Explained: Why Ajinkya Rahane was recalled to India’s Test squad despite year-long international absence
Ajinkya Rahane has been recalled to the India squad for the World Test Championship Final against Australia in June. Here’s why Rahane made the cut despite having not played Test cricket for over a year.
Since October 2019, Rahane has scored just one Test century and averages 26.55 in that time. In the 12 months before he was dropped, his average fell to exactly 20, with a high score of 67. But four months later, he is a contender to play for India on the biggest of occasions.
The simplest explanation for Rahane’s inclusion in the 15-man squad is that a space has opened up for him. When he was dropped in January last year after the South Africa series, Rishabh Pant had just played arguably his best innings – a remarkable lone century stand in Cape Town.
Shreyas Iyer, who had made a hundred on Test debut, was added into the middle order for the series against Sri Lanka. He made 92 in his second innings and four half-centuries across the five Tests he played in 2022.
Unlike Cheteshwar Pujara, who was also dropped after the South Africa series, Rahane’s replacements offered a significant improvement. Mayank Agarwal did not last past the Sri Lanka series. KL Rahul picked up an injury which ruled him out of the Test against England at Edgbaston. More importantly, Pujara scored a stack of runs for Sussex to demand a recall for that postponed Test.
For Rahane, the road was not only complicated by the form of his replacements. He picked up a hamstring injury that kept him out of the last part of the 2022 IPL and Ranji Trophy knockouts. At the end of 2022, he was seemingly further away from a Test recall than ever.
But, he found form in the Ranji Trophy, averaging 57.63 and scoring two centuries, as well as making a double in the Duleep Trophy against tournament debutants North East Zone.
Still, when selection rolled around for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy series, there was little indication that a recall was a possibility. Instead, the selectors opted to experiment with backing T20 form in Suryakumar Yadav. That lasted just one game, with Iyer back from injury for the second Test. But, despite Virat Kohli’s century in the final Test, India’s middle order appeared vulnerable in that series with a heavy reliance on their spinning all-rounders for runs.
The options for suring-up that lineup for the WTC Final looked limited – that is, before Rahane’s transformation in the IPL.
That transformation is integral to his selection. If Rahane had had a decent or even a good IPL, there would have been less foundation for a recall. But his run of form in this year’s competition has been nothing short of extraordinary. He has scored 209 runs in five innings, but the most staggering number is his 199.04 strike rate. To put this into context, Rahane’s overall T20 strike rate is 121.24.
While the SKY Test experiment was abandoned and doubtful of success in the first place, selecting Rahane on T20 form has more substance. He has performed previously at Test level and has recent first-class runs. There is also, as of yet, no suggestion that Rahane will actually play at The Oval, let alone that the decision is an indicator of a long-term plan.
India have included six specialist batters in their squad, of whom they are likely to play a maximum of five. Rahane is at the bottom of the queue for those five. He is there as a backup, to add experience and stability if injury strikes. If Sarfaraz Khan, or indeed Yadav, had been selected over him, they would’ve been thrown into the ring untested with a consecutive World Test Championship final loss at stake.
When Iyer and Pant return from their respective injuries, Rahane will likely slip out of the pecking order again. They are the future. But, when put into context and for such an important match, Rahane’s selection makes the most sense over the other options.