India vs Australia: Ajinkya Rahane's quest for consistency begins after rediscovering old touch
Ajinkya Rahane may have had a disappointing series against England, but he showed his old hunger for runs in the one-off Test against Bangladesh, and will look to continue in the same vein against Australia.
The Indian cricket team may have had to move on from the 'Fab Four', but the batting factory in its domestic setup continues to produce one fine batsman after another, carrying forward the tradition of having a batting order that would send shivers down the spines of most bowling attacks in the world.
Ajinkya Rahane is one such name in the current crop of world-class batsmen in the Indian batting order, alongside stars such as Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara. The right-handed batsman can perhaps be described as the most temperamentally and technically sound among fellow batsmen in the No 1-ranked Test team at the moment, and is a vital cog in the current scheme of things as far as Indian cricket is concerned.
Rahane had represented Mumbai across various age-group levels before making his way into the senior team at the age of 19, making his first-class debut against Karachi Urban in the Mohammad Nissar Trophy before playing his first match in the Irani Cup as well as Ranji Trophy later that year. Among his first noteworthy knocks was his 172 against England Lions — an attack that included Monty Panesar — in the 2007-08 edition of the Duleep Trophy.
It was his second Ranji season that brought him to the limelight, as the right-handed batsman went on to amass 1,089 runs in the 2008-09 season. His efforts, along with that of Wasim Jaffer's (1,260 runs) helped Mumbai reclaim the trophy that season. His impressive run in India's most prestigious domestic tournament continued over the next couple of seasons, by which time he was knocking on the doors of selection.
It was ultimately his impressive showing in the Emerging Players Tournament in 2011, in which he struck two centuries for the Indian team that ultimately earned him the ticket to the senior national side. In the one-off T20I in India's disastrous tour of England, Rahane hit 39-ball 61 that included eight boundaries. Incidentally, he was not the only Indian debuting in that match; it was also the only T20I Rahul Dravid ever played.
Rahane's Test debut, which was in the fourth and final Test against Australia in the 2013 home series, was not such a happy affair, as he was dismissed for scores of seven and one respectively. Mixed fortunes in his Test and limited-overs debuts signified the ups and downs of his career over the next two years. While he lost his place in the one-day squad after a poor outing against England at home, he made up for it with fine displays in South Africa (two half-centuries) and New Zealand (maiden Test century) in the 2013-14 season.
He also proved his worth in the Indian Premier League with fine displays for Rajasthan Royals in the 2012 and 2013 editions, collecting 560 and 488 runs respectively, making him an reliable member of the franchise until its suspension.
Rahane produced a gritty performance in the 2014 tour of England, in which Kohli had a tough time against England's pacers, especially James Anderson. He then went on to produce one of his finest displays, in the Boxing Day Test against Australia later that year, putting up a 262-run fourth-wicket stand with Kohli.
It was around this time that Rahane began to establish himself as a core member of the Indian Test team, consolidating his place in the middle-order after the retirement of Sachin Tendulkar. While he went on to secure the No 5 spot for himself in the five-day international format, he had much stiffer competition in the limited-overs formats, opening the innings for the most part in ODIs while facing stiff competition from more established names such as Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan. After a mixed run in the ICC World Cup 2015, Rahane had a fine patch both on the tour of Sri Lanka as well as in the home Test series against South Africa — scoring centuries in each innings of the final Test in Delhi on a track that was an open feast for spinners.
If we look at the Mumbai batsman's performances with the bat since last summer, Rahane has largely cut a consistent figure, averaging 54 in Tests since last summer. After a good West Indies tour, where he notched up his seventh Test ton, he went on to register his career-best score of 188 in the third and final Test against New Zealand back home.
Despite producing tepid knocks in the limited-overs legs of New Zealand's tour, as well as in the England Test series, the team management decided to stick with Rahane at No 5 for the one-off Test against Bangladesh at the cost of triple centurion Karun Nair — who was overlooked in the very next innings after converting his maiden Test century into a triple ton, becoming only the second Indian to reach the milestone in international cricket.
"See, I feel one game doesn't overshadow two years of hardwork from another player. You need to understand what 'Jinx' (nickname) has done for the team over the past two years. He averages almost 50 in the format and he is probably most solid batsman in our team in the Test format," captain Kohli had said before the Bangladesh Test, justifying the team management's decision to back Rahane over Nair.
Rahane vindicated selector's faith in him by scoring a lively 82 in the first innings, scoring at a brisk rate of 61. He switched to limited-overs mode in the second innings, in which the hosts were required to get quick runs on the board in order to set a daunting target while giving their bowlers enough time to get 10 wickets. A total of 28 off 35 balls, including two fours and a six, showed his readiness to change his approach as per the situation. His ability to adapt to situations smoothly sets him apart.
Keeping the upcoming Tests against Australia in mind, Rahane certainly seems likely to continue in the middle-order, ahead of Nair. Now that he is back among the runs after a brief lean spell, the Mumbai batsman will look to reassert himself with the bat and show the same consistency as before which will help him bury the ghosts of his debut. His effective technique against spin, as well as his cool demeanour on the field certainly makes him a dangerous prospect for the Australians.
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