Ajinkya Rahane: The crisis man comes calling again
Not only did Rahane hold the Indian riposte together over the second and third days, he also reached the 5000-run mark in Tests along the way
The dice is heavily loaded in favour of Australia after three day’s play in World Test Championship (WTC) final, but Ajinkya Rahane – along with the spunky Shardul Thakur and the bowlers to a degree – ensured that all was not lost for the glamour boys of world cricket.
Once again, the shy, low profile servant of Indian cricket is on everyone’s lips. It would have been a crowning glory if ‘Jinx,’ as he is famously nicknamed by Shane Warne (during their teaming up for the IPL team, the Rajasthan Royals) had eventually got his 16th Test century at The Oval, but the 89 he scored had the attributes of a Test match epic – character, patience and shot selection – albeit with a slice of luck.
Here was someone who had been making a comeback to international cricket after 522 days (he last played a Test match in January, 2022 before being dropped for poor form), just turned 35 on the eve of the ongoing Test – and back in the fold largely due to Shreyas Iyer’s injury. Not only did Rahane hold the Indian riposte together over the second and third days, he also reached the 5000-run mark in Tests along the way.
There is another irony behind the resurgence of both Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara, the two senior pros who were dumped as the Indian team management wanted to move on with an eye towards the future. While Pujara was back in favour in the latter half of 2022 itself, it virtually looked the end of the road for Rahane as a top bracket performer.
How did he script a turnaround yet again in a career which had been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride? From being the toast of the nation after leading India to a stupendous 2-1 away series win down under in Virat Kohli’s absence in 2020-21 (which included the famous century in Melbourne) to warming the dugout for the IPL franchises like the Delhi Capitals and the Kolkata Knight Riders till last year – he had seen it all.
It’s perhaps his faith in the ‘Vedanta philosophy,’ which Rahane often attributed to behind his stoic nature – which helped him to keep the faith in his abilities. The emergence of Rahane 2.0 in the IPL 2023 in the Chennai Super Kings colours floored all and brought him back into contention for the WTC Final – barely a month after losing his central contract – but a lot of hard work and planning had gone behind it.
Soon after sinking the KKR at their Eden fortress this season with a blistering 71 off 29 balls, Rahane thanked the CSK management and leader M.S. Dhoni and said: “The turning point is here (with CSK), I’m getting chances to play. I was not getting opportunities to play one or two years ago. If you don’t play matches, how would you show what shots you have in your arsenal?.”
The IPL form was preceded by a healthy run in the domestic season where he piled 634 runs from seven Ranji matches – though a bulk of it came against depleted attacks of Hyderabad and Assam. What, however, was noticeable was a new fearlessness approach.
After all, a veteran of 80-plus test matches and one of India’s standout performers overseas had nothing left to prove – apart from the fact that he was no misfit in the T20 ecosystem. Rahane had also decided to take off some extra inches of padding while batting by replacing his trademark, long arm guard with a shorter padding - to free up the elbow which helped his bat swing.
During his time away from top flight cricket, he worked with longtime Mumbai-based coach Pravin Amre, who had tracked Rahane’s growth from early days. Speaking to The Sportstar during the IPL, Amre revealed: ‘’He has really worked hard on his bat speed, that’s very important to generate power. Moreover, he has focused on his timing.’’
The IPL and a Test match in English conditions against an attack of Australia’s calibre had been like chalk and cheese. However, the former surely reinforced Rahane’s faith in his abilities and the mindset for one last hurrah – and the results are showing!