Ajinkya Rahane's fortunes in recent months could best be described by the word 'mixed' — much like that of a typical Bollywood masala flick.
Rahane's stature as a Test batsman has grown by leaps and bounds, and he now features among the top run-getters in India's recent engagements in the five-day format. However, it is his struggles with the bat in limited-overs cricket that has taken the sheen off his Test exploits.
Rahane has been vital for the middle order by accumulating runs at a steady pace and rotating the strike, a classic example of which was his mammoth 365-run stand for the fourth wicket with captain Virat Kohli in the Indore Test against New Zealand, and was the second-highest run-getter in the Test series against both West Indies and New Zealand.
Coming into the marathon home series against England, Rahane would be upbeat on the back of his recent exploits in Test cricket. His highest score of 188, a byproduct of his massive partnership with Kohli, would have done his confidence a world of good.
His struggles in the recent ODI series against the Black Caps, however, would have dented him slightly, with the Mumbai batsman failing to make an impact at the top of the order while occupying the slot emptied by the injured KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan. The prospect of losing one's place in the team in a particular format can be unsettling, and Rahane will have to put that past him in his preparations for the upcoming five-Test series starting 9 November.
The 28-year-old's path in cricket started in Mumbai, the city which he represented across age-levels in the sport. Rahane batted his way to the Mumbai senior team, which he represented in the Ranji Trophy. He displayed signs of a flourishing career in his very second Ranji season, becoming only the 11th player in the history of India's premier domestic tournament.
While his glorious run in the Ranji Trophy continued over the next couple of editions, it was his two centuries in the four-day fixtures in the Emerging Players Tournament in 2011 that propelled him into the Indian team for the first time. Rahane hit a 39-ball 61 in his international debut in the one-off T20I against England in Manchester. It was a sign of things to come.
Rahane's Test debut, however, was not as rosy as that in limited overs, and he managed only eight runs in his two innings against Australia in 2013.
His career graph was not without its crests and troughs thereafter. While the runs flowed in the 2012 and 2013 editions of the Indian Premier League (in which he gathered 560 and 488 runs respectively), his place in the national team across formats was not a guaranteed one. It was only after he started gathering runs on the surfaces of South Africa, New Zealand, England and Australia that he became an integral part of the side.
Among his most memorable knocks so far are his fine century in Lord's in the summer of 2014, and a fluent 147 at Melbourne later that year, both of which confirmed the No 5 spot as his in the Indian Test side. In the 2015 World Cup, he scored a valuable 79, which eventually helped the Men in Blue beat the Proteas for the first time in cricket's grandest tournament.
In the home Test series against South Africa in late 2015, Rahane became only the fifth Indian batsman to score a century in each innings of a Test, amassing 127 and an unbeaten 100 in Delhi. His intent to score runs has not dipped by the slightest, resulting in a consistent run heading into the upcoming England series.
It is his valiant ton against the Englishmen at Lord's that will serve as an inspiration for Rahane ahead of the first Test at Rajkot. His overall record against England, though, is not exactly his best — his average of 33.22 against them is only slightly better than that against Sri Lanka, against whom he has the worst record among all opponents.
Given the absence of a leading spinner in the English squad for the upcoming series, as well as the doubts over James Anderson's fitness for the series, Rahane will be smacking his lips at the prospect of improving his average against Alastair Cook and Co. That could go on to play an important part in India's ultimate mission of avenging the spate of series losses they have suffered recently at the hands of England.
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