Two very special Indian Cricketers have scored IPL centuries on my birthday, April 15. Both Mumbaikars! Tendulkar scored a 100 vs Kochi Tuskers @ Wankhede in 2011 and Rahane scored a scintillating 60 ball 103 @ Bangalore in 2012. I would appreciate the latter one more because it came from a player who is a bit of an anachronism. He is shy when compared to Kohli, Raina, Dhoni, Pathan, Yuvraj, Sehwag, Gambhir, and Dhawan but has a little more temperament than most of the names in the list above. And batting greats are always remembered for the little more!
Rahane is a fitting example of the famous Dravid quote, “God’s delays are not God’s denials.” Rahane was a part of the Indian Test squad that played 16 test matches in 16 months. During that period, he was expected to make his debut at least 4 times. Seven players made their debut for India but Rahane was just seemed suitable only to carry drinks for all those test matches. One fine day he was playing for India A vs England, the next day he was playing for Mumbai in Ranji and a week later he was carrying drinks for India. He shuffled between the teams, between the format and also between his batting positions. For over a year, the Indian selectors couldn’t decide if Rahane should open the innings or bat in the middle order. Finally, Sandeep Patil (who was the new selector) decided that Rahane should bat in the middle order. Even the Mumbai Ranji team was asked to make him bat lower down than his usual No. 3 spot.
And how has that worked out? Rahane was picked for the demanding tour to South Africa to face Steyn and co. He responded by scoring a gutsy 96 on a seaming Durban track vs. the most astute and quick bowling attack in the world. A few months later, on the tour to NZ, he scored a “graceful” 118 vs. NZ at Wellington and put the Indians in a position to win the game. The word “graceful” is specially added because it is not every day that one jumps out of the seat on witnessing the cover-drive, the straight-drive and the flick. An innings decorated with impeccable footwork and timing was a real treat. However, the moment of glory was the 100 @ Lord’s just because he batted on a Green top. Born and raised on the dusty, low bounce wickets of Bombay, (Generally called “Paata” or Flat deck. That is one of the reasons why Bombay school tournaments see so many big hundreds year after year) Rahane showed character in his batting. He was much more at home at the crease, negotiating with the movement off the wicket. It was a sublime knock, where the other Indian batsman struggled to even stay on the wicket. The century at Lord’s will always be remembered as one of the finest overseas 100 by an Indian player. At a juncture when the Indian Cricket is going through its biggest transition, Rahane could be seen as the mainstay of the Indian batting, overseas.
Rahane has been an under-performer in the ODIs (as per his standards). That is majorly because he has been shuffled between the opening slot and no. 4/5/6 position. He opened the innings during the recently concluded England series (only due to an injury to Rohit Sharma) and scored at an average of 48.0. His 100 was an exhibition of the belligerent drives, the square cuts, the leg glances, and the pull over the short ball in conditions where the ball bounced and swung either way. This is the specialty of the overseas tours. We find players who rise above the ordinary and announce their arrival. In 1992, we found Tendulkar in Australia. On the England tour in 1996, we found two fine young men in Ganguly and Dravid. 2013 tour to Australia, we un-earthed the run-machine Kohli. I would say, Ajinkya Rahane was the discovery of the 2014 England tour. And Indian Cricket was desperately looking for him.
The question we need to ask ourselves – Is this the tipping point for the Indian team as they prepare for the long tour to Australia and the World Cup (WC) in 2015? Rahane seems to have provided a solution to one of the biggest problems of the Indian Cricket. India does not need to find another specialist opener anymore! You pick Dhawan and Sharma and you pick Rahane. He will provide the team with the flexibility of carrying another specialist middle order batsman or an extra bowler in the squad. As far as history goes, India has always struggled with the openers on overseas tours, but this time around, I believe we have a one-stop solution in Rahane. We are fortunate enough to have a promising player who can bat as a makeshift opener and score runs with some consistency.
Rahane’s test career so far has an uncanny resemblance to that of Dilip Vengsarkar’s. Vengsarkar and Rahane have their test batting average in the high forties against the best bowling attack of their respective times (WI and SA respectively). Both have scored the 100 @ Lord’s resulting in the only Indian victories at the venue. Also, Vengsarkar was shuffled in the batting order until he hit the purple patch at No. 3. Winning the No. 3 position from Kohli will be a massive task but Rahane can be looked upon as an option. His technique and timing might be very similar to any other specialist batsman but his temperament makes him stand out in the crowd. The versatility in the batting, the ability to play on bouncy wickets and the hunger to play big knocks will see him evolve as a much star player. You never know, on that cold morning on February 15th, 2015 as India gets ready to chase 250 odd vs Pakistan, we might have to be ready to take notes on Rahane’s elegant knock.
The article was also published at Sportskeeda.