Ajinkya Rahane - The Eternal Bridesmaid
If Indian cricket ever had a face to go with the expression 'ever the bridesmaid', it would probably be that of Ajinkya Rahane. Many would disagree of course, with some choosing to name somebody like an Amol Muzumdar or a Subhash Gupte.
But if anybody has had to endure the desperation with which India are looking for a number 4 in ODIs, it would be Rahane. It's easy to put him in the category of expendables. Quiet, reserved but with a huge appetite for runs, he is someone about whom most people will say, I know someone like him', regardless of whichever walk of life they may come from. Basically, not the flamboyant Indian cricketer that everyone expects someone in his position to be.
The Indian team for the tour of England and Ireland was announced on May 8th, and Rahane's name wasn't in it. For someone who has been trying to prove his mettle as a captain (which he wasn't supposed to initially) while being a frontline batsman in the ongoing IPL, this is a cruel blow.
Barring an injury to a player, he will not be able to prove himself (yet again) in a country where he played arguably one of the finest knocks by an Indian batsman in overseas conditions since the retirements of Sachin, Sehwag, Ganguly, Dravid and Laxman.
It's always been a yes/no situation with Rahane. It took 16 months of warming the benches, before he was deemed suitable enough for the test arena. In this period, seven players made their debuts, as India had to contend with the retirement of almost an entire batting order.
And as recently as the first two Tests during the tour of South Africa, he found himself making way for Rohit Sharma, who for as superhuman as he may seem in white-ball cricket, is simply not cutting it in the red-ball format.
When he did come into the side for the 3rd test, he scored an invaluable 48 in the second innings to set up the win for India. Out of his 9 Test centuries, only 3 have been at home. It almost seems that while his contributions are appreciated, his failures are deemed too bad to ensure a place in the side. All this while he is the vice-captain of the Test team.
In the ODI scheme of things, while his average may be low, he is a player of undoubted class. He has come up with the goods in big matches against the big sides. In the previous World Cup, his excellent 79 provided the impetus for India to break the South African jinx in World Cups.
He scored consistently in the home series against Australia, scoring fifty after fifty. His technique against spin is beyond doubt, unlike for some others who have faced problems against the leg spinners and their wrong 'uns.
Amidst an era of tattoos, glitter and swashbuckling punk, Rahane presents a completely sober face, and despite an outstanding record in the Ranji trophy, does not find himself in India's strongest XI. For someone who has 29 tons and 36 fifties in 109 FC matches to go with an astounding 115 catches, Rahane's position in Indian cricket should be untenable.
While he is recognized as a specialist in overseas conditions, he is also India's best slip fielder. India cannot simply dispose of him, considering that none of the batsmen apart from Rohit and Dhawan in this ODI squad, have given notable performances in England.
One wonders if he too is going down the same path as the man who he considers his mentor, Rahul Dravid. And nobody better could possibly know what it means to be the perennial bridesmaid.