It's an old cricketing adage that batting in a partnership is more important than scoring runs. Two players standing up to 11 men for several hours on a cricket field is a sight to behold for fans. Long partnerships, like the one Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane shared on Day 2 of the third Test against New Zealand, gives one the chance to observe the chemistry between the two batsmen at the crease.
Epic partnerships — like Laxman and Dravid or Jayawardena and Sangakkara batting together — aren't memorable just for the shots they played, but also for how they shook hands, spoke to each other, smiled and basked in each other's glory.
Watching Rahane and Kohli bat on Sunday, you could see there aren't two more contrasting personalities in the team and yet they were gelling beautifully. If the two were at a party, Kohli would be on the dance floor, making sure all eyes are on him; Rahane would be quietly chitchatting with a girl in a corner, flooring her with his sensibilities and conversation skills. While Kohli is the blue-eyed poster boy of Indian cricket, Rahane is the all-season, all-format, all-situation talisman.
But while Kohli's is the first name on the teamsheet when the selectors sit down, Rahane's will always have some doubters.
Perhaps Rahane relishes this journeyman tag. Perhaps he enjoys having the spotlight away from him. Perhaps having critics who constantly doubt him keeps him honest, helps him stay motivated.
Rahane had shown great promise early in his career when he scored more than 1,000 runs in Mumbai's Ranji title win in 2008/09 season. The first I saw him bat was on his ODI debut in 2011, on a lively English pitch at Chester-le-Street. England's bowlers — predictably — tried to bounce the newcomer, but Rahane showed he was up to the task, playing two confident pull shots to get his first two boundaries in international cricket. Unlike a lot of Indian debutantes, Rahane already had the game for overseas conditions. He looked a finished product, having done the hard yards in domestic cricket.
Despite a good show in England, however, Rahane could never cement his place in the ODI team. He couldn't score that big match winning hundred that would make it hard for the selectors to drop him.
The Mumbai batsman's year of reckoning came in the form of a transfer to Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League (IPL). Dubbed a Test specialist, Rahane set the scene on fire in IPL 2012, with stellar knocks including a hundred.
Having made a name for himself in the IPL, Rahane might have expected the selectors to use these performances as a basis for selection in T20s for India, but it seems they wanted to pick more glamorous names who could score quickly or at least gave the impression that they belonged to the format. Rahane's methods are different though. When he attacks, he does it almost in ninja mode. He stays invisible, non-violent and quietly gets the job done. If you look at the numbers, Rahane and Dhawan both have identical strike rates of 113 in T20Is. Even in the IPL, they score at roughly the same pace; and though Rahane gets runs more consistency, it is Dhawan who always got the nod ahead of Rahane.
In Test cricket, however, Rahane is India's most reliable player. He announced his arrival with two fighting 50s against South Africa in his third Test. Batting lower down the order, he consistently got tough runs in trying overseas conditions against good bowling attacks. Perhaps in his effort to emulate his idol Rahul Dravid, Rahane averages higher in away Tests than at home.
A long partnership on a hot day at Indore was as much a tribute to Rahane and Kohli's fitness as their batting skills. Despite their contrasting personalities, both men have immense respect for each other's abilities, having built their careers on their shared values of discipline, hard work and fitness. Now vice-captain of India's Test team, Rahane's chemistry with skipper Kohli augers well for the future. Following their epic 262-run stand in Melbourne, their 365 in Indore shows it will be their partnerships that will take this team forward.