He should have woken up, 18 balls in. As the ball rose in the sky, arching towards Ishant Sharma at short fine leg, Rahane’s season could have sunk further. Another innings where he played some pretty shots, but no more. Another innings where watchers spoke of how good Rahane looks when he bats, but he doesn’t bat fast or long enough. Shine, but no speed. From the man Rahul Dravid once described with the word ‘steel’.
Instead, the catch went down, and Rahane’s dream innings began.
Rahane identifies strongly with aggression, even though few observers would identify it with him. Before this innings, he had scored at a strike rate of more than 130 this IPL season, a significant rise from a career strike rate of just around 120. That tells you that he is trying, that he is improving. The effort is aggression, action on areas of concern is aggression. And yet, his season has been deemed mediocre, because of the flying starts that the IPL is throwing up. Rahane’s hitherto opening partner, Jos Buttler, has scored at a strike rate of 150. Even the hare looks slow amidst cheetahs.
Then, there is his personality. The quintessential Marathi mulga. Doesn’t swear, doesn’t look comfortable in front of the camera, doesn’t ever say the wrong things. Even his supporters are mild mannered. Virat Kohli has fans. Rahane has well-wishers. So close is he to the stereotype that we neglect the many times it doesn’t fit. He is often defined more often by what he doesn’t do, and what he does is easily forgotten.
And yet he has tried. According to CricViz, Rahane’s attack rating has been 154, only just below the IPL average. It tells us a little about intent, but also limitations. Rahane relies on the shots he plays really well: the on the rise drives that look so good space shuttles should launch off them. The step-out against the fast bowlers. The sweep to spin. The inside out cover drive. More often, he relies on the dab to third man, the nudge to square leg. He doesn’t play the scoop, rarely reverse sweeps, and plays more than a few dot balls. He looks every bit the Test batsman in coloured kit, trying to build new gears while his innings is in motion.
Many, including me, have called for his head. For him to hang up the pink helmet, and continue to serve India in Tests. It would do nothing to diminish his legacy. The RR captaincy had been taken from him, and it seemed a matter of time before his place in the XI would follow. ‘Team man’, Steve Smith called him, and he would take one for the team. But he’s a stubborn bugger, under all that mild-manneredness. He doesn’t give up. He said earlier this season that he believed there was a place for the anchor-type game he offers. When it didn’t work, he reworked it.
It began the ball after. Rajasthan had scored just 25 off the 24 balls in the Powerplay till then. Rahane and Smith were pottering along, two anchors at the crease when the waters were clear and the ship needed sails. Then the ball rose in the sky, and then came the drop.
The next ball, Rahane skipped out of the crease and lofted Axar Patel over his head for six. The next over he forehanded Kagiso Rabada over his head for another. From 16 off 18 balls, he went to 40 off 25, his second highest score in IPL Powerplays. From 25 in four overs, RR finished the Powerplay with 52 off six. Rahane had once altered his backlift in the middle of the international season. Building new gears was not beyond him.
Delhi had brought in an extra seamer for a flatter pitch. The wicket suited him, the attack suited him, so Rahane continued to dream. The 13th over saw a scoop, and Rahane fans didn’t know whether to squeal in delight or pick their jaws up from the floor. His detractors said it wouldn’t last, so he carried his bat through the innings. His hundred was faster than the one scored in the purple summer of 2012, when he used the IPL to break into the national team. Now he was using the IPL to show rejuvenation.
It wasn’t enough. Like so most of the centurions this IPL season, he found himself on the losing side. Delhi Capitals chased their target down on the back of the kind of power-hitting that can make class look slow. What more am I supposed to do, he must wonder. And so this isn’t quite a redemption story for Rahane.
But it was a reminder. To his fans. To his critics. To himself. Give hardworking players time, give them faith, and they will show you what they can become. Rahane has shown that he can fit the new expectations of this format, and earned breathing space. I’m keen to see what he does with it.