A look at the evolution of Ajinkya Rahane
Ajinkya Rahane has established himself as an integral part of the Indian team across all the three formats of the game over the last 12 months or so. In Test cricket in particular, he has been absolutely phenomenal, scoring 1,069 runs from 13 Tests at an average just under 50 since the tour of South Africa in December 2013.
Interestingly, all of these 13 Tests have come overseas with him playing just his first Test on home soil, against Australia in Delhi where he scored a paltry eight runs from the two innings. But getting a permanent place in the team hasn’t been an easy task for the Mumbai batsman. Given the plethora of batting talent available in the country, he has had to work his way up and toil in domestic cricket for years before getting due recognition.
Missed out on representing India in the Under-19 World Cup
Playing in the Under-19 Cricket World Cup is the first big step towards international cricket for any aspiring cricketer nowadays. Representing your country in front of television audiences is a great experience for any young player and gives them a glimpse of what to expect at the higher levels.
Unfortunately, Rahane failed to make the Indian squad for the U-19 World Cup in 2006, which had the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara and Rohit Sharma, and he was over-age by the time the next Under-19 World Cup came along. Had Rahane played in one of those World Cups, he could have shot to instant fame and perhaps got an easier entry into the Indian team like a few of his peers.
Consistent run-scorer for Mumbai in domestic cricket
Ranji Trophy and domestic cricket, despite being devalued in recent years, remains the breeding ground for Indian cricket’s young stars. Rahane got his opportunity for domestic stalwarts Mumbai at the early age of 19 and made full use of it, scoring a century on his first-class debut in the Mohammad Nissar Trophy.
There was no looking back for the right-hander after that as he soon established himself as an integral member of Mumbai's strongest side. He was one of the main contributors in Mumbai winning the Ranji Trophy in the 2008/09 season with 1089 runs to his name. He scored over 1000 runs in three of his first five seasons in the Ranji Trophy, which made it almost impossible for the Indian selectors to overlook him anymore.
Rise as an international cricketer
Despite being known as a longer format specialist, it was in ODIs and T20Is that Rahane first got an opportunity for India, against England in their own backyard in the year 2011. He put up decent performances against the hosts, but a Test debut kept eluding Rahane. After being included in the Indian Test squad in November 2011, Rahane had to wait till March 2013 - more than 15 months - to get his debut. His debut match was not too memorable as he managed a total of only eight runs and found himself out of the Test team for the following series against the West Indies, which was Sachin Tendulkar’s last.
The turning point in Rahane’s Test career came in the following two-match Test series in South Africa. Rahane put up a great batting display against the likes of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, averaging 69 including a then career-best score of 96 where he had to bat with the tail for a major part of the innings.
He did not have to wait long for his maiden Test century, though. Just a couple months later against New Zealand at Basin Reserve, Wellington, Rahane came in with India in a spot of bother, but then played an extraordinary knock of 118 to put India in a very strong position.
Rahane’s career has only been on an upward trajectory since then. He has subsequently scored centuries at iconic grounds like Lord’s & MCG and now holds the rare distinction of having scored centuries in New Zealand, England & Australia, not to forget his 96 in South Africa. And all this has come about in just 14 Test matches. More than the numbers, the circumstances and manner in which these runs have been accumulated show the class of the man.
Rahane, crucially, brings more value to the side than just his runs. He is a terrific fielder with a safe pair of hands who has the happy knack of hitting the stumps directly at crucial times. Rahane’s match-saving run-out of Faf du Plessis in a Test against South Africa when the Proteas were on course for a record run-chase in the fourth innings is a perfect example of his value in the field.
All this only augurs well for the future of Indian cricket. In an era of aggressive, in-your-face cricketers, Rahane is one of the soft-spoken guys who goes about his job quietly and lets his bat do the talking. We can only hope that we get to see a lot more of this talented 26-year-old in the years to come.