Every time Ajinkya Rahane goes out to bat for India, he must look at the mirror and tell himself that the selectors destroyed the ambitions, self-belief, confidence and possibly the career of a triple-centurion to accommodate him in the team. At least then he will cringe after playing the sort of shot that led to his dismissal at the Feroz Shah Kotla on Tuesday.
Rahane is not an impact player in the Virat Kohli mould. In fact he does not fit even in the Cheteshwar Pujara category. The latter has played only 11 Tests more than Rahane but has aggregated around 1500 more runs. His average, centuries, fifties, highest scores are all superior to the Mumbai batsman.
Rahane himself must realise that the only reasons why his successive failures are not hurting the team are because this Sri Lankan team is far too weak to exploit the advantage and that the other batsmen — Kohli, Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Pujara and Rohit Sharma — have made up for his failures at various times.
In the last year or so, that is, since July 2016, Rahane has a mere three tons, two of those coming in the sub-continent. Of course Kohli is a phenomenon and cannot be compared to Rahane. Kohli in that time frame has registered nine centuries, inclusive of six double hundreds. During a similar period Pujara has notched up seven hundreds including one double ton. So next time somebody wants to talk of temporary, permanent, class or form when Rahane gets a big score he had better keep these statistics in mind.
Rahane’s innings on Tuesday was like three innings being passed off as one. He was twice reprieved for LBW by DRS. The score of 10 he made was his highest in this series, surpassing the 4 he made in Kolkata. Yet it was not the scores alone that made his stay out in the middle pathetic. He looked miserable right through until he decided to put himself out of misery by playing that terrible shot. He essayed a wild heave against off-spinner Dilruwan Perera and mistimed it so badly that even on the small Kotla outfield, he failed to clear the deep mid-wicket fielder.
The first thought that popped up after that ridiculous dismissal was, what happened to the famed Mumbai ‘khadoos’ batting culture? His team coach Ravi Shastri was a famous exponent of that attitude to batting. With his limited talent, Shastri took on the great West Indian pace bowlers of yesteryears and scored centuries with just his ‘khadoos’ approach going for him. Shorn of that attitude, Rahane fell apart all too soon on Tuesday.
Thus, when he has so many demons to fight within, what was the need to saddle him with further responsibility by making him vice-captain to South Africa?
Even if the selectors had taken a gamble in including him in the hope that he will somehow come good, they could have let him work out his issues without thrusting him as Kohli’s deputy.
It is no secret that international teams pounce on an opponent’s weakness and go all out to exploit it. Rahane will be a sitting duck in South Africa. They will not only sledge him but give him such a working over that if he fails in his first innings, the rest of the tour will descend into a nightmare.
It is for this reason that Rahane needs to remind himself that the selectors axed Karun Nair despite the youngster making that superb triple-ton against England only to accommodate his ‘khadoos-less’ self. Rahane should imagine the plight of Nair: triple hundred in one innings and dropped from the team in the very next Test! And here he was being given chance after chance.
Rahane has flopped even against Odisha and Baroda Ranji Trophy bowling attacks, but has still been rewarded with vice-captaincy of the national team. Every effort is being made to ensure that he succeeds. He is played in all forms of the game, sent up or down the order and virtually being mollycoddled.
The only way he can justify this faith in him is by registering not just one big score, but a series of high-impact centuries. Till that happens, there will always be the feeling that for the team management and selectors, some players are more equal than others.