By Nishad Pai Vaidya
Ajinkya Rahane is a class act – 17 hundreds and 18 fifties from just 48 first-class matches at the stupendous average of nearly 68 speaks volumes for his the precocious 23-year-old’s talent. One of the successes in the recent Emerging Players Tournament in Australia, the Mumbai youngster made an impact straight away on his debut with the Indian senior side on Wednesday.
Opening the Indian innings in the T20 international against England at Old Trafford, Rahane was confidence personified as he treated the English opening bowlers with disdainfully authority.
Not many would have expected him to get a game in the one-day series that follows, but his ballistic 61 off 39 balls at Manchester almost assures him a place in a side that has been struggling right through the tour. Rahane’s infused much confidence down the order and, after being outplayed in the Test series, the Indians definitely had a chance to emerge victorious yesterday.
In my previous article I had mentioned Parthiv Patel as the automatic choice to open the batting with Sachin Tendulkar in the One-Day International (ODI) series against England. Parthiv has done decently well since his comeback into the one-day side late last year and continued that good work into the tour games prior to the one off T20 against England. However, after Rahane’s authoritative batting at Manchester, Parthiv is likely to lose out.
Rahane came into the Indian set-up with the reputation of being a solid batsman with a balanced head and good technique. He fits into the classical mould as he is technically correct and plays all the shots. His numbers in the three formats would indicate that he is more comfortable in the longer versions. However, he was absolutely brilliant on his T20 international debut.
Making an international debut can be unnerving in any format. It is the day a young player dreams about for years, and when that turns to reality it is natural to find butterflies in the stomach. Such a scenario becomes even tougher to deal with if you are told to do something outside your comfort zone. Rahane isn’t an opening batsman by trade but was asked to do that important job on his debut which would have put even more pressure on him. Despite all these factors, he looked comfortable in the middle and was up for everything Stuart Broad and Company challenged him with. What it tells us about Rahane is that he has a good game temperament which will help him deal with tough situations in the middle.
The best part about his batting was that he played good cricketing strokes and not agricultural essays – not uncommon to see in T20 cricket. But here was a man who played according to the book and showed that one can play the conventional way in the shortest format. There may have been the odd top edge over short fine-leg, but all the other strokes were natural and the knock was devoid of any slogs. Whenever the English bowlers pitched it short he wasn’t afraid to hook or pull. Any lose delivery was dispatched with disdain.
Two shots stood out: A wristy flick off the pads through midwicket for four to an overpitched delivery by Stuart Broad – reminiscent of Wasim Jaffer, Rahane’s Mumbai teammate. The second was an inside-out shot through cover to the cover boundary off Graeme Swann. The best part about these shots was that his head was absolutely still when he played the ball - sign of class player.
Any Indian cricket fan would have preferred to see Rahane make his first appearance for India in whites as he promises to do very well in the longest format of the game. Nevertheless, a chance to represent the country at the highest level came and he grabbed the opportunity that comes his way.
After Rahul Dravid’s heroics in an otherwise forgettable tour, Ajinkya Rahane’s debut on Wednesday is most heartening for Indian cricket – especially considering the fact that three of its middle-order stalwarts could soon be bidding adieu to the game.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 20-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.")