The play, Everyman, originally a 15th century lesson in the Christain concept of Judgment Day, tells an interesting story. In it, Everyman is called to face death, and realises that he can only take his good deeds to his reckoning, nothing else.
Ajinkya Rahane is India’s Everyman, except that when it comes to him, even cricket’s version of good deeds, i.e, runs, are easily forgotten. A lean England series, twin failures in Pune, and the calls for his head were already being heard. Forgotten, was the hundred he made at Lords, on a track that was as green as Rahane was when he made his 1st ton in windy Wellington. Ignored by the critics of his record against spin, were the twin hundreds in Delhi against South Africa, in a match where only two other people crossed fifty runs. Just as a mountain of first class runs were forgotten when Rahane spent years warming the Indian bench, his last Test scores of 88 and 28 were forgotten.
Such has been the lot of Everyman Rahane.
Rahane himself could be blamed for this. He is not easy to remember. He has no million dollar endorsements that put him on billboards, no in-your-face moments to be relived on the nightly news, no triple century. What he does have though, is a record of scoring runs when his team needs them most. At Lord’s, he took India from 145 for seven to 275. In Wellington, from 165 for five, to 423. And on Tuesday in Bengaluru, from 120 for four (effectively 33 for four), to 238 when he was dismissed.
Rahane knew that he needed to change things up to avoid a repeat of the scores he had mustered in this series so far: 13, 18, and 17. This is the man who had changed his backlift in the middle of a season. That’s like deciding to change a window in a plane while it’s in the air. He knew adjustments. So he brought out the sweep shot. He made an effort to look for singles. He finished with 52 vital runs.
Let’s not forget the context. It was the innings that would define the series. Kohli had failed twice, and should either Rahane or Pujara been out early, well, we all saw how quickly things could end. An Aussie win would have seen India give up any chance to claim the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. Then there was the pressure on Rahane’s own place. Karun Nair had outscored him in the first innings, and still carried the weight of that triple century with him. Rahane, well, he just had his Everyman runs. 2,430 of them.
But this is what Rahane does. And this is why India need him. On day two of the first Test, after Starc had staked India’s batting in the heart with the wickets of Pujara and Kohli in one over, Rahane negated his threat by studiously leaving outside off. He forced Starc to change the angle, go around the wicket, try something different. He spent 55 balls at the crease, second only to KL Rahul in that fateful first innings, on a pitch where even Stuart Binny would probably have got turn. It wasn’t enough, but it is what Rahane brings to the table. In Bangalore, in the company of another batter in his mould, Pujara, they rescued India. More accurately, they finally presented India. Having almost played in absentia for the first four days of the series, the pair showed the visitors and the crowd, this is who India is.
And yet, there will be no songs written about Everyman Rahane. I challenge you to find even two more articles focused on him, despite Kohli anointing him and Pujara as the best Test batters in the team. He is not the bard’s favourite, he is far from the crowd’s favourite, but he is one of Kohli’s favourites. When the most aggressive captain in Indian history marks possibly the most understated player in the team as one of the best, you know there is more than meets the eye. In a team that Kohli is moulding in his image, Rahane is his choice of vice captain, remember.
Rahane may not look it, but he is an aggressive player. And he showed that at the Chinnaswamy Stadium.
“We wanted to unsettle the spinners, especially Nathan Lyon. We wanted to dominate him”, Rahane said after the game. Dominate the man who had taken eight wickets in the first innings, and was expected to get even more purchase in the second. Dominate is a word Rahane uses a lot. And he showed it in the middle, although he tempered the usage according to the conditions.
Singles, rotation of strike, these can be forms of domination too. Nothing annoys a bowler more than not being able to bowl six balls in a row at a batter. Rahane had 23 singles and 5 twos in his half century. Without playing a shot in anger, Pujara and he got through an entire session without losing a wicket, a miracle on this pitch. That’s domination for you.
Kohli’s declaration that Rahane and Pujara were the best Test batters in his side was both nod of the hat and salve. Both the batters have suffered snubs recently. Pujara was ignored in the IPL, Rahane was dropped from the Indian T20 side. Both were told, you’re not what we’re looking for. But Kohli made it clear that they belonged in this team.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting arguably the best writer on cricket, Gideon Haigh, last month. In our conversation, he spoke of Ed Cowan, as one of the nicest people you would want to meet. He also said that Cowan had a steeliness about him. It is a description that fits Rahane quite well. Raise the temperature, and see how the steel glows, as all else melts.
That is Rahane. Everyman Rahane.
Rahane’s roots are ordinary, like RK Laxman’s common man, but with one critical difference: Rahane is not a silent observer; he is a silent participant. An Everyman who lives to accumulate good deeds with the bat, knowing that they are what count in the end. Rahane is the guy you want to succeed because he represents the most ordinary parts of us. And as he showed on Tuesday, ‘every man’ can be a part of something extraordinary.
The writer is a former India and Maharashtra cricketer, and now a freelance journalist. She tweets @SnehalPradhan