For the umpteenth time, there are questions thrown about on Ajinkya Rahane and his place in the India Test side, but this might just be his final ‘last chance’, writes Rohit Sankar.
Ajinkya Rahane might have his detractors, but he sure has his backers too. Skipper Virat Kohli is one of them.
“Look if you’re trying to dig something out, you’re not going to get anything because there’s nothing,” Kohli lashed out after the first home Test against England in February when asked about Rahane’s returns (1 & 0).
He wasn’t too wrong. Only three Tests back Rahane had led India to a fabulous win Down Under in Melbourne with an outstanding hundred, captaining the side in the absence of Kohli. Rahane’s 112 led India to a first innings lead of 131, eventually proving crucial in India’s win.
The last time Rahane made a hundred before that was in 2019, when he reeled off two hundreds and two fifties in the space of five Test matches. The hundred before that? Two years ago. The one before that? One year ago. You get the picture.
With Rahane, it’s difficult to tell if he’s in the midst of a poor run of form or just about to produce something spectacular. It’s impossible to point the finger at him when there’s almost always a match-defining hundred in view from a few months back.
Every time there’s been a build up of pressure due to the lack of runs from Rahane, he has delivered in the most crunching fashion to silence the voices, only for another string of mediocre scores to follow.
The stats back this up. In the last five years, only once has Rahane averaged over 40 in a year – in 2019, when he averaged a spectacular 71.33. In 2017, 2018 and 2020, Rahane averaged 34.62, 30.66 and 38.85 respectively, with 2021, where he averages 20.61, being his biggest slump in a year.
Lord’s, where he seems set to play on Thursday, might just be Rahane’s final chance to change the unhealthy habit he has gotten himself into. But, yet again, that’s probably an outsider perspective, given how he is vehemently backed by Kohli.
In the press conference before the Lord’s Test, Kohli once again threw his weight behind Rahane, “I do not think Ajinkya Rahane’s form is an area of concern. Our basic focus is not to think about where are people individually at the moment, collectively how much strength they bring into the team is our focus,” Kohli said.
Being a team man is something Rahane associates himself with too. In the build up to the World Test Championship final, Rahane stressed that the team “winning is more important” and that he is more intent on contributing to the team’s cause: “Even if I score 30-40 runs, if those 30-40 runs are valuable, I’m happy”.
What’s different now, though, is Kohli’s blip has turned into a more than a mere bump in the road and something of an extended patch of poor form and Cheteshwar Pujara’s longevity at the crease hasn’t yielded many runs either. All of this has left too much onus on Rishabh Pant and Ravindra Jadeja. The lower middle-order being required to score the bulk of the runs is never ideal.
While Kohli, who’s expected to walk right back into another purple patch, and to an extent, Pujara, whose pressure soaking abilities aren’t lost on the team, are assured of their places, Rahane might soon find himself on slippery grounds. Rohit Sharma has established himself at the top of the order, and with KL Rahul impressing, the return of Mayank Agarwal, whenever that is, will present a dilemma.
Rahane will hope Lord’s, where he scored a hundred in 2014, will bring him good luck again, but that’ll not be enough to shun the perception around him. For that, he’ll need to string together several hundreds, rather than the one odd match-winning score, and make himself indispensable, a term he is quietly distancing himself from right now.
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