Sachin Tendulkar has 51 Test tons to his name but he was an exception. As were Rahul Dravid (36), Sunil Gavaskar (34), Virender Sehwag (23) and Mohammad Azharuddin (22). They got to the landmark with such ease that the common fan often forgot how difficult it is to keep scoring centuries in international cricket.
Only 12 Indians – including the five players named above – have scored more than 10 centuries in Test cricket. Navjot Singh Sidhu ended up with nine, Vijay Manjrekar and Vijay Hazare have seven each, Tiger Pataudi 6, Yuvraj Singh 3. The likes of Kris Srikkanth and Anshuman Gaekwad only managed two centuries in their entire careers. Pravin Amre got a century on debut and never got to the mark again.
As the numbers illustrate, centuries don’t come easy – so when you get a chance to get to the mark, you take it. Form can be fickle – which is why you hear Sunil Gavaskar, time and again, talk about how batsmen should get to the mark in singles.
In the Durban Test against South Africa last year, Rahane, in the 90s, found himself running out of partners. Zaheer Khan gave him support but then the right-hander decided he had to try and get to the mark with some quick runs. He missed a straight ball and was last man out. India made 223 and Rahane ended up with 96.
Rahane has never been a man in a rush. He is a man who believes hard work will get him to his goal – a regular spot in India’s Test team. So after the SA tour, he went back to Amre, who is Rahane’s personal batting coach now and worked on his game as he always does. There was no thought that he wouldn’t get a chance again. But to make the most of that chance, he knew that he couldn’t stop working hard.
Amre was also coach of the Mumbai team for five years (2007-2011). It was a tenure that coincided with Rahane’s debut for the team in the Ranji trophy.
“Rahane has always been very willing to put in the hard yards. He simply never takes it easy. In the five years that I was Mumbai coach, he didn’t miss a single nets session. He was all about commitment and wanting to get better and that is his attitude even today.”
“For ten days before every tour – we work on specifics. Well, actually we make the plan and he unfailingly follows it to a T. That’s just how he is. He doesn’t know another way.”
Now, Rahane is no spring chicken (68 first-class matches, 6068 runs, avg of 59.58). He has been around long enough and those who have seen him from his early days can’t help but talk about his evolution. He was a thin lanky lad in his under-19 days who played a lot of shots on the up. Now, his build is stocky and his stroke-play is solid.
For five consecutive Ranji seasons, Rahane scored more than a thousand runs. Cheteshwar Pujara was doing the same for Saurashtra at the same time. In that sense, they are similar. They earned their spurs – just as Rahul Dravid did once upon a time. And after those five years, Amre knew that Rahane was ready.
“Ranji Trophy allows you to understand your game. It is a process – what you are capable of, what your limits are and that is crucial for every player. It allows you to refine your game,” Amre said.
That refinement was in evidence at the Basin Reserve as Rahane stroked his way to a classical first Test ton. There were no slogs, there was no bewildering flourish (there was a pulled six but that came only after his ton). Instead we had cover drives and well-timed pushes down the ground. It was a chance-less innings.
So how did he prepare for the tour?
“We focused on the basics…. on technique, strokes and footwork. Even when Rahane plays in the IPL, he rarely does the slog. We know that if you have good technique, you can survive… no… succeed at every level. So there were some simple exercises to hone reaction times but other than that the focus was just good technique.
“He didn’t have a great debut against Australia (in March 2013, 7 and 1; in fact he made his Test debut before Rohit Sharma) but that set him back a bit. But it also steeled his resolve. He became even more determined. He also realised that mental strength is the key in international cricket.”
That mental fortitude was on display against the Kiwis as well. His reaction upon reaching his century was muted. He removed his helmet, raised his bat, spread out his arms, hugged Zaheer Khan and then got back to work.
“That reaction was typically Ajju,” said Amre.
Rahane perished soon after, on 118, caught brilliantly by Trent Boult. But by then the job was done. India had a big lead and are striding towards a rare overseas win. And as Amre pointed out, this is just the beginning.
“This is the first of many,” he said in an assured voice. “He is here to stay."
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