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India vs England 2014, 4th Test at Old Trafford: Ajinkya Rahane needs to play decisive role

Ajinkya Rahane has been a consistent performer in the ongoing series against England © Getty Images
Ajinkya Rahane has been a consistent performer in the ongoing series against England © Getty Images

Ajinkya Rahane has been — along with Murali Vijay — India’s most consistent batsman in the ongoing series against England. He scored two half-centuries and was India’s sole bright spot in their shambolic performance at Southampton. Shiamak Unwalla wonders whether he should bat higher up the order at Old Trafford.

When India came to England in 2011, they had the might of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and VVS Laxman. They were trounced 4-0, and India never won another Test match away from home till Lord’s, 2014. When India arrived in the British Isles this time around, the “Fab Four” had all retired, Sehwag was out of contention, and Gambhir was only the third choice opener.

Trent Bridge was where the warning bells first rang. Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane all got starts, but it was the lower-order that really saved India. The match ended in a tame draw, but not before Stuart Binny and Bhuvneshwar Kumar out-scored the frontline batsmen.

Then came Lord’s. India’s first win away from home since 2011 against the West Indies at Kingston, Jamaica. Arguably the nation’s greatest overseas victory ever. A victory set up by the bowlers — both with the ball and the bat. Murali Vijay and Rahane played superlative knocks in both innings, but the final flourish was provided by Ravindra Jadeja and Bhuvneshwar.

At Southampton, India’s batting performance was atrocious at best. None barring Rahane showed any fight whatsoever in the second innings. On a pitch that was doing very little, the Indian batsmen created demons where there were none. They played Moeen Ali — who undoubtedly  bowled brilliantly — with far too much respect. They weren’t able to keep James Anderson at bay. And most importantly, they were playing for a draw when, with a bit of intent, they might have even threatened a victory.

In all three Tests, Rahane has shown positive intent and the urgency to score runs. Even while playing for a draw, he did not let go the scoring opportunities on offer. And that is where he has stood out from the rest. Vijay has left the ball very well, and that has been the key to his success. But Pujara and Kohli have invariably got themselves into a tangle. Dhawan seems to lack the technique needed at the highest level, especially in seaming conditions. MS Dhoni has batted well within himself, and has made good on his promise of being aggressive.

Rohit was impressive during his brief stay at the crease, but seems to lack the application to spend long hours in the middle — something Rahane has in spades. In terms of ability, Rohit has perhaps a few more shots than Rahane, but it is Rahane’s temperament that takes him leaps and bounds ahead of Rohit.

A case could be made of Rahane batting higher up the order. He has been India’s best middle-order batsman by far in this series. If he can blunt the new ball, the likes of Kohli and Dhoni might find it easier coming in after him. In any scenario, India’s batting needs to sort itself out quickly. And who better than Rahane to lead the way?

Complete coverage of India’s tour of England 2014

(Shiamak Unwalla is a reporter with Cricket Country. He is a self-confessed Sci-Fi geek and Cricket fanatic who likes to pass his free time by reading books, watching TV shows, and eating food. Sometimes all at the same time. You can follow him on twitter at @ShiamakUnwalla)

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