Even when India were in the middle of a nerve-wracking chase in the final Test against Australia at Brisbane, Ajinkya Rahane, sitting next to Rohit Sharma in the dressing room, wore an unchanging stoic expression. It was a face that betrayed no emotion. No joy. No anger. No nervousness. He was a picture of calm and one couldn’t help but marvel at his composure.
But on Tuesday, he lost that cool a bit. Just a bit.
A majority of the press conference ahead of the fourth Test against England had moved along swimmingly. Rahane giving fairly regular answers to fairly regular questions. Then, suddenly another regular question (about his batting form in India) seemed to get to him.
“I was expecting this question. Thankfully, you asked,” said Rahane. “I think you need to check your facts, you know my contribution. Whenever the team needed runs, my runs are there so you need to focus on your stats and come up with the question. You know I am a team man, everyone knows that and whenever the team needs me to perform in a particular situation, I have always done that.”
He added: “I am not too concerned about it. Yes, as a player, I always look to learn and grow... which is very important for a cricketer and I am looking to do that.”
Now, there is a reason why the question keeps cropping up over and over again especially when India are in the middle of a home season. Rahane is one of the rare cricketers whose away average is better than his home average. On away tours, the India vice-captain averages 44.44 (42 Tests) while his average dips to 36.69 (30 Tests) at home.
So what is really happening here? Are his numbers really bad? How does he compare to other Indian batsmen? How does he compare to other batsmen around the world? Should contribution to the team even be measured by average?
To begin with, let’s have a look at Rahane’s average over the last five years:
(Note: Scroll right or swipe across to view all the columns on the tables below)
|Last 5 years||2016-2021||50||2937||188||39.68||6|
To put things simply, Rahane has produced some remarkable match-winning knocks in the last five years. But he has never quite managed to put together a string of good scores that would bump up his average too.
Most players enter a purple zone from time to time... a period when they can do no wrong. Virat Kohli takes over a series, Cheteshwar Pujara has done that, Rohit Sharma does that too. But Rahane shows the glimpse of brilliance that tells you everything you need to know about his talent. But the brilliance is not sustained over the course of a series.
The talent, the teamwork, the work ethic, the contribution to tactics... it is all there. But do you remember a Rahane series? Rather, for a player who has been around for so long, shouldn’t we all remember at least one such series?
Top batsmen in the last five years for India
Rahane has his heart in the right place. But if you are KL Rahul then you would be inclined to believe that maybe you can do better...
Over 50 Tests in the last five years, Rahane has averaged 39.68. In 31 Tests, Rahul has averaged 36.45. Rahane is 32 years old. Rahul is 28.
Mayank Agarwal averages 99 in India but he can’t make the team as an opener at the moment. Shreyas Iyer has impressed in the limited-overs format and he would be a natural fit in the middle order. There are more options waiting in the wings.
So the real question isn’t whether Rahane has done well but whether we can have someone who can do better...
Rahane: Home vs away
Rahane has played a majority of his cricket under Kohli. He started off under Mahendra Singh Dhoni and in 12 matches, he had an average of 45.90 at a strike-rate of 55.62.
Under Kohli, his average has dropped, his strike-rate has dropped so much so that even he was dropped from the Test team. In two years, starting from January 2017 to 2019, he averaged 32.37 over 23 Tests and made just one century.
The numbers have certainly picked up since then but have they picked up enough?
Under different captains
When Rahane does get his act together, he does have an impact on the result of the match as one would perhaps expect most top batsmen to.
Of the 72 matches that he has played, India have won 39 and in those matches, Rahane averages 50.55 – way above his regular average. This is the kind of average that many expect him to achieve regularly but that hasn’t happened yet.
In matches that India has lost when Rahane is playing, his average drops to 26.70.
A look at the year-by-year progression shows that Rahane perhaps seemed to have turned things around for good in 2019.
After being dropped for the first two Tests against South Africa in favour of Rohit Sharma, Rahane went on a run that saw him score 642 runs at an average of 71.33 in 2019. Stellar numbers.
But if one looks at the table below, he has never had a 1000-run year.
Rahane over the years
Only three cricketers (Joe Root, Stuart Broad and Cheteshwar Pujara) in the world have played more Tests than Rahane in the last five years.
The India vice-captain has got a lot of cricket under his belt... a lot of experience and all of that should be coming together to make him an even better batsman. But he does have phases when he seems to go into a shell and become plagued with self-doubt.
There are others who have scored more runs (as shown in the table below) but Rahane isn’t too bad.
Most runs scored in last five years
|JE Root (ENG)||63||5176||254||46.63|
|V Kohli (INDIA)||49||4496||254*||60.75|
|CA Pujara (INDIA)||52||3807||202||46.42|
|SPD Smith (AUS)||36||3688||239||63.58|
|BA Stokes (ENG)||47||3191||176||38.91|
|KS Williamson (NZ)||35||3078||251||62.81|
|FDM Karunaratne (SL)||43||3035||196||37.46|
|D Elgar (SA)||42||3011||199||41.24|
|Azhar Ali (PAK)||40||2990||302*||42.11|
|JM Bairstow (ENG)||49||2965||167*||35.29|
|AM Rahane (INDIA)||50||2937||188||39.68|
In fact, if one goes by average (with a qualification of at least 20 Tests played), Rahane is the 18th best batsman in the world. Four Indians have better averages than him – Kohli, Rohit, Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja.
Once again, not bad. As some have pointed out, ever since the ICC World Test Championship began, Rahane’s numbers (16 matches, 1068 runs, avg of 44.50) have been pretty good too.
The battle or indeed the criticism, it really seems, is down to perhaps what fans believe Rahane is capable of and what he actually produces on the field.
Those brilliant match-winning knocks leave everyone wanting and expecting more and when he is unable to deliver upto those expectations, the disappointment felt is only a natural reaction. The key to the entire issue is whether the team management’s expectations are similar to that of fans or whether they, like Rahane, believe that he is doing what the team wants him to.
All stats courtesy: ESPNCricinfo