indian cricket

Ajinkya Rahane is one of the chosen ones and he’s finding out that it comes with a price

Playing all three formats of the game isn’t easy. Can India’s Test vice-captain shrug off the doubts?

What hits you first? The doubt or the realisation? And if it’s the realisation, do you still try and fight it? And if you do, does it just go away? Do the doubts remain? Or do they crawl their way back like the cockroaches from the Evil Dead?

And what if you continue to defy the realisation in spite of all the world’s doubts, does that make them just go away?

What if Mahendra Singh Dhoni was right about Ajinkya Rahane all along. What if he is really not meant to play limited overs cricket for India? So what if he is the designated captain for the customary Zimbabwe trip when Dhoni and Kohli are rested, is he a definite starter in the playing XI?

It is the same Ajinkya Rahane who dared to score faster than any of his mates in Test matches but what happens when he plays One-Day Internationals or Twenty20 Internationals? Are the wickets too flat or too slow? Or as Dhoni pointed out, can Rahane not quite cut it in home conditions?

The long rope and its pitfalls

Rahane has already played 72 ODIs (opening in 42), his batting average is a tad less than 33, his strike rate a shade less than 80. He made his ODI debut over five years ago. Since then, he has been in and out, and out and in of the team. Musical chairs are not an ideal warmup for any cricketer. It is a little like Rohit Sharma and Test cricket. Also, it is not too dissimilar to Sharma in his first 100 or so ODIs which were a mini horror run in their own right. Even more so on social media than in the middle. Rohit begat more Maggi two-minute jokes than Suresh Raina begat short-ball jokes.

In his first 100 ODIs, Sharma had two centuries, an average of 31.79 and a strike rate of 75.79, both less than Rahane’s as of now, though he too has two ODI centuries. Rahane unlike Sharma is very much a Test match staple for India. He is also the vice-captain and the go-to guy in the slips.

In his next 53 ODIs, Sharma notched up eight more hundreds, two of which were monster doubles, shot his average to above 40, to 41.37, and his strike rate well beyond 80, to 84.43. As Rahane is today, Sharma was the chosen one before he turned his one-day game around.

Being the chosen one has its perks, just as being Ambati Rayudu does not.

You are given a much, much longer rope. To first, string yourself up, repeatedly, and then, your demons, and once you have rid yourself of all that baggage, you can get on with it, much like Sharma has lately.

But the recent ODI series against New Zealand had Rahane knotting himself up again. In three out of five games, his strike rate was in the 50s. His only half century came in a defeat. He had his share of soft dismissals and loose shots. Those unfriendly slow tracks had come calling again.

And worryingly, Rahane’s ODI form may well have been preying on his mind. Three balls into the first Test against England in Rajkot, he dropped a sitter off Alastair Cook in the slips. At the crease, the loose shots and low scores continued: 13, 1, 23, 26.

Rahane walks back after being dismissed in the second Test at Visakhapatnam. Image credit: Surjeet Yadav / IANS
Rahane walks back after being dismissed in the second Test at Visakhapatnam. Image credit: Surjeet Yadav / IANS

To play or not play in all the formats?

Elsewhere, Cheteshwar Pujara was adding Test tons like you toss golgappas down. Had he finally shrugged off those injury-ridden Indian Premier League seasons? Had he finally come to terms with the format that works for him? A few years back, on the back of a dream Test run, Pujara was vocal about playing all formats. Opening the batting for Kings XI Punjab, he would be at a run-a-ball 30 after 20 overs, while in the middle-order, Glenn Maxwell would be tearing the house down in the 90s. After a short stint in the Gulf leg of the league, Pujara did not play the rest of the tournament.

Between rehab, county seasons and a return to Test cricket, Pujara’s game appeared muddled – its inners tossed around with some very odd T20 trials. The trials continued in his brief ODI stint, in Zimbabwe – where else? – followed by Bangladesh. Five matches, two ducks, a highest of 27, an ODI average of 10, is that the end of a dodgy international limited-overs career? List A and Test averages of in excess of 50, with 10 centuries a piece mean little.

Pujara, like Murali Vijay, has served his time in ODIs and T20s, and is much the wiser with a far better know-how of his game. Neither he nor Vijay are amongst the chosen ones. They are not the ones who wore their mother’s name in the Star Sports ad – Rahane did.

Across more than five years, Vijay has played 17 ODIs. An average of 21.18, a strike rate of 66.99. His last comeback, against Zimbabwe (yes, where else?) – in a team led by Rahane, that included Ambati Rayudu, Manoj Tiwary, Robin Uthappa and Harbhajan Singh.

Murali Vijay (also called “Monk”) though appears to have made his peace with the formats, leaving those that do not concern him, just like the new ball outside off. Every now and then, there’s a hint of that Chennai Super Kings madness when he comes down the wicket and hits a spinner for six. The next ball though, more often than not, he will just dab into the ground. And you realise, there is not much yellow left in him. And just as well. Vijay’s calling is in whites, to leave that new ball, so others after him can tear it apart.

Today, both Vijay and Pujara are at a better place, almost formatted to Test cricket. As for Rahane and Rohit, there are sterner tests ahead. One they will continue taking. Being the chosen ones comes with a price.

Ask Yuvraj Singh. His next comeback is always just around the corner.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.