India vs New Zealand: Rise of the Virat Kohli-Ajinkya Rahane partnership crucial for Indian cricket

Jigar Mehta, Oct, 09 2016

India vs South Africa, Day 2 of Durban Test 2013: It's the 81st over of the innings, South Africa have taken the new ball in the previous over. Graeme Smith brings back Dale Steyn for his second spell. The pitch has eased a bit for batting. Steyn's first spell figures read 5-2-19-3. Of the fifth ball of his new spell, Steyn darts in a sharp bouncer. Rahane doesn't seem to have the reaction time and without watching the ball, looks to duck. He misjudges and is hit on the helmet. He doesn't react, there was no grimace or show of pain. He is playing just his third Test, against one of the best bowling attacks.

Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane in the Indore Test. AP

Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane in the Indore Test. AP

But what follows, changes the course of the innings, and what could be Rahane's approach to Test cricket. Virat Kohli walks up to Rahane from the non-striker's end and utters, "attack kar isko" (attack him). The Mumbai batsman, showing positive intent, replies in the affirmative. Rahane responds with a thumping pull for four through square leg in Steyn's next over, and then drives him swiftly straight back for another four in his next over. The story of Kohli-Rahane partnership begins here.

Rahane goes on to score his maiden Test fifty as he and Kohli add 66 crucial runs for the fifth wicket after India has lost Murali Vijay and Rohit Sharma off consecutive balls. In the previous Test in Johannesburg, the pair had added 68 runs in the first innings to steady India from a tricky situation, but it was the Durban partnership that marked the beginning of a special bond.

Fast forward to 2016: India had just lost Cheteshwar Pujara in the first innings of the Indore Test against New Zealand. The hosts have been squandering away good starts in the last two Tests with the lower order coming to the rescue. With the scorecard reading 100/3, the need of the hour was stability and a big partnership. Kohli, struggling for form, had started off cautiously. He had shown glimpses of his self in the second innings of the previous Test but couldn't convert the start. Rahane joined him in the middle and the two saw off the tricky period where Mitchell Santner and Jeetan Patel were bowling well, before getting into the fluent mode and ripping apart the Kiwi attack. There was nothing stopping the two as they smashed records at will. The two added 365 for the fifth wicket - India's highest for fourth wicket and fifth highest for any wicket for India to help the hosts post a mammoth total of 557 (Kohli 211, Rahane 188).

The highlight of this innings was the way the duo mixed caution with aggression and interchanged their roles. Rahane and Kohli are completely opposite personalities – Kohli is aggressive and someone who lets his emotions out while Rahane is calm and composed, going about his business earnestly. And it is this combination that helps them complement each other really well. Rahane can be aggressive on field and can up the ante at any given point which makes it even more dangerous.

"He (Kohli) is aggressive and I am calm so that combination works for us," Rahane had told in June this year. "In a way I too am aggressive but I don’t show it; he is different. Each individual is different and that benefits both of us in different ways. When I need to be aggressive he boosts me and when he needs to cool down then I am able to probably help. Not only on the field but off the field as well we continue to communicate and that trust is the factor that has helped our partnership," he added.

As the partnership has grown, the roles have kept changing continuously. Sometimes, Kohli is the aggressor, sometimes Rahane, sometimes both, and sometimes none, given the situation of the game. Add to that a good understanding in running between the wickets and it makes the duo a deadly combo.

Since that Johannesburg partnership, the duo have forged together some memorable and vital stands. In Adelaide, against Australia in 2013-14, the two added 101 from just 25.5 overs – the highest partnership of the innings, to help India to 444 in reply to Australia's mammoth 517 in the first innings. In the next Test in Melbourne, the duo ripped apart the Australian attack with a 262-run stand – India's highest outside Asia in last 10 years – at a run rate of 4.53 in the first innings.

"He kept taking him [Johnson] on, didn't let him settle into a rhythm, which was very important for us with the new ball especially. That's how you play Test cricket, that's how your partner helps you and vice versa," Kohli had said at the end of day's play.

Amidst the carnage, there was a mini sledging battle going on between Kohli and Johnson but instead of appeasing Kohli, he played a different role which said a lot about Rahane's understanding of the situation and his partner.

“I was at the non-striking end when Mitchell Johnson was sledging Virat, first I thought I should calm Virat down, Rahane recalled on an online show. "But then I noticed that that Johnson was not enjoying Kohli sledging him by reading his face and that he was going on the back foot. So when I saw that, I didn't stop him. In spite of the Johnson-sledging, Virat was attacking and playing well so I didn't want to break the momentum. From then on we decided that we both will only attack," he added.

The duo got together again to add 85 in the fourth innings at the MCG which played a big role in helping India draw the Test after being in a spot of bother at 19/3, chasing 384 on the fifth day.

Against South Africa, last year, the duo added 70 runs in the first innings at the Feroz Shah Kotla with India in a quandary at 66/3 and then stitched the first century partnership of the series (after 11 innings), in the second innings they added 154 for the fifth wicket joining in at 57/4. Rahane went on to become just the fifth India batsman to score centuries in both the innings of a Test. A strong understanding between the two was yet again on display.

"Virat was batting very well. He was scoring at a strike rate of 70-80. So my thinking was just to keep giving him the strike and take my time," Rahane had told the Times of India in an interview. "I remember telling him... 'you just take your time' because he was batting on 82 and I was 50-odd and I thought I'll take the risks until he gets his century and then he can take over," Rahane added.

Since the Adelaide Test (8 December 2014), Kohli and Rahane have added most runs (1272) by a pair in Tests and they boast the highest average of 79.50 for pairs with a minimum of 1000 runs in Test cricket in that period, with the pair of Alastair Cook-Joe Root (71.43) being second. Overall, the pair averages 63.16 with four century and seven fifty-plus stands between them, including a double and a triple hundred stands.

Over the last couple of decades, the batting pairs of Tendulkar-Dravid, Ganguly-Tendulkar, Dravid-Laxman, Dravid-Ganguly formed the cornerstone of India's middle order. The Kohli-Rahane partnership has flourished like a child genius that has been given a university place. If it continues with the same domination and consistency then they are in line to be remembered in the same terms as the above mentioned illustrious duos.

Note: The numbers and statistics have been updated as on 9th October 2016 in this article

Published Date: Oct 09, 2016 | Updated Date: Oct 09, 2016

Rank Team Points Rating
1 India 4493 125
2 South Africa 3395 110
3 England 4097 105
4 Australia 3087 100
5 New Zealand 3114 97
Rank Team Points Rating
1 South Africa 5957 119
2 Australia 5505 117
3 India 4717 115
4 England 5645 113
5 New Zealand 5123 111
Rank Team Points Rating
1 New Zealand 1625 125
2 England 1962 123
3 Pakistan 2417 121
4 West Indies 2222 117
5 India 2183 115