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Rahane is the key to success in South Africa

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Ajinkya_Rahane_India_cricket"We decided to go on current form. Rohit [Sharma] has scored runs in the last three Test matches that he has played, and he was batting well, even in the series against Sri Lanka," Indian Captain Virat Kohli said, when questioned about why India dropped Ajinkya Rahane in the opening Test against South Africa in Cape Town.

India lost the Cape Town Test by 72 runs. Rohit scored 11 & 10 while the Indian skipper scored 5 & 28.

If Kohli has a series of poor Test matches, will he drop himself from the side? When the team decided to axe the vice-captain from the first Test of a crucial Test series, will they still stand by their reasoning of checking the previous few performances even in the case of the skipper? Or does the captain's position make him “above” the others in the team, so the same rules cannot be applied to him? With all due respect to Kohli, how much respect, and rope, is he due?

Almost all players tend to perform well at home, regardless of their overseas record. Rahane, however, is an exception. He has always struggled at home on turning tracks; out of 64 dismissals in Tests, 35 have come against spin. Prior to the Cape Town Test, Rahane had a terrible home series against Sri Lanka, making a negligible 17 runs in five innings. In that series, Rohit scored 102*, 65 and 50*. Soon after, he hammered an ODI double-century, his third, followed by the joint-fastest century in Twenty20 internationals, off just 35 balls.

It is understandable that there was no way that Kohli could ignore those numbers. All Kohli did was make a bold decision by dropping Rahane for Rohit. That move clearly remained just bold because there was no positive outcome of it.

This is why it failed: Rohit averages 25.11 outside India and has just four fifties from 27 innings. Apart from Hardik Pandya, no other Indian batsman reached the 50-run mark in the Cape Town Test, so Rohit cannot be singled out for the poor performance. However, things could have been different had Kohli and Ravi Shastri showed some faith in Rahane and picked him instead of Rohit for Cape Town.

 

Rahane has the technique and temperament to conquer those conditions. He obviously could not have saved India alone but even his presence could have reduced the pressure in the side. You cannot ignore the fact that when Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara get together out in the middle, nine out of 10 times, they give the bowlers a run for their money. After the collapse of the top-order, the entire responsibility fell on Pujara’s shoulders. Succumbing to the pressure was inevitable.

 

Though Rahane was persisted with during home session, match after match, despite not delivering, he deserved one more chance, especially when the conditions were going to be in his favor.

At home, Rahane average 7.83 from 6 innings. After his twin centuries against South Africa in Delhi in 2015, his home average shot up to 33.63. Out of all the teams, Rahane has scored two back-to-back centuries on the Indian soils against the Proteas. And yet, Kohli chose to ignore him for the first Test against the same side, in conditions that suited Rahane better than the rest of the Indian team. It is the latter point that makes Kohli's move even more ridiculous.

 

Kohli spoke of Rahane's last series having poor numbers. The very same man was the third highest scorer of India's tour of South Africa in 2013. He scored 209 runs in 4 innings with 2 fifties in a series which was his maiden away tour and just his second Test series. Apart from South Africa, Rahane has left his mark in other parts of the globe too, where not many players of the current Indian side have succeeded, including the captain himself.

 

Rahane has scored 399 runs in 8 innings at 57.00 in Australia with 1 hundred and 2 fifties. He recorded 299 runs in 10 innings against England at 33.22 with a hundred and two fifties; in the same series, Kohli averaged less than 10. In New Zealand, Rahane has scored 162 runs in 3 innings at 54.00 with a century.

Even South African legend Alan Donald has suggested that it was nothing but harsh to keep Rahane out and that if India stick with the decision for the 2nd Test, it would surely give the hosts an added advantage.

 

"I really think it’s harsh to keep Rahane out. Last time he was here he had a great tour. I think for me, Rahane is the man who can steady the ship. He is a rock-solid guy and a good head on his shoulders. If South Africans again see Rahane sitting on the bench and carrying drinks and they would say ‘wow’. They would rather have that, you know. He’s an absolutely world-class player," Donald said.

 

In the last two years, India have played majority of cricket at home. Their overseas tours were against West Indies and Sri Lanka (twice). At home they faced South Africa, England, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Australia and Bangladesh. This period of time was utilized by the hosts to better their form and numbers as a team.

However, it was an issue for Rahane, as he has been an overseas specialist more than a home player. Hence, while the Rohits, Kohlis, Dhawans, and Vijays had an excellent CV to show, Rahane's was the least impressive ahead of the South Africa tour. But Kohli forgets one vital detail: since India had not toured any higher-ranked side in the last two years, the South Africa tour would be a tough return to reality.

They should have made the right selection keeping everyone's strength and weaknesses in mind. Going 0-1 down in an away tour is always demoralizing, but this team has shown itself to be mentally strong. They can turn the tables.

India needs Rahane at No. 5 at Centurion. It might seem unfair to axe Rohit just after one Test in a tour, but India cannot afford to keep their best man out and experiment with a batsman who has a high chance of failure. With Rahane, there always is a ray of hope.

 

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