first Test at Johannesburg — he batted in a matured way to take India safely to a respectable total of 255 for five at stumps on Day 1 after Virat Kohli had slammed a ton. Rahane may have missed out on completing a half-century as he fell for 47 the next day, but he had shown by then that he’s ready to grab the opportunity by both hands.
Rahane, like few other Indian batsmen, played cautiously throughout his stay at the crease at the Wanderers. He left the ones that were pitched in the corridor of uncertainty and those that threatened to trouble him. Rahane punished the loose ones and reaped benefit of being watchful. The pitch at the Wanderers, being greenish in nature, did not have movement for the bowlers but had enough bounce to trouble those who, for a major part of their career, have batted on the tracks that suited batting more than bowling.
At Johannesburg, Virat Kohli may have hogged all the limelight with a fighting century, but the way Rahane batted with him and after his dismissal showed that he has a long journey ahead in international cricket. Without any significant practice on the South African wickets and match-conditions — which the other Indian batsmen, including Kohli, got in the One-Day Internationals (ODIs) — Rahane walked out with a resolution to bat as long as he can, and produced an innings which would not only have delighted his fans, but also the worried Indian camp. After all, India was perhaps facing the toughest challenge in past few years — they weren’t ranked as lowly as they were in this series.
In the second Test, after Dale Steyn had ran through the Indian batting line-up in the first innings, Rahane once again blunted the menacing South African pacer and company to crawl to 51 not out. He faced 121 balls, hit eight boundaries and spent as many as 191 minutes at the crease. This was an exemplary show — also Team India’s strategy on the South Africa tour for the Tests — to spend lot of time at the wicket, tire out the hosts’ pacers and make them work hard. Rahane did exactly that. In the second essay, Rahane left the ones that threatened and punished the bad ones. Rahane started off on a cautious note and build on the momentum for a big knock. He used the crease well, played strokes on the up and displayed good movement of the feet. Rahane was determined to not let one end open to the South Africans to pounce upon, as the wickets from the other end continued to tumble.
When Dhoni departed for a poor stroke and Ravindra Jadeja too played a reckless shot, not many would have put their money on Rahane to notch up a big score, keeping the reputation of the Indian tail-enders in the mind. Along with Zaheer Khan, Rahane weathered the storm for some time and kept the South Africans at bay.
Rahane draws a lot of inspiration from Rahul Dravid, with whom he spent precious time, while playing for the Indian Premier League (IPL) side Rajasthan Royals for couple of seasons. Rahane, like Dravid, made his international debut in England during India’s disastrous tour in 2011, and emerged as a bright spot. He impressed in the One-Day International (ODI) series and showed that he has all the qualities that are required to play well outside the subcontinent in the tougher situations. In a few ways, Rahane’s knock of 96 at Durban was similar to Dravid’s 95 at Lord’s in 1996 — both the batsmen batted with the tail and added crucial runs for their side.
He will certainly be disappointed after missing out on a century at Durban, but the praise that Rahane got from the South African players including captain Graeme Smith will not only last long in his memory, but will give him enough fuel to carry on ahead in his career.
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