Dubai: The clamour for bringing in Ajinkya Rahane for the remaining two Test matches in South Africa has grown so strong in the wake of the surrender at Cape Town, that it will be a real surprise if one doesn’t see the pint-size vice-captain as part of the playing XI at Supersport Park.
It’s still a matter of speculation as to what kind of combination that the team management will look at to shore up their batting strength without compromising on the edge of the bowling attack — as it was eventually the variety in the Indian pace attack which brought them back into the game in the first Test. However, the odds will be stacked against ‘Jinks’, as Rahane is popular among his teammates, to prove himself once again despite being one of the most bankable batsmen for India in overseas conditions.
It was somewhat ironical that when the Indian batsmen had been making runs at will against a Sri Lankan attack with effectively two bowlers of Test class, an out-of-form Rahane simply failed to get the starts in his customary No. 5 position. The sequence of 1,10, 2,4,0 in the series against Lankans was clearly a testimony to his lean patch, which had been continuing for an uncomfortably long period now.
In his last 20 Test innings, Rahane has had only two half-centuries with an average of 19.44 — an anomaly that is in total contradiction to his overall Test career so far. It has certainly not helped his cause that despite being such a complete batsman, Rahane has not been able to spend enough time in the middle with the team as he is not an automatic choice in the shorter formats of the game these days — an experiment which was there for the taking in the ODIs and T20s against Sri Lanka in December.
There was surely some merit in Virat Kohli’s somewhat defensive statement — after India’s defeat in Cape Town — about the choice of Rohit Sharma over Rahane that current form had been given the precedence. There is no doubt over Ro’s class as a strokemaker of the highest order and he had shown enough application in first Test to make way for Rahane, though it puts the team management in a quandary for now.
Apart from being one of the senior members of Kohli’s Team India, it’s Rahane’s overseas record which made him an automatic choice on the flight to South Africa. Much like his mentor Rahul Dravid, the middle order batsman is one of the rare examples among Indian batsmen who can flaunt a better average in overseas Tests (53.44) than at home with a total of 1817 runs from 24 Tests, with centuries in England, Australia and New Zealand.
The media reports from South Africa are full with the permutation and combination, which will make room for both Rahane and Sharma in the second Test — which can only be bouncier. There is a possibility that India may even go in with an extra batsman at the expense of one of the three fast bowlers, what with Hardik Pandya acquitting himself well in the role of the all-rounder.
Either way, the situation once again leaves Rahane in an unenviable position. A poor run in the Test matches, no match practice worth the while thanks to his exclusion from the shorter formats and then of course in South Africa is not going to make his job any easier — but then he is not the one to shy away from the challenges.
Can Rahane then prove to be India’s go-to man away from home again?
Let’s wait and watch …
Rahane in Tests:
Matches Runs Average
Home 19 1009 33.63
Away 24 1817 53.44