By Nishad Pai Vaidya
Ajinkya Rahane, the talented batsman from Mumbai, has displayed his class and precocious talent in his short international career. The straight bat, the still head and the perfect balance while playing shots are indications of a class act. Indeed, Rahane has the goods to flourish at the highest level. Years of consistency at the domestic level and some inspiring performances for the India Emerging Players side in Australia earlier this year led to an India call-up. In his eight One-Day Internationals (ODIs), he has lived up to expectations.
Rahane’s knock of 91 in the third ODI against England at Mohali was a testimony of his technique and temperament. He hadn’t scored many runs in the previous two ODIs and that would have been at the back of his mind before coming into the Mohali game. When he walked out to open the batting with Parthiv Patel, they had the responsibility of getting India off to a good start in their pursuit of a challenging target set by England.
At the start of India’s run chase, the England bowlers were getting the ball to move in the air. As the innings progressed, dew was expected to set in which would have helped the batting side as bowlers would have found it difficult to grip the ball. The onus on Rahane and Parthiv was to see off the tricky moments and get through to the phase where batting would become a lot easier.
The Indian openers have to be given credit for the way they dealt with the early stages. They respected the bowlers but scored at a very decent rate which set the tone for India’s successful run-chase. When Parthiv got out in the 16th over, it was important for Rahane to continue, as he was the set batsman and needed to guide the innings with Gautam Gambhir.
What was most impressive about Rahane’s knock was the way he kept the scoreboard ticking without taking undue risks. After Parthiv’s dismissal he continued to pick the singles which didn’t allow the bowlers to settle. Almost half the runs he scored at Mohali were off the singles as he kept placing the ball in the gaps and also ran the quick ones. His knock contained only six hits to the fence and yet he scored at a very good strike rate of 87.50. It highlights the importance of running the singles in ODIs.
The knock at Mohali may be Rahane’s highest score in the Indian jersey so far, but his efforts in England were far more impressive. He debuted for an Indian side that was facing the heat right since the time they landed in the country. Victories were elusive and injuries were in abundance. But here was a young man who was up for a challenge in alien conditions against a bowling attack which had its tail up. He showed exemplary technique against the English bowlers under swinging conditions and emerged successful on most occasions. Scores of 61 (in the T20 at Manchester), 40, 54, 38 and 26 in a debut series speak volumes of the young man’s ability.
The other important quality showed by him is his fearlessness against the short ball. Whenever the England bowlers bowled short, he wasn’t afraid to give it a go. There may have been a few instances where he hasn’t controlled the short ones very well, but luck has favored him on most occasions. The pertinent thing is that he hasn’t been tentative. The saying “fortune favors the brave” cannot have a better example.
The only fly in the ointment is that he walks into his shots as times. He has a still head and good balance at the crease, but there are times when he walks into his shots which take away power and timing from the effort. It isn’t a big problem, but if he can work on it, we may see him get a lot more runs through the covers.
The signs from Rahane have been very encouraging for Indian cricket. With the busy schedule coming up, India have to consider him for Test cricket. Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar may come back for the West Indies Test series. In case they do not attain 100% fitness before the start of the series, Rahane would definitely get a look in.
Suresh Raina’s struggles in the Test series in England exposed the hole in his technique for the longer version. Till he doesn’t get his technique against the short ball right, he is unlikely contender for the No six slot. The selectors may look at Rahane, but Virat Kohli’s recent form has furthered his claim for a Test spot. It will be a toss-up between him and Rahane.
The selectors have to view the issue keeping in mind the future of Indian Test cricket. Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Tendulkar have reached the twilight of their careers and it is important to develop a line of batsmen to succeed them. As discussed in one of my articles during the ill fated England tour (Batsmen that the national selectors should look at to rebuild Team India), Rahane is one of the promising first-class players from the Indian domestic set-up who needs to be groomed for the future. It is time to include him into India’s Test set-up as he has the calibre for the classical form of 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.")