Rahane’s bat responded, at last!
Bring up the name of Ajinkya Rahane and visuals of a technically sound player, revelling in intense swinging conditions overseas will come to mind. Gritting it out against genuine pace and standing aloof as the rock even as the lesser mortals in the Test team collapse, Rahane had stamped an identity as a no-nonsense guy who had the distinction of faring well abroad.
In fact, his numbers provide proof of the enigma that he is when the ball is not spinning on the familiar dust bowls of India. An average of 48.57 in 20 home games with three hundreds might seem impressive but when the focus shifts on his performances away, that is when the true worth of the Mumbaikar comes to the fore. Averaging 54.57 in 28 matches abroad with six hundreds – one each in Australia, England, South Africa, West Indies and two in Sri Lanka – the Indian has the rare ability to transform his game when the going gets tough but his recent run of form had threatened to adversely affect his growing reputation.
Till the Trent Bridge Test, Rahane had played in 7 games in the last twelve months, averaging a poor 11 with no hundred or fifty to his name. Though it was quite strange to see him dropped from two Tests against South Africa, once again considering his numbers overseas, the truth was that the number 5 player had hardly inspired whilst batting on the crease against Sri Lanka, wherein he had managed to score just 17 runs in 5 innings. The iffy form carried over to the lone Test in the Rainbow Nation over to the Indian Premier League, halting after yet horrendous showing at Lord’s that threatened his place in the side.
But strangely, the intent was there. Even as he slipped from one failure to another, the technique remained intact but what cropped up in his game was a dazed mindset, where he remained tentative and unsure of the strokes to play or the footwork that would match the intended shot. In the first two Tests in England, the balls that wafted outside the off-stump kept him guessing and the relaxed knock of 103 that Rahane had scored in the memorable win at Lord’s four years ago, a distant wonderful memory.
Emerging as a forlorn figure with dark clouds looming large over and with Karun Nair waiting in the wings, India’s vice-captain had to settle himself down and guide his team to a position of strength on Day 1 of the do-or-die game. It helped that he had India’s run-machine Virat Kohli with him at the other end and by playing each delivery according to merit, Rahane started finding form. As the early movement evaporated and the pitch became lifeless, the player took on the work of finding the quick singles and twos even as Kohli started out watchfully. Though Rahane did edge a couple of short-of-a-length balls initial, once he set his eyes in he was ready to go berserk.
But the beginning was not all pleasant. Aware that his drives had been the reason for his dismissal in the recent past, Rahane chose to ignore the drive altogether for a major part of his innings. As bowlers tried to lure him away by bowling full, the batsman just defended it meekly, allowing the ball to meet the bat to remove any danger. He attacked just 4 deliveries from the seamers and his control was evident as he missed just 2% of the shots in his entire knock. Even when he could have counterattacked to let go of the pressure that was hovering around him, by showing great restraint and courage early on, Rahane set the platform that would help his team end the day on a comfortable position. ‘
By leaving balls outside the off-stump, Rahane showed awareness of the troubles that had haunted him in the last two games. By cutting every wide delivery and by scoring square towards the wicket, the player who had cut down on the drives instead displayed his skills as an all-round player who was willing to adapt. His 131-ball 81 had 12 boundaries, eight of which were due to his preference for the cut. By the time he was dismissed, off a spectacular one-handed catch by Alastair Cook, Rahane had stamped his name once more as a technically sound player who is willing to change and adapt when the going gets tough, especially in tough swinging conditions.