An Open Letter to Ajinkya Rahane ahead of his 30th birthday
Dear Ajinkya Rahane,
Let me begin by wishing you a most wonderful of birthdays. As a fan, I hope the upcoming year brings you many runs and catches on the field; as a well-wisher, I hope it brings you many more smiles off it.
To be honest, it was rather difficult to watch your generally free-flowing bat struggle in this year’s IPL. If it was painful for a fan like me, I can only imagine how much more painful it would have been for you; for someone who has had a number of good seasons with Rajasthan Royals, with consistent scores. The league is done and dusted for this year though, and I look forward to seeing you bat in the national whites soon.
Your first assignment, as a captain, against Afghanistan is probably going to be a tricky affair. If India wins comprehensively, few will sit up and take notice. On the other hand, if the Afghans spring a few surprises, and the likes of Rashid Khan, Mujeeb ur Rahman and Shapoor Zadran might well do so with the ball, unpleasant murmurs about James Anderson and Stuart Broad waiting under August skies, will go up a notch. I therefore hope that you and your team will treat Afghanistan with respect, and still find a way to score runs and take wickets. I also hope that you will score some runs yourself, not only to better your own numbers at home, but also as a prelude to batting in England later this year.
The last time India toured the British Isles, you made a first innings hundred for the ages at Lord’s - my second favourite by an Indian batsman in England after Rahul Dravid’s fabled 148 at Leeds in 2002. Under overcast skies, on a green top, your partnership with Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, who will once again be in England with you, rescued the team from the precarious depths of 145 for 7 and helped your side to an advantage-wresting 300, before Murali Vijay’s monumentally defiant 95 in the Indian second dig and Ishant Sharma’s short-ball burst in England’s second gave India a 1-0 series lead. It was heartbreaking afterwards to see the advantage squandered, gift-wrapped and given to England in the next three matches.
This time the circumstances are different. Though England beat Pakistan at Headingley, it was their first Test win in nine attempts, and question marks remain over England’s middle order and bowlers other than Anderson. Moreover, Virat Kohli is not just a very good player looking to take his game to the next level anymore, but the Indian captain is now being spoken of as a great batsman. England is the one blot on his CV, and he will need your services, at number 5, gully and in the slips, to correct it. I mention those fielding positions because India’s close-in catching in recent Test matches, as you know, has been a disaster. Your hands, however, have generally been safe as houses, and I hope that you do not let someone like Alastair Cook off, because he still has the appetite and skill to play one or two very big innings every series.
Five Test series being rare, the tour of England will give you another opportunity to get a series of very good scores, or - if you would like me to be more candid - hundreds, under your belt. It has been my pet peeve that even in series where you have had a very good time you have only ever scored one century, with the twin hundreds on a dusty Delhi deck against South Africa being the exception. You can ask your captain about getting on a roll, though, if you happen to get a ton early in the series; which, I fervently hope, you do.
In the beginning of 2018, you spoke of your feeling that this might be your year. With nine Tests to go this year, and eight of them abroad, you have a great chance to make it so. Perhaps, I can wax eloquent about some of your innings during these nine Tests when I write another letter to you the same time next year. For now, I will sign off, thinking of your splendid ‘away’ innings in Durban, Wellington, London, Melbourne, Jamaica and Colombo.