Kolkata: It has been a homecoming of sorts for Ajinkya Rahane, India’s Test vice-captain, when he stepped into the Ageas Bowl in Southampton as part of the World Test Championship final squad earlier this month. Ignored for the 2019 ICC World Cup squad, ‘Jinx’ had spent his time - far from the madding crowd - playing for Hampsire as Virat Kohli & Co were busy with their campaign in the showpiece.
There was, in fact, a period when India were scrambling for an ideal number four batsman with KL Rahul suffering an injury early on in the tournament but surprisingly enough - Rahane’s name was never thrown in the mix. He plodded on quietly with his job at the Ageas Bowl, having a mixed run - scoring 307 runs from seven matches at an average of 23.61. While he scored a hundred on his county debut against Nottinghamshire, the Mumbai batsman managed only one fifty during the rest of the season.
Once the county of Shane Warne, the venue has the reputation of being a slower surface - and the Indian think tank could well be picking on Rahane’s brains on deciding the playing XI against New Zealand for the marquee June 18-22 clash. The ex-Hampshire man, however, will be preoccupied a bit with his own form as the seasoned campaigner has not been able often convert the starts ever since that defiant century against Australia in Melbourne in December.
There have been some hushed whispers about the lack of big scores from the spine of Indian batting from number three to five - the captain himself has not had an international century since November, 2019, while the modest scores of Cheteshwar Pujara and Rahane in the home series against England were overshadowed by the heroics of Indian spinners. Rahane, for the record, has had four single-digit scores and one half-century in the last six Tests.
This perhaps sums up the conundrum about Rahane again - a man who had been forever ‘‘on trial’’ despite one of the trusted lieutanents of Indian cricket on overseas conditions. In this cycle of the World Test Championship alone which began in 2018, he has been India’s leading run-scorer with 1095 runs, including three hundreds in 17 matches.
It’s however reassuring to see Team India batting coach Vikram Rathour coming out strongly in defence of Rahane in an interview on the eve of departure for England. “He’s played these 70-odd Tests and he’s been a standout player. He’s one guy in the team who can play the way he wants – he can raise the tempo and then again, be extremely solid. He is working hard to add more elements to his batting and it’s an ongoing process.
‘‘It’s an area we’ve been discussing and I’m sure we’ll see bigger things moving forward. I’ve always believed batting is about scoring runs. It’s not about not getting out. A batsman should always look to score. Ajinkya is just the kind to do that,” he said.
The wonderful teamman and self-effacing character that Rahane is, he also found a backer in MSK Prasad, former chief selector. “I think he is too good a player to start with. Of course, he has gone through lots of ups and downs but whenever the team has been in trouble, he rises to the occasion. He has that potential. The graph is a little up and down but I don’t foresee any drastic decision being taken by team management,” Prasad said in a recent interview.
“He will come back strongly. He is a wonderful teamman and everybody likes him a lot. Whenever Virat hasn’t played a big innings, this man has stepped up. We must not forget how he delivered as a captain and a player in Australia when many seniors were absent,” he added.
At 33, Rahane knows that an unusually extended Test series abroad - six of them in a space of two months - could be his best chance yet to silence the critics. And that journey could start from Ageas Bowl itself!
RAHANE IN TESTS
Highest score: 188