It started last evening. India lost Virat Kohli with around four overs left in the day and most people expected a night-watchman to walk in to bat. However, India vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane, who hasn’t been at his most consistent this year, had other ideas. He decided he wanted to come out and bat at what could be defined as a clearly uncomfortable period for batting.
For Rahane and India, it was a big, gusty decision. Before the innings, he averaged less than 25.00 in the opening Test of a series. The year, itself, had been a baffling one, riddled with self doubt and poor form. In South Africa, he averaged 28.50. In England, he averaged 25.70. These numbers would have only added to the pressure. Still, he wanted this. He wanted to be out there for the team.
There are two clear directions the decision could have taken – the right-hander could have been dismissed early and India would have gone into the second Test wondering about his form or he could have found his touch.
Thankfully, for India, it was the latter.
Rahane negotiated the small period on Day 3 well and then he came out in the morning and continued from where he had left off. His shot-selection was impeccable and his temperament, once his greatest asset but shaky of late, adapted to the situation.
If Australia harboured any hopes of coming back into the game, they hinged on getting quick Indian wickets in the first hour itself. But Cheteshwar Pujara and Rahane batted with calm. They kept the scoreboard ticking, put away the loose balls and generally took the game further away from Australia. It got to a point where the bowlers started looking a little flat because they were.
Rahane’s game doesn’t have any obvious weakness. He is good against pace and spin alike. The manner in which he, along with Pujara, neutralised Lyon was so good that Paine actually took his best bowler out of the attack for a bit. He was quick to use his feet and his positive intent shone through.
At his best, the right-hander from Mumbai can perform many roles but perhaps the most important one is that he can give Virat Kohli the confidence to go out and play his own game without worrying about how the rest of the batting line-up will do.
The manner of Rahane’s dismissal – while trying to hit a reverse sweep, a shot he doesn’t play at the best of times – would have raised some concern in the dressing room but by then his job was mostly done. His 70 off 147 balls had been crucial to India’s effort and put them in a winning position.
Pujara started getting back to his best in England and it is about time Rahane starts scoring runs with a consistency that is expected of India’s vice-captain. He is a classy cricketer... a sensible one too. But to play in the Indian team, one needs to put up good numbers regularly.
When Rahane does get his act together, India win matches away from home. In Johannesburg earlier this year, he scored a crucial 48 runs in the second innings. At Nottingham during the England tour, his 81 runs in the first innings were vital. His away record has been stellar for a while but he’ll need to marry that to India’s home Tests as well.
Kohli cannot do it alone but with Pujara and Rahane around and scoring runs, his job becomes that much easier. The bowling is already firing and if the batting comes along too, India’s long cherished dream of consistently winning Tests abroad might just become a reality.