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Are we taking Rahane for granted?

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Ajinkya_Rahane_India_cricketIt seems like Ajinkya Rahane gets taken for granted, does it not? I used to get this feeling about Rahul Dravid. It somehow seems that Rahane’s string of scoring 62-103-72-60 against the West Indies was something he had to do to entrench himself in the side, and not something which would be really lauded. I may be completely wrong though.

This 29-year old was, if I remember right, dubbed by Dhoni as unfit for ODIs, just as Dravid was thus dubbed by Ganguly, if I am not mistaken and told to keep wickets to secure his place in the side. Mr ‘Unfit-for-ODIs’ Dravid, for that matter, was the topscorer for India in one of the World Cups and went on to muster over 10,000 runs in this format of the game.

When I remarked that it was not right to keep Rahane out of the ODI side, someone told me that it was a strategy. That was what made him score four half-centuries on trot in the West Indies. Well, this is not something unique, as quite a few batsmen have done that in the past – Sangakkara and Tendulkar come to mind.  

A day after I write this piece, the last (fifth) ODI between India and the West Indies will be played. While India has to win that one to win the series, the Windies would be looking to square the series by doing so. And Rahane would be looking at setting a new record (which may be harder to beat) – five ODI half centuries on the trot, all in the same series.

There are some interesting observations to be made about Rahane, who can be considered to have stepped into the shoes of Rahul Dravid. The two have some history as they opened the batting for the Rajasthan Royals in the IPL. Rahane is a middle-order batsman in Tests and an opener in the ODIs. Dravid batted at number 3 in Tests and was demoted to the middle order just above the bowlers in the ODIs for a good part of his career (courtesy Ganguly who was somehow also instrumental in making Dravid an allrounder of a different kind – batsman, wicketkeeper and slips-fielder, if one would like to look at the bright side of things, and consider that the idea to make Dravid keep wickets stemmed from the desire to have him on the side, despite his supposedly ‘slow’ scoring rate.)

Keeping Rahane in, may mean keeping KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma out. Of course, we assume here that Shikhar Dhawan remains consistent. Yuvraj Singh has not particularly been effective – at least not what one would have expected from him; and this could mean that Rahul could bat in the middle order when he returns (in lieu of Yuvraj), just like he did in the IPL for the Royal Challengers Bangalore.

Of course, here, I am assuming that Yuvraj may be dropped and struggle to make a comeback, which is not so likely. Rahul keeps wickets for RCB and if Dhoni goes, Rahul could very well bat in the middle order as wicketkeeper, as another Rahul from his city did before him.

It was interesting to see that Rahane was the one who was scoring freely at a very good strike rate in the fourth match against the West Indies, and accounted for one-third of what India scored, and for most of the boundaries which were scored in the Indian innings. One wonders if Rahane would have made a difference to the Indian batting line-up in the Champions Trophy final against Pakistan. Of course, there is no sense in such retrospective analysis, but still…many of us may have thought on these lines after seeing Rahane open the innings in style against the West Indians, and play both pace and spin very well.

I fondly recall the two centuries he scored in the same Test at the Feroz Shah Kotla in 2015, against a potent South African bowling attack, becoming the fifth Indian batsman to do so and being dubbed as the most complete player in the Indian team by none other than Sunil Gavaskar. Of his eight Test centuries, one each has been scored in New Zealand, England, Australia, Sri Lanka and the West Indies. His most recent century was at home against New Zealand, and his highest so far – 188.

His average reached 50 when he got this big century against the Kiwis at Indore, but then has slumped down a bit. The four ODI half-centuries signal the rising of the sine wave again after a brief trough, towards the next crest. He could score his fifth 50 on trot, en route. That would indeed be one of the most magnificent comebacks ever made in the game of cricket.

Just listen to his Youtube interview-snippets and you see a serious, no-nonsense, soft-spoken, reserved and steady individual, who will never ever let success go to his head…and one common factor in all his interviews is that he likes to contribute to Team India’s cause. He has another decade of international cricket left in him…in all the three formats, and as vice-captain is a possible future leader, if the Indian selectors decide to have different captains for different formats of the game.

On a non-cricketing note, the generous donation he made to the farmers in Maharashtra not so long ago must be acknowledged.

 

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G Venkatesh (born 1972) is a senior lecturer in Energy and Environment, at Karlstad University in S...

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